Maj Gen Ovais Mustafa (Retd) offers his opinion on the current mayhem
The 25th of May, 2022… What Next! Forget about who claims victory. Spin masters in the media will do their job, depending of course from whichever side the fatter envelope lands on their desk. That is however no longer relevant. The nation has seen the events unfold live, thanks to social media. Who will or can even forget clips of Dr. Yasmin, all grey hair, a cancer patient being roughed up by bullying and to boot evil looking men, with her car screen smashed, or the baton wielding ‘gulu butts’ – that is the closest epithet – smashing every car that passed by in company with policemen with even longer batons? And the extreme callous act of the law enforcers throwing a man over a bridge reportedly – please Allah let that not be true – even medieval wars may not have parallels of such behaviour by a 21st century police force. But then when one sees who is the leading them – a man with a history of violence as Interior Minister, things fall into place.
That the government of the day banked on that very violent streak to crush the long march then what more evidence does one need to conclude that this is a government that can stoop to any level to make its presence felt. This government is not a conglomeration of political parties as they claim, more a cabal of dynasties doing everything dirty to remain in charge of national resources. One thing is now clear as day; people can no longer be hoodwinked. Traditional politicos better take heed or else be ready for the sort of treatment meted out to the recently deposed Sri Lankan rulers – horrific scenes; once mighty, groveling at the feet of those they ruled with contempt.
As I watch the latest news, the long march has been called off, with the government asked to decide an election date within six days. Looks like some behind the scenes influences, neutrality we said earlier being no longer an option. One can question why such a delay, why could the same end, well more of a starting point for the next round, the elections, not be arrived at earlier. Why did it have to take six lives, to shift gears; was it a test of some sort, to see whether people will respond to the march call? If such was the case, it was brinkmanship at the cost of the nation. Were the nonstop massive rallies that happened all over Pakistan on a daily basis, not proof enough, or were the intelligence agencies not reporting correctly. Somebody needs to answer.
That is where things stand now. The long march, the culmination of which was to be an indefinite dharna has been called off with a six-day notice for elections to be announced by the incumbents. Maybe that was the best we could hope for, for God knows the country cannot afford any dharnas, not now, not ever. But the key now is the response from the government: What should that be, or should have been all along, more on that later. Early signs are however not encouraging, and it seems we will see some more violence ratcheted even higher in coming days if what we are hearing from the government side is any indication of their intentions. The government has promptly gone to the Supreme Court to get a case of contempt registered against PTI leadership for disregarding court orders of restricting the dharna at some other site than the now historical D Chowk – for heaven’s sake change that name; D Chowk!? Must find the person who named it put him behind bars for this atrocity! That the government itself grossly violated their side of the deal – not removing barriers to public movement, I can vouch for that as all attempts to reach Islamabad were frustrated at each route that I took.
Not stopping tear gassing, not releasing arrested people, all these violations considered inconsequential. But this one step shows PDM has not learned any lesson. This is a time when they need to lower temperatures, not stoke the fire. Most likely they filed the case to have a bargaining chip for what is to follow. But it does belie their collective approach to politics and the much abused word, ‘democracy’, which for them seems to mean government by a few families. How else could we have a father son duo as PM and CM, a father son duo as Foreign Minister as aspiring President, a father duo as Communications Minister and father waiting for a lucrative engagement. Add to that a daughter father duo waiting in the wings to take over, but still ordering government functionaries around, making policy statements and practically acting as if they own the country. Only in Pakistan can we tolerate such take over of national affairs by few families, each one with a criminal record.
While all this is happening our intelligentsia too is putting in its pearls of wisdom. Look at the articles and editorials and commentaries of all the leading lights in the journalistic field of say the period prior to vote of no confidence and look what they are saying now. It was a full onslaught for the rights of jalsas and dharnas and dissidents, calling names, using coloured demeaning epithets, anything that was unfavourable to the then Govt was highlighted as a must for democracy. Even the immorality of sale of votes was defended as ‘awakening of conscience’, paid sojourns in luxury conveniently overlooked. If I am not mistaken the word ‘jamhoori hamla’ was coined by an eminent journalist with a history of hobnobbing with deep pockets. A smoke screen about the now proven foreign influences at work? And look what they say now, a call to respect each other so that the masses also respect politicians, a call to weigh the precarious economic straits we are in, a call to consider public inconvenience due to jalsas and all. Can there be a more blatant exhibition of yellow journalism?
At this point in time the government needs to reach out to the alienated, to try and find why this sudden shift in the public mood that the old, the young, the infirm, the youth, the professionals, the traders, the industrialists, the students, the labourers, you name it. Look at the crowds that have been at the PTI rallies. PTI was always taunted to have the following of only the upscale youth, the youthias or the burger crowd they were called by the opposition, but the reality has turned out to be entirely different. Every segment of the society was visible in the rallies and the march. The way they turned the tables on a well-equipped, large contingents of police force can only mean one thing. They want change and they are ready to pay the price for it. That is what the incumbents be thinking about – why this alienation and how that can be reduced. But what they are on about; the exact opposite.
They seem to be gearing up to create even further fissures in society, making venomous statements while asking the other side to tone down. Shehbaz Sharif’s address to the Chamber of Commerce at Karachi is a case in point. He all but pleaded to the army top brass to bail him out; this from a party leader which never ceased to call the other side ‘selected’. Double standards or sheer abject behaviour? Just listen to the two Maryams on display, the way they speak, their body language while speaking, hate oozing out from every gesture, words of extreme demeaning and all heresy. Add the Sanaullahs, the Maulanas, the PPP brigade to the mix with the media giving prime coverage to all – a cauldron of hatred polluting minds round the clock.
As I surf the channels for the latest, the breaking news ad nauseum is the details of hearing in Supreme Court with the Attorney General lamenting how one party destroyed Pakistan in one day’s long march completely whitewashing the conditions created by the government for the mayhem. Skewed intentions are on display and the Govt seems bent on gaining lost ground through courts what they have clearly lost publicly. At the cost of repeating, the exact opposite of what they should be doing. As the dust settles, we will, in all likelihood, keep on being exposed to false narratives and one thing is abundantly clear. The incumbents now will keep hiding behind one excuse or the other to gain time to create a favourable environment to improve their chances in the elections which are now inevitable. They will remove the EVM, disenfranchise expatriates and legislate to retain their banks of illegal votes; support a pliant EC which has so far exhibited extra ordinary energy to favor one side, NIC of the dead not declared as such, NICs of nonexistent persons made fraudulently and retaining NICs of the poor till they vote according to dictates of the area influential etc., – twenty to thirty thousand ghost votes per constituency according to some estimates. That is what the much trumpeted ‘election reforms’ are about. Some damage they have already done, like defanging NAB through an incomplete legislature and active measures to compromise evidence against them in courts. Their haste and preference for self-serving acts with matters of governance a poor second is quite clear.
That is why there has to be an oversight mechanism otherwise it will be more of the same. National security becomes a farce if hinged on false mandates. ‘Aloofness’ by those who matter is clearly now against national interests. The next step then has to be an immediate announcement of election dates with a robust mechanism to make fair and transparent elections possible. Let all have their say, but that one-point agenda – immediate, fair and transparent elections must now be the focus for all stakeholders.