Awami Muslim League (AML) chief and self-proclaimed ‘establishment man’ Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed was all set to claim victory in the NA-60 constituency after his opponent, Hanif Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was sentenced to life-imprisonment in the ephedrine quota case on Saturday night. Sadly for Rasheed and his supporters, their overnight celebrations soured when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced that polling in NA-60 would be postponed.
Victory is still quite likely to be Rasheed’s, despite the ECP’s decision. Removing Hanif Abbasi from the election race was needed to ensure that Rasheed would be able to find a place in Parliament after the elections.
Life imprisonment for one and acquittal of seven others in the same case is yet another development that makes it seem like the military and judiciary are actively working to weaken the PML-N. This was a case that was long pending with the Control of Narcotics Substances (CNS) Court of Rawalpindi, to the extent that it was almost forgotten. Despite repeated requests from Hanif Abbasi to complete the hearing and decide the case, the court remained unmoved until the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi Bench recently ordered the CNS court to reach a verdict by July 21.
Strangely, the LHC Rawalpindi Bench was moved by another well-known establishment tout, Shahid Orakzai. He is not a direct stakeholder in the constituency but requested the court to stop Hanif Abbasi from launching his election campaign until the ephedrine quota case came to a conclusion. Therefore, one can say very safely that this was a move meant to give Sheikh Rasheed an advantage.
Abbasi’s lawyer has stated that the judge did not allow him to finish his arguments before announcing the verdict. All the law experts and political analysts have termed the decision extremely politically motivated. They ask if the CNS court had so much evidence based on which the decision was made, why was it delayed for years? Why was the decision not made earlier when the defendant himself wanted to bring the case to a conclusion?
Removing Hanif Abbasi from the election race was needed to ensure that Rasheed would be able to find a place in Parliament after the elections
This decision comes off as very similar to the so-called ‘plane hijacking’ by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s. Only one Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to life while all others were acquitted. That proved only one Nawaz Sharif had the capacity to hijack a plane, whilst not being in the plane in the first place.
For those readers who no longer remember, it was General Pervez Musharraf — then the army chief on extension — who was sitting in that plane. His extension of service was terminated according to the rules and regulations by Nawaz Sharif. However, this annoyed the terminated General and his cronies in the army, who concocted a story of ‘plane hijacking’ which was used as an excuse for the army coup on October 12, 1999. Another bone of contention between Musharraf and Nawaz was the Kargil misadventure — which Nawaz apparently knew nothing about despite being PM.
A retired General recently mentioned in a TV talk show that Nawaz was never considered a security risk despite all conflicts and difference of opinion with the military establishment on strategic issues. However, thinking of the supremacy of the civilian regime is the biggest and most unforgiveable sin in a country like Pakistan. Despite all our military dictators bowing down to the international agenda and making Pakistan’s land readily available for external elements and non-state actors, the army leadership is considered supremely pious by the common citizens.
I salute my army too. It was not my army which is responsible for its disastrous polices, but a handful of rogue Generals. This is happening again, but what’s the agenda this time?
Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqi has also spoken out about the role played by certain state agencies in judicial cases involving the PML-N leadership. He also wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), requesting the formation of a judicial commission so that investigations could be made in this regard.
Many political analysts have also highlighted in their deliberations the consequences of the ongoing election engineering. Surely, this could not serve the national interest. Rather, it seems that the establishment is putting an upstart politician in his place. The dismantling of a leading political party is being strongly criticised internationally as well, but who cares? And although the military-mullah-judiciary nexus has done what it is doing now before, it is the first time they have been so blatant and blunt.
Blatant engineering has already had an impact on the economy. The stock exchange has crumbled. The Dollar has gone up to Rs130. Even the weaker economies of the region have a better foreign exchange rate than us at this point of time. The interim government has increased petroleum prices twice in just a month. All the common civilians and the army personnel are suffering equally and will suffer more in the days to come.
Four decades back, General Zia caused extensive damage to the country, Islam and the concept of Jihad. What the establishment is doing today will destroy Pakistan Army’s image across the globe. Some dent has already been made by the international media. The common people may be termed ignorant fools, but they know what is happening around them and why.
The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at email@example.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed
Published in Daily Times, July 24th 2018.