For a country that continues to struggle on the economic front, Pakistan has passed through ISTphase of Covid-19 and now second phase is going on. But dealing with a pandemic isn’t a cure for Pakistan’s democracy, which has been ailing for some time now.
The domestic struggle has reached a new fever pitch in recent days now heading towards 2021.
Pakistan’s democracy ranks among the world’s most twisted democracy. While ostensibly a parliamentary democracy—with political power residing in the prime minister and the members of parliament elected to office—in reality it is a hybrid political system, with the country’s military calling many of the political shots. The current prime minister, former cricket star Imran Khan, was elected in 2018, but his election was aided by the establishment. And during Khan’s tenure, many prominent retired military officials have assumed critical roles in his government.
This is nothing new for Pakistani politics, a country where the establishment has backed a succession of prime ministers, or sometimes even taken power directly themselves. That’s exactly what happened with Khan’s predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, who following the release of the Panama Papers was barred from political office by the country’s judiciary, and later jailed, on corruption charges, rulings that Sharif claims were due to the establishment’s influence.
In early October, 11 of the country’s opposition parties held their first unity rally as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), banding together to take on Khan’sPTI. But political calculations have changed in recent months as the establishment has upped the pressure on opposition groups to help the Khan government roll back the 18th amendment that decentralized political power in the country (and by extension, loosened the establishments hold on the political process), railroaded the opposition to pass legislation through parliament, and filed corruption cases against key opposition leaders, including Sharif’s daughter Maryam, Shabaz Saharif,Hamza Nawaz while Nawaz Sharif is in London on medical grounds and has now been declared as absconder.
Meanwhile, journalists and opposition leaders continue to be jailed as the country marches towards Senate elections in March 2021. The Senate, where half the seats will be up for grabs, is the last legislative institution not controlled by Khan. All these factors have combined to convince Pakistan’s opposition parties that a last-ditch effort is now necessary to save what’s left of the country’s democracy.
Dialing in to that kickoff rally ,Sharif called out COAS and Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence for pushing fake conspiracy charges against opposition leaders and accused them directly of conspiring to remove him from office back in 2017 and engineering Khan’s 2018 election.
This story is more complicated than pro-democracy vs. anti-democracy forces. Sharif is a product of the same political system that Khan is, making him an imperfect vessel for a pro-democracy message; plenty contend that Sharif is just angry for being ousted so unceremoniously, and has a personal vendetta against Khan for making his life complicated when he was premier.
In other words, there’s no shortage of personal drama going on here in addition to the politics. And while the Khan government is enjoying a boost following the country’s response to COVID-19—70 percent of Pakistanis believe the government handled the pandemic well—the continued corruption scandals, economic woes and worsening inflation afflicting Pakistan at present all pose serious threat to the Khan government’s continued legitimacy.
For now, the question is whether this opposition movement will be able to generate enough momentum to force the military to abandon Khan.
After Lahore rally at Meenare Pakistan on 13th Dec different claims are coming out about its success. Chohan of PTI called it a meeting of 5000 people;FirdousAsiqAwan called it just a gathering of few peoples. Sh Rasheed has termed it end of PDM.Other actors around Imran Khan declared it a failure. Imran Khan himself on that date played with his dogs all the day.
Much criticism on 13th December meeting by a mob of PTI leaders indicate that they are under pressure. Whether PTI government goes or not, but pressure is on increase and with long marches,more public meetings and resignation of their members in the assemblies opposition is trying to create more pressure on PTI government. This pressure is bringing some results for the people like sugar and some other items prices are coming down.
If there are continued broad crackdowns and arrests that generate support for opposition, the establishment might be forced to compromise down the line. Not that it wants to—given that Sharif specifically called out Bajwa by name in his tirade, the establishment is unlikely to let things go. But neither is the opposition, which sees the next few months as its best and last attempt to preserve Pakistani democracy. Expect more rallies and more repressive crackdowns for the time being—Pakistan is heading into a volatile next few months.