In twilight days of 2017 Pakistan passed through a full-throttled political crisis posing serious questions over governance and highlighting fissures within the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
A question that the government led by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi after disqualification of Nawaz Sharif in a corruption case, looming large over the minds whether the PML-N government will complete its tenure. If it happens it will be a new example set in the 70-year history of Pakistan that the two political governments in a sequence completing their full terms despite all odds- a rare sign of stabilization of a political system in the country.
It is yet to be seen as the government faces major challenges and a certain level of unity among its political opponents.
The hydra of violent politics and terrorism still very much alive with regular attacks and incidents of violence. The process of radicalization and faith based divisions that were initiated in 80s as a strategy to gain political benefits have reached to an extreme level with hatred against vulnerable segments of the society.
The country needs to fight the extremist mindset and cut the larger than life role of the obscurantist elements in our society and the statecraft. Pakistan needs a new vision and healthy mindset to stabilize in a world facing existential threats. To fight a mindset that has led our country away from the real challenges faced by it to the perceived ones and thus dividing and weakening the very basis of the nation.
The way the political elite behaving is seemed to be a repeat of the 90’s politics of power greed and lack of commitment with the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan. It seems the political elite still need a harsh lesson from the forces of history after collapse of the Charter of Democracy. The changing role of Asif Ali Zardari-led Pakistan People’s Party, the demise of ideology with emphasis on Machiavellian politics and the dwindling fortunes of the party bids not well for the issues-related politics in the country.
What to Expect in Year 2018
Pakistani state and society facing major challenges within and the outside ahead of Year 2018- the year in which the assemblies will complete their terms and General Elections are expected to be held in August. But before the general elections one half of the Senate strength will retire and new senators will be elected by the assemblies in March.
It is going to be seen whether the incumbent regime completes its tenure and takes advantage of its strength in assemblies to send more PML-N senators in the upper house of the parliament. Still, the ruling party would not be able to gain a majority in the Senate, which traditionally remains more open to issues and balanced views due to lack of domination of a single party in the house.
Punjab due to its more than 50 percent seats in the National Assembly will be the battleground for the next General Elections expected in August 2018. A party that will win a formidable majority in Punjab will most likely rule the federation of Pakistan.
The corruption scandals have hit Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the party leadership facing scores of graft references. It is going to be seen that the PML-N has bleed and lost significant amount of its political capital in these scams or having sufficient votes to win Punjab again to lay its claim on the government in Islamabad.
The party facing a tough competition from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) that has made its inroads in the strategic province and will put its claim over the vote bank of Punjab.
The recent by-election in Lahore demonstrated a fracture in the vote bank of centre to right PML-N as emergence of various groups of religious right in the province have eroded the PML-N vote base.
Sindh, Pakistan’s second largest province and home to the country’s economic engine Karachi, being governed by Pakistan People’s Party facing rampant corruption allegations and governance issues.
The province suffered huge losses of lives due to terrorism and gang warfare in Karachi. A turf war for influence in the major city triggered militancy and stranglehold of the armed wings of major political parties competing in Karachi. A security operation led by the paramilitary rangers started in September 2013 put cap on an extent to the violence in the city and provided breathing space to the people of the metropolis.
Ruling PPP despite the governance issues in the province faces no major challenge to its political fortunes in Sindh except in Karachi and some urban centres of the province. The operation has damolished the influence of major political player of the city, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), causing rifts in the party ranks. The party also disown its erstwhile founder based in London after his diatribe against the Pakistani state and its security agencies in August 2016.
The political situation of Karachi, became interesting after the law enforcement agencies operations have dismantled the militant wings of political parties and created a space for politicking in the city.
The next general election will decide whether Farooq Sattar-led MQM-Pakistan could maintain its vote bank in Karachi, as they are claiming, or new groups such as Pak Sarzameen Party etc and the mainstream parties PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would grab the space and votes of Karachi.
Imran Khan led PTI has emerged the major contender and challenger to incumbent PML-N, claiming for power in Pakistan. PTI have also issues of governance while leading provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but political pundits seeing no major fissures in the party ranks in a province which has a tradition of punishing the incumbent government by denying it votes.
The party in the next general election will lay its claim on government in centre for second time after its first attempt in 2013. PTI in its election strategy mostly depends on the charisma of Imran Khan and a powerful candidate in a constituency. With sidelining of ideologically motivated middle-class activists in actual party organisational work leaves the party no clear-cut mechanism to sustenance. The party if wins the election have to create an alternate leadership for political survival as it will be difficult for it to contest the 2023 polls with a leader in his advanced age.
PTI have a real chance to claim power in centre this time, however, the situation will likely be more challenging due to a probably fractured mandate with no clear edge to a certain political party, which will need political astuteness and maneuvering to run a government.
The year 2017 was started with hope for better times in Pakistan. But political chaos hit the economy. The chaos gained momentum with the formation of the Panama case JIT in April and then culminated with the Islamabad sit-in by a faction of the religious right in November.
Rise of Political Right
With declining fortunes of Pakistan People’s Party when it is restricted to a province, the centre to left and liberal politics has lost its importance and political right has claimed ascendance in the political narrative of the country and right wing causes and issues have gained an upper hand.
The issues related with well being of common people have taken backseat in political statements and demands with scarce reference of joblessness, workers rights, education, health and social welfare.
The country’s tilt towards right has also witnessed increase in the new religious groups working for specific causes apart of the old religio-political parties.
Year 2017 saw a surprise emergence of a religious political group, making inroads into the mainstream politics.
The resurgence of politico-religious party belonging to Barelvi sub-sect, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA), gave the government an existential headache forcing it to show its law minister the door to defuse the mounting pressure.
Arising from a protest movement against execution of convicted Mumtaz Qadri, TLYRA gained momentum as a new party in the political sphere of the country in late 2017 after holding a three-week-long protest in Islamabad, paralyzing normal life in the federal capital posing serious existential threat to the government.
Prior to the sit-in in Islamabad, the party had also fielded its candidates in Lahore and Peshawar by-elections for National Assembly seats and bagged more votes than certain seasoned political players.
The rise of TLYRA and other religious groups and their involvement in election politics could have serious political repercussions for the ruling PML-N and other centre right parties during the next elections this year.
The year 2017 witnessed Pakistan’s systemic down-slide and the reassertion of the state institutions in the political sphere. The institutional tussles remind us of the fragility of the country’s political system. However, despite debacle, the system offers a chance in the shape of an on-schedule general election to move a few steps in the direction of normalcy and stability. It has to be seen if Pakistan’s political elite can use this critical chance to consolidate democratic progress of the last decade in a productive and peaceful manner.