ISLAMABAD: The decision to hand over the law and order control of the federal capital to the army for three months from August 1 has exposed the grip Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has in running the state of affairs.
In several instances during its over a year rule by now, the Sharifs-led political dispensation has panicked out of proportion in times of crisis.
The latest move to deploy army in Islamabad two weeks ahead of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) ‘Azadi (independence) March’ on Islamabad is the recent example of its “follies” since they came into power through sweeping but controversial victory in the May 2013 general elections.
The overall message, which the decision at hand conveys, is that the government is not at all in position to handle the looming political crisis on its own. Although loyalists for the Sharifs portray the decision was aimed to counter a possible terror attack from home-grown militants in the wake of military offensive in the North Waziristan Agency, many believe the real motive behind it was to contain the protest march of the PTI on the Independence Day. At present, nobody seems ready to buy the government’s argument.
Protest rallies and long marches are political issues and can best be addressed through political means. By taking an extreme step to deal with a political issue, the government has created enough space for its political rivals to take it on weeks ahead of the PTI’s scheduled protest march. The main opposition party, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has been highly critical of the decision. Farhatullah Babar, a senator and spokesperson for former president Asif Ali Zardari, says that his party has always opposed invoking Article 245 of the constitution that deals with the functions of the Armed Forces.
The order of invoking Article 245, he says, will deprive the masses of their fundamental rights. Furthermore, he says, the validity of such an order cannot be challenged in a court of law, hence access to justice will also be denied to the people.
According to former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, he was also advised to invoke Article 245 ahead of the long march for restoration of deposed judges but he did not.
Without realising, the defensive mode of the government carries full potential that things may turn against it, and that too, at a time when the military is bogged down in war with militants. By politically involving the military at this juncture, a possibility that its image could seriously be dented in case of any untoward incident cannot be ruled out. For most part of the last decade, its credibility has already remained at the lowest ebb due to unpopular policies of its former chiefs.
If history were something to learn from, the PML-N would never have taken such an unwise step that may possibly prove fatal for its rule, in the short as well as in the long run.
Despite continuous failures of previous PPP-led coalition government in delivering good governance, it was prudent enough to avoid involvement of military in political matters even in worst situations. Leave aside Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march to Islamabad in January 2013, the PPP did not involve the military when a decisive protest march of bar and bench was kick-started from Lahore – spearheaded by none other than Nawaz Sharif himself – for restoration of the then deposed judges of superior judiciary. Since 2008, the PPP has been in power in Sindh and the biggest problem being faced by it was to restore the law and order to the port city of Karachi. Though, Karachi is still as unsafe as it was in the past many years, the PPP government never opted to hand over control of its law and order to the military. When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in April 1986, roads were jammed from Gujranwala to Rawalpindi and the then military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, was reportedly suspecting that the then civilian prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, was tacitly colluding with Benazir Bhutto to bring his (Zia’s) rule to an end.
But Junejo himself, according to the then lawmakers, went to Ziaul Haq and convinced him and the rest of military brass of his ability to tackle the issue, politically. Junejo’s argument was that it was purely a political protest and it would fizzle out on its own with the passage of time, while warning that the military would have to pay back for any act of highhandedness, if any.
So, if any mishap happens on the Independence Day when the PTI protesters will embark from across the country on Islamabad, it would not be a good omen for the Sharifs. The military follows orders; and it will certainly act to fulfil its obligation – if things start getting out of control. Leave alone casualties, a few injuries in such a situation would be enough to add fuel to fire. The PML-N has not yet recovered from its last month’s adventurism when its government in Punjab turned the streets of Lahore red with blood of innocent civilians to teach a lesson to Dr Qadri for his seemingly ineffective call for changing the system in the country through a ‘revolution’.
For the Lahore incident, they had easily made the provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, a scapegoat but for any mishap on the streets of Islamabad, it would be difficult for the Sharifs to find another.
The PTI chief, their staunch opponent, would not settle for anything less than bringing the government to its knees. As time is running out, it would be better for the Sharifs to try to mend fences with Imran to meet some of his logically doable demands.
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