Punjab versus Punjab

As of today it appears as if the Punjab based Pakistani establishment is finding it increasingly impossible to see the end of the Nawaz led PML-N, a Punjab based political party

What is happening in Pakistan today is seemingly a war of attrition between the PMLN drawing almost its entire political strength from Punjab and an establishment that has always been monopolized by Punjab.

The first test of this Punjab versus Punjab confrontation was witnessed during the longest ever sit-in staged in the country that too at the door-steps of the Parliament building on the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad by a Punjab dominated Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in 2014 against the government of Punjab based PMLN. The test ended in what looked like a draw.

Had the PPP or any other political party with its base in any other province staged such a sit-in the matter would have been forcibly settled even at the cost of a few lives without much loss of time. And Punjab would have supported the move.

Remember the MRD movement in the interior of Sindh against General Zia’s establishment in early 1980s? It was routed quickly with Punjab supporting the bloody campaign.

Our early history is replete with stories of the establishment confronting the so-called separatist elements supposed to be trying to turn the former NWFP into an independent Pukhtunistan. In this confrontation as well we see Punjab supporting the establishment’s bloody campaigns.

In the case of the so-called civil war in the then East Pakistan in 1970-71 as well the establishment had tried to settle the imbroglio by waging a war against our own people with full support from Punjab.

And who can forget the military operations in Balochistan in 1948, in 1958-59, in 1962-63, in 1974 and in 2003 which is continuing. All with the support of Punjab..

Our early history is replete with stories of the establishment confronting the so-called separatist elements supposed to be trying to turn the former NWFP into an independent Pukhtunistan. In this confrontation as well, we see Punjab supporting the establishment’s bloody campaigns

But how does the establishment whose own political base is in Punjab act against an overwhelmingly Punjab based political party?

Remember how the troops brought in to restore order in Lahore responded when ordered to shoot to kill the protesting ‘agitators’ during the PNA movement against Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto in 1977?

Currently his war of attrition appears to have entered an uncertain phase as despite the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif from holding an elected public office the PMLN refused to jettison him from the office of Party leadership and contrary to all expectation there are no significant dissertations from the PMLN so far.

Infact his GT road rally that the former Prime Minister had led immediately following his disqualification and the political mobilization mustered by his daughter Maryam Nawaz while running mother Kulsom Nawaz’s election campaign for the seat (NA 120) vacated by father seemed to have silenced even the vociferous dissent against PMLN that the PTI had built up in Punjab since late 2011.

The three-week long Faizabad sit-in by the followers of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer did appear for a while to have brought the PMLN face to face with one of its Punjab based nemesis.

But the way the Army tried to resolve the issue after having been invited under Article 245 to act in aid of civilian authority, specially the way one of the senior Army officers was seen distributing money among the arrested protestors after being set free under one of the conditions of the agreement that the Army had managed to cobble between the leaders of the sit-in and the elected government in which the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Bajwa was profusely praised as a guarantor of the agreement by the protestors the attention, luckily for the PMLN, turned to the Army. So much so that during the briefing to the Committee of the Whole of the Senate on security issues by the COAS he was constrained to remark that he would resign if anybody could prove that the Army was behind the Faizabad sit-in.

As of today it appears as if the Punjab based Pakistan establishment is finding it increasingly impossible to see the end of Nawaz led PMLN, A Punjab based political party.

This is happening not only because the political response of Punjab was negative to what the establishment had wanted to do to the PMLN this time but also because for the first time in the 70-year history of US Pentagon-Pakistan establishment relations the former seems to have virtually cut off its links with the latter rendering it a lot weaker vis-à-vis Punjab’s civilian political forces.

That is perhaps why the civilian government, according to the so-called ‘Dawnleaks’ of October 6, 2016 could dare warn in a high powered meeting held on October3, 2016 of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state.

The consensus at the meeting was said to be that the military-led intelligence agencies were not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action.

Second, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is said to have directed that fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi antiterrorism court.

Earlier in the meeting, ISI DG is said to have stated that not only was it the military’s policy to not distinguish between militant groups, but that the military was committed to that policy prevailing. The then ISI chief reportedly did mention concerns about the timing of action against several groups, citing the need to not be seen as buckling to Indian pressure or abandoning the Kashmiri people.

According to several government officials, October 3, 2016 confrontation was said to be part of a high-stakes gamble by former Prime Minister Sharif to try and forestall further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. In separate meetings with the army chief, participants of the meeting are said to have witnessed an animated and energized Sharif, who argued that Pakistan faces real isolation if policy adjustments are not made.

(This Dawn report of October 6, 2016 recalled above was denied by the military spokesperson as well as by the civilian government and caused the ouster of a number of civilian officials including the information minister Pervez Rashid, special assistant to the PM on foreign affairs Tariq Fatmi on suspicion of having been responsible for the leaks)

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014

Published in Daily Times, January 6th 2018.