Post-Eid, A Spiced Up Political Agenda Is Coming Up
Pakistanis love a good political battle. It’s the national blood sport. The better part of any given year is spent in fierce arguments over ideology, policy and slights real or imagined. The principal grouse, of course, is the performance of government.
A country with over 120 political parties registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan and with six national and provincial legislatures comprising over 446 senators or members of the national assembly and 749 members of four provincial assemblies, there’s never a shortage of public representatives angry about something or the other and motivated enough to make Pakistani democracy a real racket.
But nothing comes in the way, not even politics, of Pakistanis enjoying their Eid holiday. Eid-al-Fitr is the great equalizer and serves as the Big Pause in the political din. Battles cease, cudgels are dropped, and political foes forego bitterness. Many exchange sweets and greetings.
Still, one must not be fooled by the sudden political hush. The post-Eid political agenda is looking formidable and Pakistan will soon find itself engulfed in generate tumult. The annual national budget comprising an unprecedented pack of steep taxes – the highest in the country’s history by the government’s own admission – is expected to provide the opposition with the perfect foil to attack an increasingly unpopular government.
A spectacular inability to stem the free-fall of a faltering economy – as evinced in record dips in economic growth, exports and tax collection as well as record highs in fiscal deficit, imports and domestic and external borrowings – is not the only opportunity that a beleaguered Imran Khan government is providing an increasingly strident opposition to beat it with.
The protracted and immensely controversial accountability drive against the main leaders of former ruling parties, Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, has generated enough critical mass of personal pain to transform it from a process-focused justice attempt to an existential political crisis. This will change everything.
The post-Eid political agenda is looking formidable and Pakistan will soon find itself engulfed in generate tumult. The annual national budget comprising an unprecedented pack of steep taxes.
While many months have passed since the wound-licking by PML-N and PPP after the elections that stunningly brought Khan to power and relegated them to the margins, the only thing that had so far been going for the prime minister was the mutual hostility of the Bhutto and Sharif families. This is because they have always been rivals for Islamabad’s game of thrones.
Khan’s political inexperience in keeping his political foes divided will come back to haunt him in coming weeks and months. By keeping his army of ministers, advisors and spokespersons focused on targeting both major opposition parties instead of solely his political rival PML-N, all he has ended up doing is bring them together.
Last month, something interesting happened no matter how you look at it from Pakistan’s historic political trajectory. Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal and Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz met in a personal capacity for the first time ever and agreed to forge a joint opposition strategy against the Khan government after Eid. This is likely to shape Pakistan’s politics for years if not decades to come.
Only once before in the past three decades did the PPP and PML-N find themselves together in the political wilderness- at the turn of the century, when military strongman General Musharraf staged a coup and exiled both Benazir and Nawaz.
What Benazir and Nawaz did next was remarkable: in exile they jettisoned their political rivalry and stitched together a landmark accord called the Charter of Democracy, which among other things bound them to accept each other’s electoral mandates and allow for the first time ever for the winning party to complete their five year tenures, to purge the national constitution of all distortions inserted by military dictators, effect a massive de-centralization of state powers and grant maximum autonomy to the provinces.
They then launched a movement for the restoration of democracy, succeeded in driving out Musharraf and implemented all the key articles of the Charter of Democracy – although at great cost, by losing Benazir to an assassination largely blamed on Musharraf.
Now with a generational leadership transition having taken place in PPP and PML-N and the parties in the hands of the much younger Bilawal and Maryam, they are faced with the challenge of taking further the Charter of Democracy drafted by their parents. The PTI government’s inability to focus on governance or fixing a tanking economy, and instead only targeting opposition parties for the removal of their entire leadership through a controversial accountability drive, provides Bilawal and Maryam the perfect opportunity to reset Pakistan’s politics.
There’s nothing but Eid to stop them. For now.
– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interest in politics, media, development and science. Twitter: @adnanrehmat1