Silence speaking volumes?

Silence speaking volumes?
Last month, the chairman of the FBR, Shabbar Zaidi, called it a day. Apparently the pressure of having to deliver unrealistic IMF targets agreed by the government laid him low. Yesterday, the Attorney General, Anwar Mansoor Khan, quit. The pressure of having to endorse indefensible government actions alienated the bar and bench, his constituency, and eroded his credibility. The knives are now out for the Finance Minister, Hafeez Sheikh, and the State Bank Governor, Raza Baqir. An ex-Commerce Minister and reputed IMF/World Bank consultant, Dr Zubair Khan, has petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the duo from drowning Pakistan in a sea of debt by their deeply hurtful economic policies at the behest of foreign agencies. The irony is that the IMF team has returned to Washington without sanctioning the next tranche of financial assistance, implying that it isn’t satisfied with the government’s substance and pace of “reform” as agreed.

If economic management is woefully lacking, the state of political mismanagement also shows. The Miltablishment weathercock, Sheikh Rashid, is alarmed by the stunning silence of the opposition parties, in particular the PMLN. He would much rather have a raucous and threatening opposition, he says, so that one can gauge its intentions and react to it than such a studied meekness that smacks of some sort of a dangerous and ominous conspiracy to unseat the government. He has in mind the undignified haste with which the opposition stamped approval of the army chief’s extension in comparison with the bumbling and stumbling manner in which the government approached the subject. The silence of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz is particularly out of form, suggesting that some sort of “deal” with the Miltablishment is in the works. Such a deal, he fears, would inevitably be at the cost of his dear prime minister.

If truth be told, it is curious that the courts have suddenly become amenable to the pleas of opposition leaders. Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur are being looked after in hospital, thank you; Rana Sanaullah, Fawad Hasan Fawad and Miftah Ismail are free; Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal will probably be bailed out shortly; Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are in London, the former’s conviction in a corruption case is suspended while the latter is on bail. For a government that sustains its anti-corruption agenda on hounding the opposition, this must be worrying. More significantly, a government that never tires of reminding everyone that it is on the same page as the Miltablishment on all issues  – and hence has nothing to fear from it – must wonder whether its “stability” is more illusion than reality. Whether it is the ubiquitous but invisible hand of the Miltablishment or widespread public disgruntlement with the government’s lack of “performance” that is creating sympathy for the opposition and affording it some relief in the courts, one thing is for sure: the government’s economic and political narrative is bankrupt.

Amidst this developing crisis of confidence and runaway suspicions, Maulana Fazal ur Rahman has put the cat amongst the pigeons. He is threatening another long match next month to unseat the government, setting off alarm bells for Sheikh Rashid and Imran Khan. The good Sheikh has warned the Maulana that he will be bunged into prison if he ventures into Islamabad. The beleaguered prime minister wants Article 6 Treason charges to be brought against him for conspiring against the government last month. Pundits will, therefore, be drawing straws to predict what happens next.

The first signal to look out for is the pending case of Maryam Nawaz for permission to leave the country and be with her father during his illness. The judges have kept it pending, week after week. If she is granted permission, two perceptions will be created: something is definitely in the air; and, if the government challenges it in the Supreme Court, the prime minister intends to resist it, albeit unsuccessfully, confirming Sheikh Rashid’s fears.

The second signal will come if the opposition unites under one banner to march on Islamabad and the government pulls out all the stops to halt it in its tracks. With the public in a state of visible outrage at spiraling prices and joblessness and provincial governments tottering under the burden of disaffection amongst the ranks of the police and bureaucracy, Imran Khan will be hard put to block this surge of popular militancy. The Miltablishment is already smarting for spawning the disastrous PTI government. Certainly, it will have to think twice before it commits itself to overtly defending such an unpopular regime.

The final signal will come when the PTI’s “allies” in Punjab and Islamabad start forming forward blocks and jumping ship. Of course, the signals may be mixed and ambiguous. But, come what may, there is only one potential winner or loser in this scenario. That is Shahbaz Sharif. Either his pro-Miltablishment “narrative” will be dead as a dodo and Nawaz Sharif’s will be revived, or he will be bang in the game like never before.

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.