PTI has professed to bring in one million marchers to its Dharna in Islamabad. It did not succeed but there is no doubt that there are thousands of Pakistanis who are part of the protest and support what both PTI and PAT are protesting about.
On August 17 evening, Imran Khan had announced to launch a civil obedience movement, asking people not to pay taxes and their electricity bills. He has been criticized for this announcement and by some for not launching a direct attack on the highly protected red zone. The critics failed to appreciate Imran Khan’s endeavor to avoid blood-shed to the extreme.
Rattled by plans for the protest, the Nawaz federal government and the Punjab government led by his brother employed heavy-handed tactics to handle the PAT and PTI protests. Riot police officers clashed with Qadri’s supporters across Punjab Province, resulting in at least two deaths.
Roads were closed leading to Islamabad and invoked public-order laws that ban meetings on its streets.
It is apparent that the reaction stems from speculation that the political tumult could open the way for a military coup. Military may intervene and the Nawaz government will have to be blamed for failing to resolve the issue through negotiations, just like Z.A. Bhutto did in his negotiations with PNA in 1977.
“The country cannot afford any more subversion and negative politics,” Nawaz Sharif said in a speech.
Imran Khan’s “independence march,” as he calls it, is driven by accusations that Nawaz Sharif’s party rigged the general election in May 2013. The results handed Sharif a handsome majority in Parliament, although PTI won control of the government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.
The Nawaz Sharif government claims that Imran Khan is misguiding his supporters by not differentiating between a bogus vote with an unverifiable vote. Imran has been terming all the unverifiable votes as bogus votes in all his speeches made during his Azadi March and Dharna; however, the fact negates his claims. The Nadra clearly documented the bogus and unverifiable votes separately in its report of the National Assembly constituency NA-118.
Imran refers to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s December 18, 2013 statement that 60 to 70 percent votes in every constituency could not be verified by Nadra and has also given a reference to the thumb impression results by Nadra of NA-118 from where Imran’s friend Hamid Khan lost the election, but Imran deliberately conceals that the Nadra report clearly differentiated between the bogus votes and unverifiable votes.
Nadra had submitted its report of verification of votes from NA-118 and the report disclosed that no record was found for 50,000 votes, while 25,000 votes were unverified and 4,000 were bogus votes; however, 15,000 votes were verified. Well-placed sources in Nadra said that the 75,000 votes in NA-118 were not bogus but could not be verified because of low quality ink and improper thumb impressions. “On most of the electoral rolls in NA-118, there were either half thumb impressions or vague/unclear thus they could not be verified. Nadra differentiated between bogus and unverified votes and clearly reported the bogus votes.”
If Nadra was asked to verify the votes of all constituencies and if it starts from NA-1 Peshawar, then it is most likely that most of the votes polled in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would not be verified. It does not mean that non-verified votes are bogus. Nadra first scans the fingerprints and then matches them with the Nadra data to verify a vote. If the scan quality is improved, then the data gives multiple matches against one fingerprint because of low quality of ink and improper thumb impression. If the scan’s quality is reduced, then the Nadra database doesn’t give any match against that thumb impression; therefore; in both the cases the vote is declared unverified.
Interestingly, Imran Khan won the general election from NA-1 with 90,000 votes while Ghulam Ahmad Bilour took around 25,000 votes. But when Imran Khan vacated the seat, ANP’s Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour bagged around 34,000 votes while the PTI’s candidate took around 29,000 votes. ANP’s senior Vice President Adeel alleges that where have the PTI’s 60,000 voters gone within two months. From KP NA-19 Haripur, the PTI candidate has already been de-seated on account of rigging.
The popularity of Imran Khan, 61, a former captain of the national cricket team and an enduring sex symbol is built on his appeal to young Pakistanis disillusioned by traditional politics. In recent days, supporters camped outside his home, and several spoke of “revolution.”
