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Trapped from all sides?

From allegations of rigging to corruption, the PML-N has remained under pressure to carry on with its strategy to focus on the economic agenda

Trapped from all sides?

Last week, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was re-elected unopposed as president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), he also unveiled an economic agenda which can be interpreted as a key to party’s success in the next general elections.

In his speech addressed mainly to the opposition parties — especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which is demanding his resignation over allegations of corruption — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his government was building motorways and highways; completing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); and overcoming energy crisis to make the country prosperous. He was confident that people would re-elect his party in the next general elections because of these goals, likely to be achieved in the next two years.

The ruling PML-N is facing a challenge from the opposition parties on Panama Papers and one from the military establishment over the control of internal security and foreign policies, especially about dealing with the banned religious outfits.

Amid this growing tension between the civil and military set-up, the PTI has given a call to lockdown Islamabad to put pressure on the government to start accountability of the ruling Sharif family or force the prime minister to step down. This protest call by the PTI comes almost two years after the 126-day long sit-in against alleged rigging by the PML-N.

This time, the PTI has targeted alleged corruption and reluctance of Nawaz Sharif to present himself and his family for accountability after his children’s names came in the Panama Papers, listing people who own offshore companies.

Imran Khan, the PTI chief, claims to ‘paralyse’ Islamabad while the government is supposed to make sure that normal life is not disrupted in the capital. PTI’s previous sit-in protest started in August 2014 and lasted till the Army Public School Peshawar attack on December 16.

Many political pundits see the coming days as alarming and dangerous in the presence of cracks between the civil military relations over some issues. PTI’s protest, coinciding with the retirement of Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, is meant to put pressure on the government to start a fair probe into the Panama Leaks, an issue that cannot be sidelined from Pakistani politics at the moment.

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The ruling PML-N which was opting for a “wait and see” policy in the past, hoping these issues would be buried under the carpet with the passage of time, now appears under more pressure to carry on with its strategy to focus on the economic agenda to diffuse this. That is to showcase some development projects to satisfy its electorate.

Many political pundits see the coming days as alarming and dangerous in the presence of cracks between the civil military relations over some issues.

Veteran journalist and political analyst, Muhammad Ziauddin, says the PMLN’s prime focus is its economic agenda. “Their utmost efforts are geared at improving the energy situation by 2018, by completing some projects and showing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as signposts of prosperity,” he says. “However, on the political side, Panamagate is one of the biggest challenges presented by the opposition parties, mainly the PTI.”

“The PML-N wants to linger it on while the opposition parties such as the PTI are taking it as their main political agenda,” says Ziauddun.

He thinks Imran Khan is fully capable of pulling a crowd but it will be politically and socially difficult for him to continue this lockdown for a long time. “The PTI knows that Nawaz Sharif would not resign on this issue but it will continue to add pressure on the ruling regime and will keep convincing the electorate against this alleged corruption.”

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Political analyst and columnist, Ayaz Amir thinks the PML-N is not safe at the moment. “Currently, there is a crisis. Especially, we have to see whether PML-N comes out of this issue of allegations of leaking a story to a newspaper on which army commanders have showed serious concern,” he says. “On the other side, Nawaz Sharif has also failed to satisfy the opposition on Panama Papers. His family’s name in Panama Papers is serious revelation and has put Sharif family’s reputation at stake.”

Amir believes the upcoming lockdown plan of PTI can further aggravate the situation. “If the PTI prolongs its protest the situation can turn fatal. And if the ruling party thinks they can easily tackle PTI, they are misled. PTI, in any case, will give a tough time to the government in coming days and in the next general elections.”

He says whether PML-N comes out of this crisis will be seen after November 2, the day of protest call given by PTI.

The PTI has also moved the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Supreme Court for disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his son-in-law, former army captain Muhammad Safdar for not listing their properties in the election papers. Earlier, there was a deadlock in the meetings of a parliamentary committee to handle the issue of Panama Papers and suggest measures for accountability.

The PML-N’s strategy is to complete its development and energy projects as soon as possible. It is also trying to make cracks in the opposition alliance, which is already not united on different issues, including the demand of resignation of the prime minister. To complete its agenda, the government is facilitating the investors of energy projects bypassing all rules and regulations. “On Panama Papers, the government plans to delay things and buy time from relevant forums,” some PML-N members say.

“Currently, there are two major challenges to the government — political and judicial. And the PTI is a party which is dragging the ruling party into both these challenges. The government has few options to come out of this,” says Dr Mohammad Waseem, political scientist and professor. He thinks economic agenda comes later and it is only when a government is stable that it can follow that agenda.

He says it is in the interest of the PTI to play as much havoc as possible. “If the government manages to survive,” he says, “this judicial and political challenge amid the ongoing civil military tension and speculations of connections of this agitation with the military establishment, things can become better for the elected government of PML-N”.

Ziauddin believes the civil-military relations will remain tough and will continue to face ups and downs as both sides will try to dominate each other. “Though there are no signs of a situation like that of October 1999 but a tug of war will continue between the civil and military side for controlling policies.”

He says the real thing to see in the coming months is to what extent the PML-N can satisfy the electorate on its economic agenda against PTI’s strategy to highlight the Panama issue.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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