Que sera, sera (whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see), and that is as far as I want to go on record about what will most likely happen as a consequence of the ongoing dharnas (sit-ins) in Islamabad. Evidently,the main politicalactors are also in the same boat. The only person who really knows what might actually happen next is walking around with an enigmatic smile that essentially suggests, “You bloody civilians, it is your mess, clean it up or else.”That sort of a smile in Urdu is often referred to as zer-e-mooch muskarahat (smile under cover of the moustache).
As I finished writing the above lines, news came that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) had been asked by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharifto mediate between his government and the protestors. Subsequently, the COAS met Imran Khan and TahirulQadri.Most likely, the COAS will tell the protestors that it is time to go home ‘or else’, but what the ‘or else’ is, is anybody’s guess. Personally, I am not convinced that it is time for dama dam mast qalandar(a musical refrain that is associated with an army takeover) but then, as I said above, que sera, sera.
What comes next is probably as important as what has already happened. And whatever has happened, we can say without much argument, has been brought upon themselves by the Sharif brothers. Much is being said about Nawaz and his mandate. As I wrote in these pages a few moons ago, mandates are evanescent. Just ask MohmadMorsi, the first democratically elected President of Egypt. His mandate lasted barely about a year.
Another point often raised in defence of Nawaz and his government is that it is “unconstitutional” to ask a sitting PM to resign. In a parliamentary democracy, PMs are often asked to resign and many do so after amajor political blunder. Sir Anthony Eden, a previous PM of the UK, resigned after the ill-fated Suez Crisis and was replaced by Harold Macmillan. Macmillan in turn resigned after the Profumo affair. Both of them led a party that had a majority in parliament and were succeeded by members of their own party. The list goes on to include Margaret Thatcher who was also forced to resign as a sitting PM to be replaced by an entirely colourless John Major of her own party.
The important point here is that popularly elected PMs are often forced to resign but, in stable democratic systems, they are succeeded by members of their own party in that position. Indeed, many popular PMs in the UK felt that they should continue in their position but had to give into a loss of popular support. That of course is what separates Pakistan from a democracy like the UK. In Pakistan, the word mandate has taken on an unusual importance even though in parliamentary democracies the mandate is more for the political party rather than the person leading the party. Even in Pakistan, during the last five years of the PPP government, one PM was replaced by another of his own party.
So, let us see what has happened already. First, Nawaz Sharif has lost his ability to govern. This is clear from his desperate attempt to involve the COAS to save his own position. Second, if the present government,as agreed, decides to hold a recount in some of the parliamentary seats and it is found that the elections in these seats were rigged, even the validity of the mandate will be put in doubt. Third, the Model Town fiasco, where more than a dozen unarmed TUQ supporters were killed by the police and many more were grievously injured,has come to a head. As of today, First InformationReports (FIRs) have reportedly been filed accusing the PM andthe younger Sharif along with many PML-N leadersof possible culpability in this matter. Fourth and most importantly, the Pakistan army has re-established its position as an arbiter of national politics.
As a side bar to these sit-ins, the previously ascendant superior judiciary has also lost much face. The honourable Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan is reduced to demanding that the road leading from the judge’s residences to the SC be cleared. A long way from the activist court led by the former Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry. So, in summary what has happened over the last few weeks:Nawaz Sharif has been reduced in stature, his mandate is under question and his ability to govern is now virtually non-existent. As far as Sharif the younger is concerned, he also has suffered similar misfortune in Punjab.
Frankly, as I have said above, I am not willing to make any predictions about what happens next. However, if Pakistan is a realparliamentary democracy, the right thing for the PM to do if he still believes that the people of Pakistan support him is to call for snap elections within a matter of months both at the Centre and in Punjab. This will of course bring in interim governments and the very nature of such an act will entirely defuse the present political crisis. If, on the other hand, the PM thinks that he has lost the support of the people of Pakistan, and especially of those in Punjab from where he derives his mandate, he should just resign and let another member of his party take over as PM.
Sadly, if the past is any guide to how the PM works, the most likely thing he will want to do is hang on to his present weakenedposition, hoping that in time he will be able to re-establish his primacy. An emboldened army is however unlikely to allow him to reach that point. Eventually, will there be a 1999 redux? That is the real question.
The writer has practiced and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org