June 17 Killings
The picture is further complicated by the return of Qadri, who normally lives in Canada and who led protests in January 2013 against the previous government, which was headed by President Asif Ali Zardari. Although Mr. Qadri’s party has no seats in Parliament, Sharif inadvertently bolstered his credentials in June when riot police officers clashed with his supporters in Lahore, resulting in at least 14 deaths.
The government initially refused to follow the orders of the Lahore High Court which directed police to register a FIR which named amongst others, PM Sharif, the CM Shahbaz Sharif and 19 others including federal and provincial ministers and government personnel as responsible for the killing of 14 persons in a police shooting on a peaceful protest on June 17 in Lahore.
The Sessions Court in Lahore had ordered police to register the FIR which named 21 federal and provincial authorities as responsible for the incident on June 17 where police blindly fired at protesters of Minhajul Quran killing 14 persons on the spot including two women. 85 persons including women and children received bullet wounds following this shooting.
Following the police shooting frenzy, when family members of those killed and had attempted to file FIR calling for an investigation into the shooting and naming those responsible, police have flatly refused to file the FIR. The refusal prompted, the leader of the protest, Minhajul Quran to file a case in the sessions’ court to allow the victims of the shooting to file the FIR with the police – to which the sessions court agreed and made order to the affect that the families of the victims be allowed to file the FIR.
However, four federal misters; Pervaiz Rasheed – Minister of Information; Khawaja Asif – Minister of Defence, Khawaja Saad Rafique – Railways Minister and Abid Sher Ali – Minister of State for Water and Power challenged the order of the sessions’ court in the Lahore High Court. The Lahore High Court turned down the petitions and restored the decision of sessions’ court for filing the FIR from the victims.
In the meantime, on August 26, a report of the Judicial Commission – that was appointed to investigate the shooting incident – was made public through the media by ‘unnamed sources’. The government conspicuously kept the report secret for 17 days. The Commission report has held the government responsible for the killings of 14 persons and stated that in the aftermath of the incident police acted on government’s orders. The Punjab provincial government has not denied the public of the contents of the report but says instead that the report was received and was being examined and further stated that it required analysis as it was inconclusive in nature.
However, the judgement on appeal by the Lahore High Court directed the police to complete investigations before arresting any person named in the Minhajul Quran Secretariat application or the FIR. Meanwhile, government officials announced to the media that the findings of the Judicial Commission to investigate into this incident were not binding on the government as there were no conclusive findings.
Following the order of the session’s court, which allowed family members of those killed to file a FIR, Lahore police refused to file the FIR. Lahore police have reminded them that that government is intending to file an appeal against the sessions’ court order before the high court and therefore the police cannot entertain the request to file the FIR. The police deliberately ignoring substantial evidence and statements of eyewitnesses had instead lodged a one-sided FIR on the complaint of a police official. 72 days have been passed of the incident but still FIR has not been filed.
Meanwhile, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), consisted of police, civilian and military intelligence officials, has also declared the chief minister of Punjab and the government responsible for the incident of killing of 14 persons in Model Town, Lahore.
A FIR if lodged does not automatically find those named in the report as guilty – in this instance the filing of the FIR would not amount to the PM or CM and other 19 federal and provincial ministers including the high police officials being guilty of the crimes alleged and would eventually be arrested. This fact was also explicitly explained in the court order that “arrest of a suspect was not necessary during the course of investigation and general impression in this regard was misconceived because a person named in FIR was not to be arrested straightaway upon registration of the case or as a matter of course unless there was sufficient incriminating evidence culpability of the accused”
The Government has sent a clear message to the people of Pakistan that influential and powerful persons can escape the law with impunity but that law does not apply to them but the law applies only on the poor. In a country where there does not exist a proper criminal justice system nor a system based on the rule of law, the government by denying the rights to its citizens even to file an FIR, falls deeper into an abyss from where there will be no escape – creates apathy and a situation of lawlessness from which there is no return.
