The Final Round

ISLAMABAD – The political turmoil in the country has reached a new crescendo. The latest voice adding to the state of uncertainty was that of speaker national assembly Ayaz Sadiq, who expressed his skepticism about the completion of parliament’s term. The speaker alluded to some ‘greater plan’ at work that will send the assemblies packing. His television interviews were full of grave and somber apprehensions but lacked specifics of the exact nature of the threat that stares at the parliament. Cynics could portray the interviews as planted, poorly crafted – an unconvincing cry wolf. But Sadiq had calculated that this was the best form of political messaging.

Some analysts, like Ayaz Amir, have questioned the very existence of any such ‘greater plan’ by the military. It seems that after ensuring that the court ousts Nawaz Sharif, the alleged planners of the military-judicial establishment have been a bit out of their wits. Instead of going for the kill soon after Sharif’s disqualification, they have watched from the sidelines as Nawaz managed to raise his political profile, portray himself as a victim and strengthen his hold over the party. The plan to install Shehbaz Sharif in the centre failed due to the loyalty of the younger brother, and the maneuvering of the elder brother, combined with lack of a visible push by the establishment.

Now, the PML-N government is limping and hobbling, but still carrying on. It is another matter that inside the parliament, it is struggling to even maintain a simple quorum or the legislation about delimitations and FATA is currently proving to be elusive, or the functioning of the bureaucracy in the secretariat is almost at a standstill. The collapse of PML-N as a political party soon after Sharif disqualification simply did not happen.

It, however, has not dispirited Sheikh Rashid, the eternal prophet of doom. The politician from Rawalpindi is convinced that the government will be toppled before March. Imran Khan, the eternal harbinger of change, is galloping around the country and asking for early elections. On the other hand, some ministers in the government are making grim predictions about an extended caretaker setup in case the parliament does get dissolved early next year. Imran Khan loses the most in case a caretaker setup comes into play for the next 2-3 years. It is therefore improbable to understand why he would put his weight behind such a dispensation unless there is something more than meets the eye and has been agreed upon with the grand planners. Other political parties also do not gain anything from an extended caretaker setup.

Imran’s best bet is to force an early election and hope that he can rally the electorate around his mantra of corruption and governance. Some in PTI are strongly advocating resigning from the national and KP assemblies to buckle down the government. Outside PTI, there aren’t many takers for this gamble and PPP is proving to be the most reluctant to this idea.

And, it is obvious that Imran’s politicking has not proven to the Achilles heel of Nawaz. Instead, Nawaz is even more defiant, and his voter base in Punjab has been energized after he deftly played the victim card. Meanwhile, Maryam Nawaz Sharif has established her credentials as a potential leader.

Last month’s protest sit-in at Faizabad is being viewed as the latest calibration in an effort to drive wedges into the traditional PML-N vote bank. But the high-handed way the agreement was brokered and the unusual, unprecedented way the name of a serving general was put on the agreement has resulted in more embarrassment and international humiliation than a lasting sense of overcoming a national crisis. The workings of the ‘internal wing’ are being questioned in some quarters of the establishment.

Against this backdrop, following scenarios can emerge: 1) en masse resignations by the opposition parties 2) the prime minister himself dissolves the parliament after being arm-twisted by the powers that be 3) a final protest sit-in in the capital that proves to the last straw.

The possibility of a massive protest sit-in seems most likely.

By late Friday afternoon evening, the decision about Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen disqualification cases would be announced by the Supreme Court. If the courts decided to disqualify Jahangir Tareen, it would create space for Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the dark horse Asad Umar to become even more central to PTI’s decision making.

On the other hand, and more importantly, if Imran Khan gets disqualified, it would really rattle the political environment and indicate that the establishment is surely at work to take out prominent politicians one by one. Next in line would be Asif Ali Zardari.

However, if Imran Khan gets a clean chit, it will breathe a new life into the PTI’s cadre and swing more of the fence sitters towards the party. PML-N will try to capitalize on such a verdict as an illustration of one-sided accountability. The politics will get even messier and it will give the establishment the room it needs to maneuver.


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