Constellation of forces

Constellation of forces
Captain (retd) Mohammad Safdar, the son-in-law of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has exploded in the National Assembly on a curious note. Suddenly, seemingly without any personal provocation, he has conjured up a rising “threat to national security” from the banned Ahmadi community. “These people [Ahmadis] are a threat to this country, its constitution and ideology. This situation is heading towards a dangerous point,” he shrieked. He said he wanted to move a resolution in parliament calling for a ban on the recruitment of Ahmadis in the armed forces because they could not be “trusted with guarding the country’s frontiers”.

Whilst on the subject, he took a shot at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad for naming its Physics Centre after Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani Ahmadi who won the Nobel Prize for Physics, an honour that was acknowledged by (Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif in a financial grant of five annual PhD Fellowships for the renamed department.

Captain Safdar is known to be a political maverick. But this time, there seems to be a method in his madness. Several issues may impinge on the content and timing of his parliamentary thunder.

First, consider some facts related to the execution of Mumtaz Qadri. It may be recalled that when the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s self-confessed assassin was sent to the gallows after being on death row for a long time, there was a question mark over who finally prevailed upon the Sharif government to reject his mercy petition and execute him. Some people insist that it was the army chief who finally rolled up his sleeves and went after terrorists and extremists of all shades, including Qadri. Others suggest that Nawaz Sharif did the needful in his bid to appease liberal opinion at home and abroad, even though throughout his political career he had handled such religious extremists with kid gloves, often doing deals with them so that they wouldn’t get in his way. Even at that time, however, Captain Safdar had publicly expressed sympathy with Qadri and his Barelvi ilk, leading to speculation that perhaps he was signalling his father-in-law’s helplessness in the face of the army chief’s demand. Indeed, when Qadri’s first death anniversary rolled around, the Sharif government bent over backwards to appease and channel the surging crowd in Rawalpindi instead of pre-empting a potentially dangerous law and order situation. Under the circumstances – when the Barelvis have banded together under a new political party, chopping off a significant slice of the PMLN’s votes in NA-120 and one particularly incensed ex-army Qadri supporter is openly threatening to assassinate Nawaz Sharif – it would make political and personal sense for someone close to Mr Sharif to express solidarity with the Barelvi sentiment.

Second, consider the fact that Nawaz Sharif’s political experience with hand-picked army chiefs continues to rankle with him. Gen Pervez Musharraf overthrew and exiled him. So he instituted a case of treason against Musharraf when he returned to power. General Raheel Sharif backed Imran Khan’s dharnas to the bitter end. So he shunted the good general off to Saudi Arabia and embarrassed him by leaking information about his “land grabs”. And now it may seem to him that General Qamar Bajwa has not only connived in his disqualification from parliament but is also leaning on other state institutions to finish him off politically. Was it Captain Safdar’s intent, one may wonder, to allude to General Bajwa’s alleged Ahmadi connections in order to put him on the defensive? Certainly, the idea of moving a resolution in Parliament to ban Ahmadis and weed them out from wherever they serve, smacks of some such threat.

If that be the case — and we desperately hope it is not — Captain Safdar may be advised not to play with fire. By putting Pervez Musharraf on trial, Nawaz Sharif created a schism with the army as an institution. That became an unbridgeable gulf when he humiliated Raheel Sharif by exposing his official “greed”. Now Captain Safdar may have sown the seed of personal revenge in the heart of Gen Bajwa by trying to isolate him from his institution. It seems that the good captain has forgotten the fate of two Lt Generals at least who conspired to whip up the “Ahmadi connection” in a bid to stop Gen Bajwa from becoming army chief.

Politics is taking an unprecedentedly dangerous turn. On the one hand, the army is progressively coming out into the open to articulate its policies, extend its ambitions and brandish threats, often at the expense of the elected dispensation and civil society. On the other hand, the civilian order is disintegrating from within because of political rifts, power grabs, economic crises, corruption and mismanagement. In the midst of this developing chaos, the judiciary has spread its wings and unfurled its claws like an avenging bird of prey.

No good can come from this constellation of forces.

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.