Rabbits and Hats

Rabbits and Hats
The “Captain (retd) Safdar Case” is quite extraordinary. “Someone” took a decision “somewhere” to have Capt Safdar, husband of opposition leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif, arrested for raising slogans of “Vote ko Izzat Do” inside the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi recently. Accordingly, after the IGP and Additional IGP Sindh demurred, they were “kidnapped” by paramilitary forces and pressured to lodge an FIR against the “errant” gent and order his arrest, which came after breaking down the door of the hotel room that he shared with his wife. When the officers of the Sindh police force went on “leave” to protest the maltreatment of their top officers, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called upon COAS General Qamar Bajwa to order an inquiry and fix responsibility for this transgression of the law and constitution. With the Sindh police on strike, General Bajwa swiftly complied to make sure that the situation did not spin out of control.

Now the brief recommendations of the GHQ Inquiry Report are out: a couple of mid-level ISI and Rangers officials are alleged to have acted “over-zealously” in the “public interest” and ordered to report to GHQ.

Nawaz Sharif has “rejected” the report and accused GHQ of “scapegoating” the officers, implying that someone higher up in Islamabad took the decision and should be held responsible. This is very much in line with his earlier charge against General Bajwa and DGISI General Faiz Hameed of being ultimately responsible for hoisting a “selected” prime minister on the country whose wayward decisions and policies have laid Pakistan low.

If Nawaz Sharif is not pulling his punches, Bilawal Bhutto has welcomed the GHQ “solution” and seems keen to stay on the right side of the Miltablishment. He now says he doesn’t support Nawaz Sharif’s policy of targeting the COAS and DGISI by name even as he criticizes the Miltablishment for propping up the PTI government. This is a fine distinction for tactical reasons.

The PMLN and its leaders, in particular the Sharif family, have been so hounded to the wall by the PTI-Miltablishment that they have nothing left to lose and everything to win by trying to derail the latest “hybrid” dispensation by targeting its chief civil-military operatives. They are emboldened by the great public support in favour of their slogan of “vote ko izzat do”, which in turn is generated by the public outrage against the abysmal misgovernance of the PTI-Miltablishment ruling elite. Their “3 in 1” target is aimed at prying apart this “alliance” and opening up space for themselves. They are secure in their strategy as long as Maulana Fazal ur Rahman and his JUI, who similarly have nothing to lose and everything to gain by realising the same set of demands, remain on the same page with them with their disciplined and passionate mass of street power.

The PPP, however, has much to lose and not much to gain by irrevocably antagonizing the Miltablishment. The PPP Sindh government is a shrug away from being dismissed; Asif Zardari doesn’t fancy quick conviction and jail hardship; and a new round of elections may give him less, not more, seats in the province, such is the resurgence of anti-PPP parties and groups. It suits him to stay in the PDM as a moderating voice so that he has more leverage in dealing with the Miltablishment by only attacking the PTI and Imran Khan.

Meanwhile, the Miltablishment is gearing up to disperse the looming PDM long march/resignation threat. Its repressive apparatus is ready to nip the protest next month. It has also brought Jehangir Tareen back into the arena with three key objectives: to help resolve the sugar crisis by getting his cartel to start early crushing of sugar cane while dishoarding stocks; to liaise with disgruntled PTI allies in Punjab and Sindh and keep them from straying in times of PTI crisis; and/or to corral them in the event they are needed for Miltablishment guided in-house changes in provincial or national parliaments leading to non-PTI governments, or a new pro-Miltablishment coalition in case fresh elections are necessary to get out of the current log-jam. He is, after all, a ruthlessly ambitious man, and one for all seasons. Note how blithely the notorious gent has slipped back into the country without as much as a vindictive glance from the direction of Imran Khan.

The economy is bleeding. Our foreign policy is up the creek, old allies have abandoned us and new ones are hard to get. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and India are breathing down our neck east and west. Covid-19 has resurfaced with a vengeance. The masses are angry and restive. The PDM is readying for a grand heave-ho to get rid of Imran Khan. December and January threaten to be the cruelest months of all.

Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazal ur Rahman together may have the mass force to shake up Imran Khan. But it is not beyond Asif Zardari to do a deal with the Miltablishment and pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.