Political temperature is rising in Pakistan as the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 opposition parties including Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, is taking head on the Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan Niyazi.
The former PM, while addressing his party’s first rally at Gujranwala yesterday, targeted the two most powerful men of Pakistan. “General Qamar Javed Bajwa, you packed up our government which was working well and put the nation and the country at the alter of your wishes,” said the three-time PM while appearing on the big screens through a video link from London.
“Who are the patriots? Those who destroyed the constitution, who divided the country into two halves… Sheikh Mujib (Mujibur Rahman) was accused of being a traitor and that led to the creation of Bangladesh. But the real traitor was General AAK Niazi who surrendered shamelessly in Dhaka. However, nobody can calls him a traitor,” Nawaz Sharif said on being labeled a ‘gaddar’ (traitor).
Sharif’s speech was censored on all Pakistani tv channels by the Imran Khan government. The ban though didn’t stop thousands of people from attending the PDM rally. One estimate put the number of people attending it at around 30,000. He also accused the chief of Pakistan’s Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being involved in conspiring against his government.
Pakistani army, its chief and ISI being bashed at a political rally by a former PM is unprecedented in the history of the country. Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 73 years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy. No politician has dared to criticize the army. Even Sharif – who was removed thrice by the army – had not done it till recently. Right now he is no mood to mince words. He has been openly blaming the Pakistan army for ruining the country. It becomes significant when it comes from a former Pakistan PM.
“This is all your doing,” Sharif said while pointing towards General Bajwa in his speech, adding, “I hold you responsible for all the mess you have created. We are seeing unemployment, unprecedented inflation. One ‘roti’ now costs Rs 10 and prices of medicines have touched a new height. People cannot afford to pay their electricity bills.”
Some very strong words coming from a leader in exile. But what is really new about it? Army dictators have always trampled upon the existing constitution in Pakistan, introduced virulent mutations and anomalies into it, or replaced with warped ones of their own. Currently, Imran Khan is a perfect marionette who is doing exactly what his puppeteers want him to do.
Sharif laid threadbare military’s interference in Pakistani politics, its manipulation of elections, stealing the verdict of the people and its flirtation with terrorist groups which have earned the country a terrible reputation. In his first speech last month, after he was declared absconder and labeled as a traitor, Sharif had declared that there cannot be a state within the state and no institution (a euphemism for the military) could claim it was not under the government.
“Now there is a state above the state which is the root of all problems. Should I blame Imran Khan for this catastrophe, unemployment and inflation or people who brought him into power? Who stole your vote and rigged your election? Who selected this government?”, Sharif asked the audience. “Go Imran, go. Your time is up,” chanted the anti-government protesters gathered at the Gujranwala Stadium.
Nawaz went on to accuse the incumbent government of being the most corrupt he had seen in his 35-year political career. Taking on the current PM, Sharif said that the source of the funding behind Khan’s properties should be investigated. “We will investigate Imran Khan. We will investigate his sister Aleema Khan. We will investigate the dealings of General Asim Saleem Bajwa, who has made billions as a chairman of CPEC,” he said.
The rally is the first of many protests and public meetings that the PDM has planned over the coming weeks before they embark on a “long march” to parliament in Islamabad, early next year. The opposition leaders have said they would use mass resignations and votes of no confidence in parliament to bring the government down.
The protests come at a time when Khan’s government is struggling to cope with a severe economic decline, unemployment and the worst inflation rates in Asia, causing a steep rise in food prices which have led to mass discontent. On top of that, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary will decide next week if Pakistan should be excluded from its ‘grey’ list. If FATF finds that Pakistan has failed to meet its requirements, there is a possibility that the global body may blacklist the country along with North Korea and Iran.
Meanwhile, after the success of its first rally, opposition has decided to intensify its agitation against the ruling government and the military establishment. Pakistani experts believe that Sharif has energized his people and spooked the military establishment and a lot will depend on how things shape up in coming days.