By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
During the infamous tenure of PPP led regime from March 2008 to March 2013, the parliament was a dummy with its controls in the hands of President Zardari with a tainted past. The central government believing in making hay as long as the sun shone was rived in mega scandals and record breaking corruption. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government was the most corrupt, Balochistan (Bln) government the most inept and callous, and Sindh government the most corrupt, inefficient and sloppy with no sense of governance. Performance of Punjab government under Shahbaz Sharif was the best because of his excellent administrative skills and will to perform under adversity.
The people got rid of the parasitic band of PPP-MQM-ANP and consigned the leading national party PPP to rural Sindh only. While ANP was demolished in its home province and elsewhere, the MQM wanting to emerge as a national party was given a fright of its life by the PTI in its bastion of power Karachi. But for the blatant rigging both in rural and urban Sindh with the active connivance of PPP-MQM installed caretakers, provincial election commission and election staff in Sindh, the PPP and MQM couldn’t have won so many seats. Having gone through the harrowing experience, people of Sindh would not have opted for self-destruction.
It was expected that the new federal and provincial governments would learn a lesson from the mistakes committed by the outgoing rulers and mend their ways. While Nawaz Sharif is primed to cleanse the mess at the federal level, Shahbaz Sharif is eager to further improve his performance in Punjab. Imran Khan is determined to make KP a role model province. Nawaz with the help of PKMP and NP has resolved to restore semblance of order in volatile Bln. It is however distressing that there is no change in Sindh as can be judged from the newly sworn Sindh government and re-election of repeatedly tried out 84 year old Qaim Ali Shah as chief minister.
For five years he presided over target killings, kidnappings for ransom, extortion, land grabbing, and high-scale street crimes. Corruption scaled new heights and the city became lawless because of politicized police, either in collusion with the criminals or happy in providing escorts to VIPs and protecting the elites and performing their dirty jobs. Sindh Rangers were kept bridled and not given powers to investigate and indict the criminals. Arrested criminals were released even after they confessed their crimes. Interior Minister Rahman Malik’s sole job was to appease and please ever complaining MQM.
As a result Karachi soaked in blood of well over 7000 deaths of innocent people killed by target killers. Not a single target killer was convicted and hanged. 175 kidnappings took place annually. The slothful CM watched the bloody game of death and destruction inertly but kept obeying the legal and illegal orders of presidency actively. He shut his eyes to MQM’s vandalism and met their demands promptly under the odious policy of reconciliation. He however turned a deaf ear to the coalition partner ANP’s complaints against MQM.
Although PTI has emerged as the second strongest party after the May 11 elections and has formed its government in KP, it’s charged up workers whose expectations had been raised sky high are still dissatisfied since they wanted to see Imran in the chair of PM. They strongly feel that PTI’s mandate has been stolen through rigging. Instead of celebrating they are mourning. PTI workers have staged sit-ins in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Its severest complaints were directed against MQM in Karachi as a result of which it won a seat from NA-250 in re-election. It however cost the life of PTI’s vice president Sindh Zahra Shahid who was gunned down just hours before the polling.
Imran Khan squarely held Altaf Hussain responsible for the murder. He did so since two days earlier Altaf had threatened to let loose his goons on PTI’s protestors staging a sit-in at Clifton and to put Pakistan on fire if MQM’s mandate was not accepted. His foul language has landed him in deep trouble. He is trying to control the damage by making superfluous changes in the organizational structure of MQM built to control Karachi by changing faces. MQM has also decided to sit in opposition in Sindh and federal assemblies with a pinch of salt, but with a game plan.
Pakistani nation was once electrified by ZA Bhutto by his slogan of Roti, Kapra and Makan (bread, clothes and shelter) and was again energized by Imran Khan by his slogan of change to make new Pakistan. His tsunami however remained confined to urban youth and urban middle and upper middle educated classes. Little effort was made to penetrate rural belt which houses nearly 70% of the total population of Pakistan. This lot enslaved by coercive landlords and feudal lords herded to the polling stations like sheep has been deciding the outcome of elections since 1970 general elections. The urbanites have shown disinterest in polling due to their disenchantment with leaders and democracy. The educated class has been seeking change through their write-ups, corner meetings, debates and drawing room discussions, but is too lethargic to cast votes on the polling day. This inactive and indifferent lot has for the first time been stimulated by Imran because of exceptionally poor performance of the last regime. They got so overly activated and enthused that they wanted nothing short of total victory for PTI.
The team captain and the young team of enthusiasts brimming with zeal wanted to floor both the heavy weights in one go, not taking into account the ground realities in Pakistan where feudalism, Baradari system, dynastic politics, power politics, money matter a lot. They underestimated the well-dug in strength of the two mainstream national parties that have been taking turns since 1985 and have gathered sizeable vote bank in each province. While rural Sindh is the traditional bastion of PPP, PML-N’s power base is Punjab. Conversely, PTI has been one-seat party since its birth in 1996 till 2008.
