Place your bets

Place your bets
The Information Minister, Maryam Auranzeb, has investigated a multimillion dollar contract between Pakistan Television Corp and a GroupM-ARY TV consortium during the PTI regime and initiated a case of corrupt practices in FIA against all those who signed off on the “deal”. In a brilliantly articulated press conference, Ms Auranzeb diligently explained, step by step with the help of documents, how the deal was riddled with non-transparent and corrupt procedures aimed at giving a highly lucrative three-year contract for international and PSL cricket broadcasting rights to the ARY consortium that was the PTI government’s biggest media supporter before and after the 2018 general elections. She accused ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan of being the moving force behind this sordid “quid pro quo” that has brought PTV to the brink of bankruptcy.

By all accounts, this is an open and shut case. Indeed, when the deal was first inked during the PTI regime, the most competitive bidder who was unfairly ousted, Blitz, was obliged to petition the Islamabad High Court where the case lay pending for months, despite adverse media comment on the dubious contract. The PDM government has now changed lawyers and started the process of prosecuting the contract instead of defending it as strategized by the PTI government. The most blatant transgressions have been laid at the door of PTV Sports but the PTV Chairman, Managing Director and Board of Directors cannot be condoned for conscious omissions and commissions. Hopefully, no one will be spared the rigour of accountability and punishments will not be confined to a rap on the wrist like transfers and suspensions.

This is not the only piece of good news in the two months since the PDM took office. The IMF deal is all but signed and sealed, on the basis of which the Rupee is climbing back to respectable parity with the US Dollar. Various donors are also lining up to shore the reserves of the State Bank of Pakistan. On popular demand, Miftah Ismail, the finance minister, has adjusted his gunsights to zap a one-time super-tax of 10% on the super-rich corporate sector for “poverty alleviation”. Having coaxed the retail and trade sector – which has historically supported the PMLN – to a small fixed tax rate, he is now aiming at the high earning “professional classes” of doctors, lawyers, architects, consultants, etc., who have hitherto been allowed to assess their own incomes and expenditures without any questions being asked. As an unexpected bonus, the price of oil in the international markets is going down significantly and will bring some desperately needed relief to the government.

But the way ahead is bumpy. Pakistan is compelled to pay exorbitant prices for LNG because the PTI government messed up the situation. Double-digit Inflation is forecast to remain a source of popular discontent that could create upheaval if it is transformed into organized protest. Imran Khan is bent on undermining the PDM government and is instigating rebellion within the Miltablishment. Violent clashes are predicted in the forthcoming by-elections on 20 PA Punjab seats which will make or break the PDM Punjab government. Khan has already trained his guns on the Election Commission of Pakistan which is about to deliver an adverse judgment in the “prohibited funding” case against the PTI. He has also rejected the amendments in electoral laws made by the PDM government, which is to say that he is bound to reject the results of these by-elections if these are not to his liking. Now he has announced a protest rally on Parade Ground in Islamabad early July after the “hardship” budget is passed on 30 June and Islamabad is already tense and uncertain.

The biggest PTI battering is reserved for the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. A flood of hostile memes and social media commentary has daily tended on twitter against him. This is unprecedented. Never has the Pakistan military been so publicly criticized, let alone an army chief by name. What is equally unprecedented is that no punitive action has been contemplated against the PTI aiders and abettors even though an express law against exactly such comments against the national security establishment was passed by the PTI regime not so long ago. Indeed, Ali Wazir, an elected MNA from Waziristan is being unfairly persecuted for much less offence against the deep state and the terrorist Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan that has carried out 3,280 terrorist attacks in Pakistan since its establishment in 2007, which include 301 suicide bombings and 7,488 lives lost is being treated as a legitimate partner in negotiating peace. Instead, General Bajwa has countered with a picture that shows him receiving a high award from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman who is said to have agreed to help out Pakistan financially at General Bajwa’s persuasion.

Pundits had predicted that July could be the cruelest month for the PDM if, after the tough budget is passed, the Miltablishment should succumb to Khan’s pressure and lean on the PDM government to dissolve parliament and order fresh elections. But now a more persuasive argument is tending to tilt the balance against the PTI. Why opt for fresh elections if Imran Khan wins and exacts revenge from the leadership of the Miltablishment that connived with the PDM to oust him from office or, if he loses, refuses to accept the results and continues on the path of mass mobilization and destabilization. Better, it is argued, to let this obedient government continue in office until next year, meanwhile allowing Khan’s protests to lose steam and peter out.

We will know which way the wind is blowing on 17 July when the 20 by-elections are held in Punjab. If the PMLN wins a majority fair and square, the PDM government will be home high and dry. But if the PTI trumps the hustings, Imran Khan will become an even more potent adversary than he is now, and all bets will be off.

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.