By Najam Sethi
10 Apr 2015
The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has signed on the dotted line of the Ordinance by the PMLN government to set up a judicial commission (JC) of three Supreme Court (SC) judges to investigate whether or not the last election in 2013 was “systematically” and conspiratorially “stolen” from it by “design”. It has also returned to the National Assembly after resigning from it five months ago. Now it is ready to make up with GEO television, one of the alleged conspirators. As a consequence, several comments can be made about what lies ahead.
First, Imran Khan lost a lot of credibility when his strategy to overthrow an elected government was exposed by PTI’s president, Javed Hashmi. Subsequently, the dharnas and resignations have amounted to nought and the conspirators masquerading as the “third umpire” are out of jobs. Therefore Mr Khan has had to eat humble pie by compromising on the nature and scope of the JC and taking back PTI resignations.
Second, it is highly unlikely that the proposed JC will vindicate Mr Khan’s position. (a) It is impossible in 45 days to prove a systematically designed conspiracy by an ex-CJP, an ex-CM Punjab, an ex-CEC, GEO and PMLN to “steal” the 2013 elections. (b) The JC Ordinance will be strongly contested as being unconstitutional. The courts have previously ruled that there is no constitutional way to circumvent Election Tribunals and approach the HC or SC directly in election-related matters. Apart from a host of thorny legal issues, the SC judges are also likely to be mindful of the far-reaching consequences of any decision by the JC. If the JC holds that the election wasn’t stolen, the judges will risk hostility from a section of the public that blindly believes in Imran Khan. If they agree, they will throw a huge spanner in the political works by indirectly setting a precedent to oust not just a government and prime minister but also the National Assembly (an indirect power far greater than the one granted to Presidents under 58-2[B] earlier) and thereby alienate all the other political parties of the country. Political chaos will follow if the NA and federal government are ousted while the provincial governments and parliaments stay on legally or if the PM reneges on his word and refuses to dissolve parliament (the JC finding will not be binding). Therefore the court battles will either lead to the declaration of the Ordinance as being unconstitutional or, if the Ordinance stands its ground, the JC will likely conclude that, while the election was certainly unsatisfactory in several ways, it was not stolen by design or conspiracy and that the results generally reflect the mandate of the people. In either case, the PMLN will emerge as the winner in its political strategy vis a vis the PTI.
But all is not lost for Imran Khan. His decision to return to the National Assembly may have opened him up to the mocking jibes of the MQM, JUI, ANP and even a section of the PMLN in parliament but it has been welcomed by the media and public as a sensible, though belated, adjustment of political strategy that strengthens the democratic system. If the Prodigal Son has seen the error of his ways, it is a good development, despite some unpleasant remarks about parliament by Imran Khan outside parliament and by Khawaja Asif about Mr Khan inside parliament. Indeed, this move enables Mr Khan to re-focus his energies on winning a core by-election in the heart of the MQM’s stronghold in Karachi while organising fresh intra-party elections to face by-elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh before the year is out. Both contests will be a valuable run-up to the general elections in 2018.
The PMLN is also now free to concentrate on a critical national issue that has cropped up: how to deal with the Saudi demand for air and land forces and munitions from Pakistan to fight the Houthi rebels in the Yemeni civil war. In fact, the end of the destabilising PTI-PMLN confrontation has enabled the PMLN to forge a political consensus in the country that favours all manner of assistance to the Saudis for the defence of their country but disavows any direct Pakistani intervention in the civil war in Yemen. The PMLN is also free to focus on delivering on its election promises to the public in the next three years.
Therefore the political forecast is not bad. The civil-military relationship has stabilised, thank God, in a realistic acknowledgment of the ground realities by both sides. The military knows it can’t or should not take over, and the civilians know they can be hugely destabilised and crippled by the military if its views on core issues are blithely ignored or rejected. The anti-terrorist operations in Karachi and FATA are yielding dividends with public support. Pakistan’s foreign relations with Afghanistan, India and the US are looking up. And the IMF has given Finance Minister Ishaq Dar a comforting thumbs-up for his efforts to realign the economy.