PTI did not pay much heed to the inner cracks that had appeared after the induction of electables from other parties causing heartburns among the old stalwarts of the party. Little attention was paid to Tahirul Qadri’s (TUQ) warnings that without removing glaring electoral flaws, selecting ECP as per the laws, and proper screening of candidates in accordance with Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, fair and free elections were not possible. Even when the government didn’t honor the agreement it signed with TUQ and the ECP failed to remove the defects before elections, it didn’t open the eyes of Imran and his team. They kept insisting on timely elections irrespective of the electoral dichotomies and pre-poll rigging, reduction of screening period from 30 days to one week only and clearance of all bad hats by ECP.
PPP-MQM secret alliance in Sindh nominated their choice members of election staff and election tribunals with the help of provincial caretakers. Army men were disallowed to deploy inside polling stations in Karachi and were to intercede only if asked by the presiding officer. A stage had thus been set by Zardari for another programmed rigging on the polling day in Sindh. Imran should have stood with TUQ and ensured electoral reforms before elections.
Imran Khan could be having ZA Bhutto’s mercurial rise in mind, but Bhutto was law qualified, a great orator and carried the experience of Foreign Minister in Ayub Khan’s cabinet. He locked horns with Ayub Khan only and his condemnation of the elite class touched the hearts of the downtrodden of both urban and rural Pakistan. He swept the polls in West Pakistan in 1970 elections, but he couldn’t gain any seat in Balochistan and East Pakistan. He clashed with Sheikh Mujib after the elections on the issue of power sharing but remained in good books of Gen Yahya and military establishment. Gen Gul Hassan and Air Chief Rahim were his personal friends who were instrumental in forcing Yahya to resign and inviting Bhutto to takeover power.
Imran was repeatedly advised by his well-wishers to collude with PML-N which was in opposition and fight the PPP-MQM-ANP in power. But his successful Lahore rally followed by Karachi and Balochistan public meetings, his long march to South Waziristan, his ever increasing following in KP and FATA because of his advocacy of dialogue with TTP and opposition to drones, and large number of heavy weights from all the political parties joining PTI intoxicated him. He thought that he had captured the hearts of the people of Pakistan. These fast moving events bolstered his ambition to go for a solo flight and from then onwards he started boasting that he would knockout two wickets with one ball.
Knowing that Punjab would be the main battleground in deciding the political fortunes, he shot majority of his sharpened arrows against Sharif brothers. He dubbed PPP and PML-N as chips of the same block, both scratching each other’s back. In his exuberance to stand alone on the victory stand, he overlooked some hard realities. While the rulers were milking Pakistan with both hands and breaking all records of corruption and poor governance, PML-N instead of becoming party to the loot, it had voluntarily moved out of the government in September 2008 and sat in the opposition. But for its consistent support to higher judiciary and Nawaz’s long march in March 2009, sacked judges couldn’t have been restored.
Imran also forgot that Nawaz’s two shortened stints in power in 1990s were relatively much better than PPP’s two tenures. In 1997 elections, PML-N had gained two-thirds majority. The heavy mandate government credited with making Pakistan impregnable on 28 May 1999 and constructing M-1 motorway was illegally and unjustly booted out by Gen Musharraf. By 2007 the people started to hate Musharraf and yearned for Nawaz’s return. Despite putting all possible impediments, PML-N managed to emerge as second largest party in the centre and single largest in Punjab in 2008 elections.
As opposed to dismal performance of Qaim Ali Shah, Raisani and Haider Hoti, Shahbaz performed exceedingly well. Only Shahbaz could complete the gigantic project of Metro Bus service in Lahore in 11 months. PML-N’s victory is largely owed to Shahbaz’s administrative abilities and his indefatigable stamina. Even his worst critics couldn’t help admiring him. All the gallop polls and surveys put PML-N on the top but still Imran kept gunning it to the very end and hoped to achieve victory single-handed. He knew that he had no standing in Bln and Sindh and yet he wanted to emerge as the number one national leader.
PTI’s gains in 2013 are stupendous. It has removed PPP from the national scene, demolished ANP and sidelined JUI-F in KP, axed PPP and PML-Q in Punjab, and given a huge scare to PML-N and MQM. Although Imran the go-getter has contributed a great deal towards the eagerly sought change, the real change if any will be brought by Nawaz. Imran has leveled the ground and set the compass bearing towards the change. He has breathed fresh air into otherwise morbid and polluted politics. If Nawaz fails to overcome pressing problems of energy, load shedding, law and order, internal security and unemployment, and conversely Imran shows better results in KP, Nawaz should be ready for another premature ouster, this time through mid-term elections to give way to Imran. On his part, Imran and his party should stop mourning and start working. PTI should focus its entire energies towards the development of KP and turning it into a welfare province.