In this electrified, polarised and a ‘moment to moment’ election environment, it is a demanding act to write what could happen in the next few hours; leave alone the next few months. Events are moving like a spinning wheel in which the induced vertigo effect makes analysis challenging. In the past twenty four hours significant events have taken place that could swing perceptions anyway. These include judicial verdicts, politics, violence and sensationalism. Everyone seems to ignore the overhang of international politics enacted through local actors in the name of democracy. The only constant are professional politicians overgrown with wealth and greed ready to pounce on the booty in next few weeks.
Khawaja Saad Rafiq of NA 125 Lahore has been given a clean chit by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This is approximately the same constituency from Lahore where Imran Khan would be contesting against Saad Rafiq. In 2013 this constituency raised suspicions of skewed voting patterns. Saad Rafiq had bagged 70,752 votes in 2008. The sudden surge in 2013 was 123,416 meaning 52,664 more votes. There was also a question mark on 120,885 extra ballot papers distributed in this constituency. It is mind boggling that despite irrefutable evidence considered by the appellate tribunal, the judgment has been over turned. Khawaja Saad Rafiq will marshal his stables on the strong rock of honesty against Imran Khan fighting to eradicate corruption from the country.
The FIA investigations into the suspicious operations of Summit Bank have also hit a snag. Lawyers of Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur have convinced the Supreme Court that maligning the two leaders is mala fide. The Supreme Court has put a hold on NAB for investigating the two individuals till after the elections.
Similarly many contentious individuals have been allowed to contest elections and will be investigated later. Notwithstanding that everyone is innocent till proven guilty, an armada of corrupt elites will be contesting elections 2018. These elites are set to rule Pakistan till the slothy long arm of law decides their fate by the time their tenure ends. Alarmingly, these people have compromised Pakistan’s economic interests for self-gratifications and will have the intentions of keep covering their tracks. Professional politicians in every political party have remained at the helm of affairs as ministers and advisors. To expect them to make indigenous and ground breaking policies in contravention to their business empires is asking for the moon.
The appearance of a large number of independents is likely to play a definite role in formation of the next government. Permutations and combinations will affect the fortunes of two leading political parties. It could most likely spring many surprises.
While PMLN continues to pay the price for its economic manipulation and bad governance, others in opposition have been no saints. They have had their piece of cake when they were in power and most likely will do the same if they land up in policy and decision making positions.
The study of consumer economy and how easily it could be deflated during the rule of President Musharraf explains that the establishment lacks ‘hands on’ approach to handle economic manipulation. This lack of expertise will be craftily exploited by politicians with impunity. After all, between 199-2008, it was the establishment itself; yet trillions were lost to windfalls and the bubble deliberately punctured in 2007 during ‘Get Musharraf Campaign’.
Jehanghir Khan Tareen was a key and most influential member of the Musharraf team. He was an advisor on agriculture and minister of industries. He also took charge of the Clean Drinking Water Initiative from the Ministry of Environment. Monsanto BT Cotton was promoted at the cost of Pakistani varieties particularly in Punjab. The joint Pakistani-Canadian-German initiative of Canola Oil as the main edible oilseed at Kabirwala was brought to a grinding halt in favour of soya lobby. Late Dr. Zafar Altaf, Pakistan’s celebrated agro-economist was given a rough deal. Germany stopped all investments and grants to Pakistan. The Clean Drinking Water Initiative failed and in twilight was palmed off to a new ministry of special initiatives. Towards the end of 2007, the sugar and wheat mafias played havoc with Pakistan’s economy; an effective intervention to apply checks on President Musharraf. The man enjoys considerable control and could impact all economic policies. He will be supported by old partners likely to occupy key positions in power.
Though PPP did try addressing the agriculture and Canola anomalies from 2008-13, the damage was already done. PMLN government in Punjab; duly supported by the PPP agriculture minister came hard on NARC and Idara e Kissan. Arrest warrants were issued against Dr Zafar Altaf and Idara e Kissan, as a lifeline to pasteurised Halla Milk and poor cattle breeders, came to a grinding halt. Halla factory in Kotlakpat was closed and dismantled. The obvious beneficiaries were Inhar Milk in Chiniot and their sister dairy in Rahim Yar Khan. Though PPP did try to revive the Canola project, it was beyond economic feasibility. Pakistani varieties in cotton, developed in KPK made big inroads in Sindh but were deterred in Punjab and KPK. The PPP government failed to stop harassment of Dr Zafar Altaf whose dreams died with the broken man. Yet the strawberries, olive plantations and new hybrids in wheat, cotton and fruits speak volumes of his pioneering efforts. From 2000-2016, the man was literally on the run.
So far there have been two terrorist attacks on campaign rallies. The first one in Peshawar killed ANP leader Haroon Bilour and twenty others. Four were killed and seven injured in Bannu on Friday as caravan of former chief minister of KPK Akram Durrani a JUI-F candidate came under a bomb attack. For the time being both parties are anti-establishment. Negative propaganda runs risk of being vicious. Certainly, someone is picking and choosing the time and targets, therefore LEAs have to be in Red Alert to foil such attempts lest it becomes part of anti-establishment propaganda. Terrorists also hit an election rally in Mastung Balochistan killing Siraj Raisani and killing/wounding 70 people.
It will become a bloody situation if such terrorist acts continue. A black swan targeting a major political leader could subvert the entire election campaign. It will be in PMLN’s interests if elections are postponed short of a boycott. Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan could aim for a nadir on the instability curve. After all, in his scheme of things survival of Pakistan is linked to his relevance in politics.
Reham Khan’s autobiography provides enough fodder to the opposition to carry out a character assassination campaign. Even if declared malicious and slanderous, the book will open flood gates to sensational revelations on media. WhatsApp used by over 80 million Pakistanis will make the smear campaign ugly, contagious and electric. The book and its timings could draw away attention from the Avenfield and Summit Bank cases.
Elections 2018 are heading towards being very unpredictable and acrimonious. The campaign will account for many a scalp. Yet it is through this fog of uncertainty that a light is expected at the end of the tunnel.
The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.