By Deedar Hussain Samejo, Forbes
Pakistan has been once again gripped by the domestic political crisis. Country’s fragile democracy is facing serious threats as cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Movement for Justice party, and Sunni cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, head of Pakistan People’s Movement party, along with their supporters, armed with clubs and batons, continue to paralyze the capital city, Islamabad, for more than three weeks.
Protesters led by Imran Khan, who believes that Nawaz Sharif is corrupt and became prime minister after rigging the May 2013 elections, and Tahir-ul-Qadri, who aims to abolish the current parliamentary form of political system and bring “revolution” in the country, have occupied the sensitive area of the capital city, bringing the normal diplomatic activities at a complete standstill. They are demanding nothing less than resignation of elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif was elected prime minister in June last year, marking the first-ever smooth transition of power from one elected civilian government to another in coup-prone Pakistan. It seemed that country’s powerful military which has always enjoyed complete control over the national security and foreign policies is retreating and civilian leadership is gaining power. Soon after assuming the office, Sharif started work on his popular agenda- economic development, normalizing relations with India and and dialogue with the Taliban to resolve the decade-old militancy phenomenon.
Sharif’s pursuit of national policies without taking military into confidence backfired, resulting in civil-military tensions. Ongoing protests apparently seem a conspiracy orchestrated by the military to undermine the authority of Nawaz Sharif, who has challenged the overwhelming role of the military in the formulation of national security and foreign policies.This is not the first time that the army has hatched a plot against an elected government. In Pakistan’s 67 years turbulent history, military has overthrown elected governments three times and has directly ruled the country for more than half period.
The military is also annoyed over the treason trail of ex-army dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who ousted Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless military coup in 1999. It sees the treason case as an act of personal vendetta, and an attempt to start the accountability of Generals and undermine their dignity.
Unsurprisingly, the conspiracy to weaken the Sharif government has been exposed. Imran Khan party’s dissident leader Javed Hashmi has publicly revealed the secret contacts between the military and protesters, calling the protests as a “scripted plan” choreographed by the Inter-Services Intelligence, military’s premier spy agency.
In order to save the democratic set-up from complete collapse, eleven political parties inside the parliament have rallied together against the illegitimate and undemocratic demands of protesters. The parliament has passed resolutions affirming the supremacy of the Constitution and democracy, along with condemning the protests. Support to democracy by the civil society, journalists and lawyers has also relieved pressure on the government.
It is, however, highly unlikely that the widespread support to the civilian government will deter military from intervention in political affairs. The army may not undertake an overt coup, as it understands that the situation is not ripe for a coup, but it will continue to control, and check powers of, the elected government.
With the unfolding of recent political crisis, hopes for the consolidation of democracy and tilting of power from the military to the elected authorities have been dashed. The army has successfully regained the so-called supremacy over the civilians by clipping the wings of Nawaz Sharif, as evident from his request to Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif for the ‘mediation’ between the government and protesters.
And it appears that Nawaz Sharif has conceded power to the army. From now on, the military will have greater control over major issues like relations with arch-rival India, Afghanistan and the United States and the internal security policy, including the ongoing war against the Pakistani Taliban. Legal arrangements are being made to allow Musharraf to move abroad.
Ongoing political turmoil has triggered a huge economic losses. Economy has lost $4.5 billion since the start of the protests. The International Monetary Fund has postponed talks with the government, delaying the next tranche of the loan to the country. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad has also been postponed. He was to sign investment agreements worth $34 billion with Nawaz Sharif.
It appears that the protests will end in the coming weeks and Nawaz Sharif will remain in office, serving as an impotent chief executive with little say in major issues. As the military has emerged triumphant in this battle, democracy is the ultimate loser.
Mr. Samejo is a graduate student in political science at the University of Sindh in Pakistan.