Lost in bitter polemics over the Panama Leaks, muzzling pressures & self censorship, the Pakistani media could not properly report or discuss the proceedings of an important seminar held by the Senate of Pakistan on the side lawn of the Parliament to celebrate the Constitution Day on April 12th. Prominent political and government leaders, representing different political parties & regions of the country addressed the seminar which was presided over by the Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani. Some of the speakers vehemently criticized the impunity given to usurpers who had abrogated the constitution ( General Musharraf being the latest one). According to them prosecution of the abrogators under Article 6 of the constitution, was a must to forestall any future subversion of the constitutional order. Speaking in the context of the checkered constitutional history of the country, Chairman Senate quoted powerful words of Z A Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who had led the efforts for shaping a federal and parliamentary constitutional system in 1973 after the breakup of Pakistan in 1971. Using the words of Z A Bhutto, Mian Raza Rabbani warned that if the constitution of the country was harmed by anti democratic forces, Himalayas would weep and the ensuing flood of the tears would wipe out everything. The warning seems quite timely and relevant at a juncture when some of the known putsch sympathizers are attacking the federal democratic and parliamentary system, particularly after the 18th constitutional amendment passed by the parliament in 2010 which has considerably empowered the federating units. Not hiding their nostalgia for dictatorial past the supporters of authoritarianism openly plead the revival of the presidential system practiced by military dictators which has been the main source of the problems faced by the country.

There are no two opinions about the fact that PML(n) government has totally mishandled the situation arising from the Panama leaks, about the offshore secret bank accounts of numerous people in the world including a number of Pakistanis. Some family members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also figure in the list. In a panicked reaction, PM Nawaz Sharif, instead of letting his family members clear themselves through a credible and transparent process of investigation, personally used his official address to the nation to defend his family’s business empire. He announced the establishment of an investigation commission comprising of a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Several federal ministers also jumped in the fray to defend their leader’s family. But when the opposition parties decided to put the rulers on the mat, the government suddenly changed its position by claiming that the investments have nothing to do with either the person of the PM or the government. They started arguing that it is for the PM’s sons to clear their positions in the investigation. Almost all opposition political parties agree on the need for establishing a fully empowered judicial commission led by the Chief Justice of Apex Court with all the investigation machinery of the state at its disposal to get to the bottom of the nature of offshore investments. But there the consensus among the opposition parties end. PPP, ANP and some other parties insist on a credible and transparent inquiry but they would like to wait for the results of the inquiry before making any further demand. However, PTI and JI ( joined by TUQ) have not only started demanding resignation of the PM but have also decided to lay siege to Raiwind estate in Lahore which is the private residence of the Prime Minister and his extended family.

Political observers who had closely followed the previous prolonged siege of Islamabad in 2014 by PTI and its allies see the new sit in as a sequel to the first one with some new elements in the strategy. In the new script Imran khan is supposed to avoid a solo flight or merely depending on TUQ as his side kick ( the latter is too well known as rent-a-mob outfit to be an asset). This time round Imran khan is to gather as many opposition parties as possible to join the agitation. There is also a change of venue. The experience of the previous sit in at Islamabad had revealed the fact that no amount of agitation in the country’s capital can oust Nawaz Sharif from power, as long as his base in Lahore which is the capital of the core province Punjab, is intact. So this time it is going to be a battle for Lahore which is going to decide the fate of the present government. The third new element in the fresh onslaught is to divide democratic political forces so that they may not be able to put up a united resistance as they did last time. During the last two years coercion by state institutions has been systematically used to weaken the anti Taliban political parties to prevent any possible opposition to Pakistani support for Afghan Taliban. But at this stage it will be crucial for the masterminds of the anti democratic project to keep PML(n) and PPP at loggerheads to minimize the possibility of the rallying of political parties for defending the Constitution. Hence the cacophony among some “stalwarts”.

Be that as it may, the previous sit in had enabled a soft coup leading to the unprecedented expansion of the power and control of the country’s security establishment over security and foreign policy. In Balochistan, Pakhtunkhwa and FATA the military is already calling the shots in fighting the insurgencies via apex committees. In Sind , with tacit support of the federal government, the Rangers and the Corpse headquarters have been pushing the boundaries of their power at the expense of provincial government in a quite unsubtle way. In the Punjab parallel initiatives of the military and civilian arms of the state to curb militancy are an open secret. Strengthening in general of the armed part of the state system at the cost of civilian part is quite visible. It is obvious that any further imbalance in this area will have consequences not only for the system but also for the federation itself as the security establishment is dominated by one province. After all Pakistan, unlike its neighbors, is not the remnant of an empire but a new state established on the basis of a vision of a federal democratic republic ( the 1940 Lahore Resolution and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech before the Constituent Assembly on August 11). Or is it enough to be a frontline state of one or the other big power to be viable as state?

The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.

There are no two opinions about the fact that PML(n) government has totally mishandled the situation arising from the Panama leaks, about the offshore secret bank accounts of numerous people in the world including a number of Pakistanis.