May 11, 2014

Rebooting Elections: The Dharna Wars

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 6:09 am


There are many similarities between 1997-99 and 2013-2014. In 1997-99 PMLN government had just been handed power with two thirds majority to end Pakistan’s ills. Soon, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and President Farooq Leghari made unceremonious exits. The Ehtsesab Bureau (EB) was in full fury against the PPP.  Intelligence Bureau (IB) was tamed and ISI brought under the control of a general handpicked by the Prime Minister.

Next door, India passed through elections. BJP came to power with support of the Hindu right. India went nuclear. So did a reluctant PM of Pakistan. This set acrimony between the COAS the Prime Minister (Read Bruce Riedal). General Jehanghir Karamat resigned under mysterious circumstances and General Musharraf was promoted over several seniors. With an apparently docile DG ISI, IB-EB emerged as the political arm. IB had the audacity to pick up a serving army officer. The new COAS was suspicious of overtures with India. Lahore Yatra by Prime Minister of India and Kargil by General Musharraf were two parallel but divergent tracks. In 1999, General Musharraf’s team carried out a military coup aptly legitimised by a humbled judiciary. Pakistan was under international sanctions.

Come 2013-14 and history repeats. PMLN is in power through an election rigged in its favour. India is going through its election process. BJP leader Mr. Modi, an ultra-rightist Hindu fundamentalist appears poised to win. The army has a COAS handpicked by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister sees interventions and briefs by the armed forces and ISI an impediment to his designs. Bonapartists in power see the utility of a powerful media house to subdue the Army and ISI through malicious propaganda. Negotiations with TTP and military’s affirmation to defeat it are two parallel and opposite tracks. Confrontation is a constant. 

But there are also un-similarities. PM’s control of IB is not complete because the institution needs time to regroup. Modi’s profile is more aggressive. The DG ISI is not the choicest and the COAS has no skeletons in his cupboard to disappear mysteriously through a resignation. Majority of the country consider the TTP as sectarian and therefore want it to be obliterated. The judiciary has a challenge to get out of the Chaudhary shadows and there are two new political forces based on an agenda of change.

PMLN has to contend with PTI’s street power and PAT’s organisational excellence. It is likely that PPP will abandon the Charter of Democracy at an opportune time. Allama Tahir Ul Qadri has twice demonstrated his capability to muster mammoth crowds and has potential to kick start a civil disobedience movement at an opportune time. The fault lines between Pakistan’s political and civil society are widening.

In 2014, there are additional dynamics that make graver analysis. Unlike a heavily sanctioned country, Pakistan is now a direct and indirect recipient of foreign funding with strings. NGOs with overseas funding operate with impunity. The independent media with no code of ethics has yet to find its limits. Geo has emerged an unbridled czar of perception management and revisionist narratives. Pakistan’s economic indices reflect a dismal picture with ripples on internal security and general wellbeing. Regulatory mechanisms that ensure transparency and ethics in business have been rendered impotent. Negotiations with militants are being used as leverage against armed forces. The national narrative is under threat by revisionist outside influences. Proliferation of Arabic number plates in Punjab reflects an existence of the mind-set. Foreign policy on Syria stands revised.

Some opine that long marches and dharnas may unsettle democracy and experience of successive elections may reform the system. Critics retort, what if the present government emerges stronger in the next four years? A highly radicalised and arabnised Pakistan will emerge. Imran Khan of PTI contends that such an option can only work if there is immediate electoral verification and reforms before the next elections. But this argument with no solution for the interim is flawed. Election reforms cannot be in isolation whilst the entire system is going down the drain on whims and nepotism. It is this missing logic that makes the government uneasy on calls for dharnas. It seems Imran Khan may have started his killer spell and hold back his fast toe crusher for the final blow.

PAT argues that meaningful reforms are impossible within the prevailing system. Democracy can only be strengthened if the incumbent party is sent packing and constitution revised and made incumbent in letter and spirit. Certainly not by intent but by consequence, PTI and PAT may stand to complement each other. In case the ECP report on electoral rigging in four constituencies comes out in Imran Khan’s favour, it will provide PAT the justification of being correct and move further in its agitation.

PTI reflected the energy of this anarchic nature during the visit of Imran Khan to the Lahore High Court on 7 May. If this same energy is magnified manifold, 11 May could set a series of events that not only PAT and PTI but other political leanings could also exploit. Knowing the anarchic nature of street demonstrations and politics, events thereof would be defining. Impetus will be provided by civil society movements and political parties already on the streets protesting Geo’s propaganda against the armed forces, and the government’s complicity.

The breakaway point in these protests will come after the findings of verification in four constituencies are made known to the Supreme Court in 15 Days. If allegations of massive riggings are proved, it will be an aspersion on the entire process. Onus of justice will shift to the Supreme Court. PTI and PAT will then be in a position to demand additional verifications and annulling electoral results respectively on legal grounds.

The drama poised to erupt on the streets on 11 May will not only display revisionist nationalist forces but also non state actors with hidden hands behind them. Acts of terrorism cannot be ruled out. Pakistan’s streets and bazaars could get bloodier. Rana Sanaullah the Punjab Law Minister has already issued a security advisory.

A fortnight later, the Supreme Court will have to intervene. How it does depends on verifications of electoral results. Geo’s accusations against state institutions could not have been more ill-timed.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson. Email and twitter:



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