Is the party over?

Umar Cheema

ISLAMABAD: Although, the rumor mill has been running high for quite sometime about the premature removal of the present government, the plot now thickens triggering concerns among the civilian power players who used to laugh off such reports.

DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor though ruled out speculations of any unconstitutional move during Saturday’s press conference, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi spares no chance to remind that the technocrat government isn’t an answer to the problems plaguing Pakistan. He has done this thrice in a week.

Coming this from a person not less than prime minister makes it obvious the situation is not normal. What goes on behind the screen offers some indication how things are unfolding. A high-profile meeting took place sometime before the PM started lecturing on democracy.

It was between an influential figure of the establishment and an important office-bearer of the civilian set-up. The party is over, the civilian was told. The government can’t continue with so much mess around, the establishment man explained. Economy figured atop in the charge sheet against the present set-up. That national kitty is cash-starved was described as a cause of concern. It is impeding the ongoing projects of the army, he further declared.

Displeasure was also conveyed about Captain (retd) Safdar’s diatribe against the Qadiani community with an intention to target a certain individual. An attempt by the parliament to bring the army and judiciary under the purview of the National Accountability Bureau has also not gone well with the concerned quarters.

A relentless campaign against the judiciary and bracketing it with the establishment in an effort to oust Nawaz Sharif has also offended the establishment, it was further told. The return of disqualified prime minister as party head through an amendment in law hasn’t been liked either. What will be the credibility of the government being remote-controlled by a person disqualified by the court, the establishment man wondered.

Earlier, an attempt was made to forestall the passage of the Election Bill 2017 in the National Assembly, it has separately been learnt. A number of treasury lawmakers had received calls from private numbers urging them to refrain from becoming part of its passage, an effort thwarted after contacts at political high level.

The rise of Maryam Nawaz as political heir of her father was also called into question during the meeting between the establishment man and the civilian office-bearer. Incidentally, this plan has also offended the PML-N heavyweights as well who complain that Nawaz Sharif isn’t ready to cultivate his brother as a successor despite consensus in the party, let alone non-family party members.

Considering the plan to send home the present set-up is afoot, how will it be done? Nobody is in complete picture. The background discussions with officials privy to intrigues indicate that direct intervention is not being considered a preferred option. The army chief isn’t in favour of any unconstitutional step, a point reaffirmed by the DG ISPR in Saturday’s press conference when he said whatever happens would take place within the parameters of the Constitution.

There is rather an effort to ensure the judiciary plays the role of an arbiter. Two likely plans are under consideration as instrument of change. One, the formation of a forward bloc in the ruling party; second, the march towards Islamabad.

The first plan can only be materialised if there is enough defection within the ruling party for tabling the no-confidence motion. A successful attempt may eventually trigger demand of fresh election but after accountability, thus paving way for a national consensus government with the approval of parliament.

How much this plan is feasible can be anybody’s guess. Although, the treasury lawmakers foiled the move of stopping them from voting on amendment of law about party head, the signals coming out are not encouraging for the ruling party. Four dissidents from different regions were assigned the task of making inroads and their efforts have yielded result. They claim to have scored 50. Who will lead this group has not been settled yet.

The second plan envisages the invasion of Islamabad through a political party as happened in 2014 or attempted through lockdown call in 2016. Any issue could be the cause of protest. Alleged delaying tactics in accountability by the Sharif family like scuffles between police and the lawyers or any misadventure at the next hearing date could provide an excuse.

Criticism of the judiciary in attempt to create hurdles in dispensation of justice could also be a reason forming the basis to raise the demand that accountability is not possible in the presence of the PML-N government. In furtherance to this call, somebody can file a petition praying the court to invoke Article 190 that requires all executives and judicial authorities to act in aid of the Supreme Court.

The question still remains that how the technocrat set-up or national consensus government will be installed by using these options? The answer lies with the architect of this plan. Confusion reigns supreme at the moment, not the Constitution. One thing is however confirmed: two Middle Eastern countries have shown willingness to offer economic bailout package in case the PML-N government is replaced with a new set-up, The News has learnt on good authority. One can only conclude that likely change plan isn’t only internal, it has external dimensions as well. Nawaz Sharif’s refusal to offer troops for Yemen hasn’t been forgotten yet.

This coincides with the sudden improvement in relations with the Trump administration. Afghan president is coming to Pakistan whereas former spy chiefs of RAW and ISI concluded a meeting in London with the resolve to shun the hatred. Is a stage being set to seize a historic opportunity in the region? The CPEC's reward is going to be announced next month by declaring loadshedding-free Pakistan. Will the PML-N government have enough time to take this credit? Interesting times ahead.   

Originally published in The News