Against the backdrop of the chequered history of civil-military relations in Pakistan, the military change of command has somehow become a crucial national event over a period of time. By the end of next month, COAS General Raheel Sharif will relinquish command of the Pakistan Army, requiring the appointment of next commander of country’s most powerful institution. Therefore, the forthcoming month is of great political significance. However, the upcoming month of November has become even more politically crucial as the PTI Kaptaan is going to play the final ‘innings’ of the ‘panama test’ in Islamabad.

Involving high political stakes, the Panama-leaks issue has now become the most crucial as well as contentions issue in the country. Therefore, the political temperature visibly rose as soon as PTI announced its plan to lockdown Islamabad through a ‘Million March’ on November 2. PTI has finally decided to show its full political muscle by extensively mobilising its activists and supporters to exert maximum pressure on incumbent PML-N government regarding the so-called Panamagate. Other political parties, namely the PML-Q and PAT, are also likely to join PTI’s Islamabad march. On the other hand, the incumbent government looks in no serious mood of conciliation on this issue. Instated, it has hinted at actively employing the state’s coercive apparatus to foil PTI’s attempt to lockdown Islamabad. Reportedly, the government is also considering the option of arresting and detaining the key PTI leaders before the scheduled march.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has issued notices to the Prime Minister and his family members after admitting the constitutional petitions filed by various political parties, including the PTI, which have sought the disqualification of PM Nawaz Sharif in the wake of Panama Papers revelations.  At the moment, one can’t predict with precision the ultimate future of these constitutional petitions in the Apex Court. However, at this stage, the PML-N is trying to get maximum benefit from these judicial proceedings. Presently most of the PML-N stalwarts and government ministers are forcefully arguing that since the Apex Court has formally taken cognisance of Panama-leaks case, therefore PTI is no longer morally and legally justified in holding its scheduled march in Islamabad next month. Therefore, apparently, the PML-N has welcomed the court proceedings in this case only to lower the heat of PTI’s upcoming Islamabad march by pacifying the PTI activists.

If the incumbent government is willing to accept the apex court’s decision on the Panama-leaks case, then it is simply beyond comprehension why the government is so reluctant to get this case probed through the same apex court’s judges after forming a judicial inquiry commission as demanded by the opposition political parties. Definitely, a bold decision taken by the government at this time will substantially help dilute the current controversies and agitation in the country regarding Panamagate. In fact, the Panama Leaks issue has somehow become an inevitable or unavoidable evil for the PML-N regime. It has no escape from it in the presence of PTI and its leader IK. Therefore, sooner or later, Panamagate is bound to be probed by an independent judicial body. Surely, the sooner the better. If PML-N government takes some tough decisions at this stage, then they would pay it politically in the long run. Otherwise, it will simply mean that PML-N has no political existence independent of ‘N’.

The political culture essentially shapes the political behaviour of individuals within a given democratic polity. Moreover, a healthy political culture is the sine qua non of a substantive democracy. Democracy can’t smoothly function without some healthy political traditions and norms. Therefore, politicians and public office holders are supposed to reasonably observe some universally-recognised principles of ethical behaviour. Similarly, a person who becomes a head of a state or government should be above board. Obviously a controversial or scandal-ridden political regime ultimately loses its entire moral legitimacy. Since PM Nawaz Sharif’s name has appeared, directly or indirectly, in the so-called Panamagate, therefore he must now get his name cleared as soon as possible even without any strong public demand.

PTI’s current demand for an independent Panama probe is a reasonable demand. Unlike the 2014 Islamabad sit-in, this time PTI is not absolutely asking the PM to instantly step down. Nor are the people of Pakistan protesting against the PM as did the people of Iceland soon after the panama papers revelations this year. In fact, the people are considered to be the maker and breaker of a democratic regime. They hardly elect their representative absolutely. Instated, they elect them to run the affairs of the state strictly in accordance with the law. If a public representative commits a serious breach of trust, people can ask him to relinquish his public office.

The right to hold protest is a fundamental right of individuals in any democratic polity. However, individuals are always supposed to exercise this right within the prescribed constitutional and legal limits. PTI has the right to hold public rallies and marches against the unjustified and undemocratic behaviour of the PML-N government. However, it is not justified in exhibiting a similar arbitrary behaviour while making protests against the government by paralyzing the capital city. Certainly two wrongs don’t make a right. Only anarchists can rely on mass disruptive tactics to achieve their desired goals. PTI is a registered political party under Political Parties Order, 2002. Similarly, it has considerable representation in the parliament and the Punjab Assembly. It is also governing one of the federating units. Therefore, it can by no means disregard altogether the defined constitutional and legal parameters while exercising its right to protest on Panama-leaks issue.

The troubled civil-military relations are one of the dominant characteristics of our political system. As usual, presently the civil-military relations are also not ideally harmonious. There is considerable difference of opinion between the military and civilian leadership vis-à-vis certain security and foreign policy issues. The civilian government has yet not satisfactorily performed its part of the National Action Plan. The PML-N government never took any aggressive posture against the anti-Pakistan polices of the Modi regime. The civilian tacking of the captured Indian spy Kulnhushan Yadev was also rather disappointing. The ongoing Karachi operation has been another source of conflict between the two for a long time.

Moreover, the recent publication of a leaked news story in leading National English daily regarding the national security is the latest irritant. In the last Corps Commanders meeting, the participants have expressed their serious concerns over the ‘feeding’ of this fabricated story. This perspective essentially depicts the true picture of current Civ-Mil bond. Therefore, if the security situation in the country deteriorates in consequence of PTI’s upcoming Islamabad march, the military will hardly come forward to rescue their beleaguered civilian masters.

PTI has categorically disclosed that it would continue to protest and agitate until PM Nawaz Sharif would either resign or present himself for accountability on Panamagate to its satisfaction. On the other hand, the PML-N government is all set to save its troubled leader at all costs. Therefore, there would develop a dangerous predicament in the country owing to the political clash between the two major political parties, logically warranting the intervention of the so-called Third Force. Naturally, the military establishment would play its traditional role to end political chaos in the country. Thus if democracy derails in consequence of current PTI-PML-N standoff, then the politicos should rightly be blamed for this instead of the khakis.

 

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.

mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com

@MohsinRazaMalik