LAHORE - The purpose of the Saturday conference was to brief the political leadership about the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan and the importance of its success for the security of the country.
But the prime minister took up such political matters in the presence of the army chief which were aimed to send a message to all and sundry that the military leadership is with the government in dealing with Dr Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan, who are determined to oust the present setup during the current month.
In fact, the demands of the PAT and PTI leaders were not on the agenda of the conference. They should not have been, because political matters are not supposed to be discussed in the presence of the military leadership. And the army is supposed to keep itself away from politics. This is what the Constitution expects of them.
But the prime minister criticised the ‘revolution’ agenda of Dr Qadri without actually naming the PAT chief and said the government could not allow anyone to disrupt the system. Also, he said, the government was prepared to hold talks with PTI chairman to sort out matters concerning election rigging complaints.
Everybody knows the steps being taken by the government to frustrate Dr Qadri’s plans. To prevent his supporters from reaching Model Town to hold Quran Khwani for those killed in June 17 firing by police, the government has put up containers on a number of roads leading to the venue. The measure has created problems even for the people living in the area who have nothing to do with politics. And to frustrate the PAT chief’s plan to go to Islamabad at the head of a procession (the date for which has not been announced so far), the government is impounding transport and closing fuel stations. Hundreds of people have also been arrested from various cities to discourage protests.
When the prime minister questioned the PAT plans it clearly showed that he was trying to claim that the army backed the policy the government is pursuing to deal with the problem.
Similarly, when he talked of Imran Khan’s demands about the vote recount in some constituencies and expressed his willingness to sort out the matter through dialogue, he was trying to tell the army chief that he was flexible and accommodative in his attitude.
Whether the military leadership is really on board with the government on these issues is not clear. But the way he tried to show the nation that the army is on his side, it will not be possible for Gen Raheel Sharif to openly distance himself from the prime minister’s claims.
But if the prime minister believes that the government and the army are on the same page, he should also have raised the issue of Gen Musharraf’s trial at the same forum. This would have cleared all doubts that the civil-military relations are strained because of this trial.
Observers feel that although the prime minister is trying to look confident, he feels under pressure because of the situation the PTI is trying to create. There was a time when the government was not willing to go for the audit of just four NA constituencies. But now he is ready to discuss even 10 constituencies and meet the former cricket hero anytime of his choice.
Imran Khan has refused to budge. He doesn’t want to meet the prime minister to hold talks with him on any issue. He has said in categorical terms now the talks would be possible after August 14 Azadi March, which he believes will lead to the ouster of the government. He thinks that as a result of his march on Islamabad, he will be able to pave the way the way for fresh elections. But the prime minister says in clear terms that midterm polls are not acceptable.
The prime minister’s opening speech “exposed” the claims of economic progress made by his government. According to him, the country doesn’t have resources even for a single energy project. It is for this reason, he said, that the government is relying on China to overcome the energy crisis. Projects with a total capacity of 10,400 MW have been signed so far, the premier said, adding that the loadshedding problem would come to an end in three to four years.
If the country can’t set up even a single energy project with its own resources, where are the foreign exchange reserves the finance minister claims are going up and up? Where are the billions of dollars the government has got in loans on very tough conditions? Why the money is being wasted on useless metro buses, yellow cabs and laptop schemes which are not needed as urgently as energy?
What the prime minister said means the nation would have to endure the power outages for many more years, notwithstanding Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s pre-election commitments that loadshedding would be over in six months, one year or two years.
Another shocking part of the prime minister’s speech was that Pakistan doesn’t have enviable ties with any of its neighbours except China. There can’t be a ‘better tribute’ to the country’s foreign policy bosses, past and present.