by Gul Bukhari

In Pakistan, October through to December may prove to be the months that bring to boil the stew of internecine political intrigues. The economic meltdown, paralysis in the bureaucracy due to fear of persecution by the Accountability Bureau admitted by government ministers, closure of factories, and strikes called by traders, doctors and lawyers are affecting the common man right up to the largest industrial groups. These circumstances look set to fuel further political uncertainty.

To top it all, JUIF leader Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, who controls thousands of madrassas and millions of students across the country, has announced that he will march on Islamabad starting the 27th of October. He plans to lock down the capital till his demands for the government to resign and holding of fresh transparent elections unsupervised by the military are met.

Military Wants Imran Khan Government To Go

Reports that the military has decided that this ineffectual government must go, has added spice to the stew.

In an unprecedented move, a GHQ nominee has been denied appointment as a High Commissioner by the government.

These reports are bolstered by certain developments. Consider: First, file work on General Bajwa’s extension has not begun, though a strange letter signed by the Prime Minister was circulated in August announcing the extension - this is contrary to the legal process required. The President notifies the extension after various summaries and final advice sent to him. Now reports have emerged Imran Khan has stopped the Defence Minister from sending the summary.

Second, a five-year-old case against PTI of having obtained constitutionally illegal foreign funding for his election campaign has suddenly come to life. The verdict as to whether the ECP can hear the case, and hear it in open court, is set to be announced on 10th October. Should the decision go against the PTI, and hearings start, the heat on Imran Khan will start approaching melting point.

Third, in an unexpected blow to the PTI, its Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly was disqualified by an Election Tribunal for having won with 65,000 bogus votes. He has since obtained a stay order from the Supreme Court, which is widely being seen as blatant political intervention by the apex body.

Fourth, suddenly the IHC has fixed to hear case against Fawad Chaudhry, currently PTI Science Minister, for 9th October. Normally, PTI cases languish for years, with no or few hearings and no closure.

Fifth, most curiously, in an unprecedented move, a GHQ nominee has been denied appointment as a High Commissioner by the government, whereas earlier, all dictations were accepted by the PTI government in the vein of the ‘same page’ mantra it and the military have been singing.

PML(N) Suffering From Intra-Party Intrigue

All these very recent developments give rise to speculation that all is not well between Imran Khan and General Bajwa in the State of Denmark, and the ‘same page’ honeymoon period is all but over, with both protagonists fighting to bury the other before their own political demise.

Mix into all of this the thousand leagues under the sea shackling the party most affected by the PTI-Military alliance, the PMLN. Whether it can join hands with Maulana Fazl to give the last push to the government has fallen hostage to intra-party intrigue.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif— who together with daughter Maryam and party leaders supportive of his narrative and stance is languishing in prison, and is allowed access to very few people—sent out his message on or shortly before September 6, to support the Maulana’s Azadi March through Maryam’s husband Capt Safdar.

As soon as news and jubilant reception of it broke out, certain senior stalwarts of PMLN began denial of any knowledge of any such development.

Sharif Versus Sharif

This threw supporters in chaos, with charges of betrayal by PMLN supporters on social media, and set tongues wagging about the sabotage of Sharif’s strategy from within the party. On the 10th of Sept, Capt Safdar, reiterated and reconfirmed the call given by Sharif via a Whatsapp message broadcast to all media groups and journalists.

It is a barely veiled fact, that several senior PMLN stalwarts who have held cabinet positions in the Sharif governments, and are led by Shahbaz Sharif—younger brother and several time Chief Minister of Punjab—are not in favour of a confrontation with the military. They view themselves as the government-in-waiting if they keep Gen Bajwa happy. In Pakistan, they are commonly referred to as the ‘Deal Group’.

Despite the second message from Sharif on 10th September, the ‘deal group’ has sought to delay a final decision to date, and to create confusion. This group has reportedly exhorted Sharif repeatedly, in and out of jail, to accept the ‘deal’ offered by the military for him and his daughter to quietly go away from politics in return for freedom.

PPP Still Uncertain About Taking Sides

Sharif has refused every time, and has dug in his heels. He reportedly insists on public apology from, and accountability of, the perpetrators of the rigged 2018 general elections, and a fair and free mid-term election to be held. And there is a sizeable majority of PMLN leaders who have announced they will join the Azadi March in line with Sharif’s, and the public’s, wishes.

The PPP has announced support for the march, but not the sit-in, and is watching the situation, and could go any which way at the last moment. Clearly, the PPP would not want to be isolated and seen to be standing alone against a popular movement now fast gathering pace. Smaller political parties, trade organisations, and doctors’ unions have also announced their support for the march on 27 October.

Hence, all remains up in the air with regard to the fate of the government in the short term, but uncertainty is certainly afoot.

Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist