All political analysts in Pakistan and its long-time observers outside have been speaking about the recent developments in the country in very ominous terms. Pakistan is at a crossroads right now.
For all those who matter in the country - its people, its sitting Prime Minister, the opposition and the army chief - the stakes are really higher. And, are likely to pile higher with each passing day.
In this article, News18 details the highlights of events that have unfolded in Pakistan so far and the reasons why they are significant
What has Happened so far?
Two massive rallies have been held by Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an united umbrella of 11 opposition parties of Pakistan founded last month, including the two big parties -- Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan People’s Party and others like Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur), the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Baloch National Party and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement.
To avoid a clash among the opposition parties on the leadership issue, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, considered a hardline Islamist leader with a large following and widespread public acceptance, has been made the chief of this umbrella body.
The first of the rallies was held on October 16 in Gujranwala and the second on October 18 in Karachi. A third rally is planned in Quetta on October 25.
The rallies are significant, given the fact that Nawaz Sharif, who many consider to be actually running the show from London, through his video address to the people, named the serving chiefs of army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and ISI’s General Faiz Hameed Chaudhry, along with previous army commanders, and accused them of toppling his government and installing the puppet regime of Imran Khan in 2018.
A day after the Karachi rally, Captain (retired) Muhammad Safdar, the son-in-law of Sharif, a three-time Prime Minister, was arrested in a dramatic fashion, with his wife Maryam Nawaz Sharif tweeting about police breaking into their hotel room at midnight and arresting Safdar.
Hours after the arrest, it was claimed by a few leading Pakistani journalists, including Hamid Mir, that Pakistani Rangers, their border guarding paramilitary force, have “kidnapped” the local inspector general of police to “force” him to sign Safdar's arrest warrant at 4 in the morning, after the IG refused to arrest him. Safdar was later released on bail.
What’s Significant About These Tallies?
Broadly speaking, there are four reasons why a lot of commentators from within and outside Pakistan are observing the movements of PDM with great interest.
The Punjab Politics
Pakistan's Punjab province has been the mainstay of both -- politics and the army of the country. Not only has the most prosperous region given a disproportionately large number of leaders to the country, it is also the home turf of Sharif and the man whose authority he has directly challenged, General Qamar Bajwa. The Gujranwala rally that Sharif addressed from London via video link is said to be not more than 10 miles from Ghakar Mandi, the hometown of the army chief. The ultimate result of this head-on fight is bound to have a huge consequence on the power politics in India's neighbourhood.
Opposition's Fight for Democracy
Many observers also see the opposition's huddle, which was initially focussed on ousting Imran Khan, and whose ambit Sharif expanded by attacking the army's top brass, to be aimed at ensuring restriction of the Pakistan army's interference with its country's political affairs. Institutions like the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which were ostensibly created to act against endemic corruption in the country, and which are controlled directly by the chief of the country's army, have forced the opposition to unite and criticise the abuse of power through which the army has been affecting arbitrary arrests and crackdowns against country's opposition, lawyers and judges.
Imran Khan's Survival
The Prime Minister of Pakistan has proved to be a failure on almost all counts, from the economy to international affairs. By openly allying with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, which is in a stand-off with Sunni Muslim countries (like Saudi Arabia and the UAE) that have been Pakistan’s closest allies and moneybags, it is argued, that Khan has caused great harm to his country's political and economic future.
In a recent speech, Khan warned that the country would see a "new Imran Khan", meaning that arrests and persecution of the country's opposition leaders would intensify. Khan knows that if push comes to shove, the Pakistan army would waste no time in replacing him with someone else. For him, this is a do or die battle.
Pakistan's Economic Collapse
In a recent column in his Friday Times newspaper, journalist and former Punjab Chief minister and PCB chairperson, Najam Sethi, expressed concern about the International Monetary Fund (IMF) not giving a single penny to Pakistan this year, because its conditions for a third tranche of the three-year $6b structural adjustment programme remain unfulfilled.
One reason for the huge public participation in PDM's rallies, he argued, is the increasing unemployment and collapsing economy.
"Come January 2021, if the government hasn’t significantly raised gas, petrol and electricity prices, if it hasn’t significantly increased tax collection, if it hasn’t managed significantly to reduce the circular debt, it may simply walk out of Pakistan, as it has done on all except one occasion in the last twenty years. But if the IMF exits, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other international finance institutions will follow suit...putting pressure on its (Pakistan's) depleting forex reserves and effectively devaluing the rupee further. With GDP growth forecast at below 1%, unemployment will exceed 30m, joining hands with inflation to besiege the government like never before," he wrote.