Although Qadri and Imran Khan lead separate protest groups, they have formed a loose alliance and seemed set to appear, separately, on the streets of Islamabad, near Aabpara. However, getting the June 17 culprits arrested and made accountable for the killings is one of the cardinal demands of Qadri and his supporters.
Imran Khan said he intended to lead a sit-in until his demands were met. His party published a photo showing him packing overnight belongings into a bag from Selfridges, a high-end London department store. Critics on social media said the picture belied his image as a man of the people.
As darkness fell, the military’s attitude remained the march’s greatest unknown. While there was little evidence that the generals wanted to take over, analysts said, they could take advantage of any discord to reassert themselves more openly in politics.
Interestingly, the Provincial Election Commissioner, Punjab, Mehboob Anwar, who is being accused by Imran Khan for getting millions of bogus ballot papers printed in the run-up to the 2013 elections, appears to have been sidelined by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Anwar has been granted leave for two months from Aug 11, the day Imran Khan accused him and another ECP official of playing a key role in rigging the general elections.
ECP says that Anwar had applied for leave before Eid because he wanted to proceed to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj.
The leave was notified on Aug 13 and Joint Provincial Election Commissioner Khaleequr Rahman, who was to retire on Aug 11, was given a two-month extension to take care of the office in the absence of Anwar.
One ECP official rejected as baseless the speculation that Anwar had fled the country. He was preparing to leave for Haj next week and would return in the second week of October.
He said the approval of leave had nothing to do with Mr Khan’s allegations against Mr Anwar. The allegations about printing of bogus ballot papers had already been rejected by the ECP and the commission had record of the ballot papers sent to each returning officer and the unused ballot papers returned by them, the official added.
The ECP on August 25 after a formal meeting rejected the allegations levelled by Imran Khan regarding the alleged printing of hundreds of thousands of extra ballot papers during general elections 2013 by provincial election commissioner Punjab through private printing presses located in Urdu Bazaar, Lahore.
The ECP said that printing of ballot papers is a highly sensitive, huge and complex process having many dimensions and therefore the ECP takes maximum possible security measures to ensure that every single ballot paper is printed and delivered to the returning officers in a secured manner through a detailed action plan.
The ECP said that the decision to print ballot papers for May 2013 general elections was taken by the ECP in the meeting held with the authorities of the Printing Corporation of Pakistan Press (PCPP), Islamabad, and Pakistan Security Printing Corporation (PSPC), Karachi, on 6th and 7th September 2012.
The ballot papers are printed on a special non-market paper, which is procured by the PCPP. According to PCPP, they procured this paper from two paper mills. The exact number of ballot papers to be printed for each constituency is communicated to the provincial election commissioners by the returning officers concerned keeping in view the number of voters in each constituency under their respective jurisdiction and the former, in turn, sends this number to the respective printing presses. The entire record containing the names of the representatives of the returning officers along with details of exact number of ballot paper books handed over to them is available with the respective printing press which can be produced as and when required by any competent forum that may be appointed for the purpose of investigation of these allegations.
Each ballot paper book contains 100 leaves and ballot paper books of a constituency bear a continuous serial number on their counterfoils so as to have a complete record of each and every ballot paper book. The ballot papers thus printed are handed over directly to the returning officer or his representatives by the respective printing presses. On receipt of ballot papers, the returning officer carries out bulk breaking of all sensitive material including ballot papers and prepares polling station-wise invoice of the same. Thereafter, the ballot papers are put in the polling bags according to the invoices and then the bags are properly sealed and handed over to the respective presiding officers one day before the poll against a proper receipt.
PEC Punjab Mahboob Anwar has submitted a statement to the ECP containing all necessary details, whereby he has rebutted the charges levelled against him by Imran.
In the meantime, PPP is bending backwards to please PML-n and perhaps to save its ass as well. Asif Zardari visited the PM at his luxurious palatial home in Lahore and the Senate in which the PPP has majority in its last sitting of the 107th session unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the supremacy of the Constitution and the Parliament rejecting demands for the resignation of PM and the dissolution of Assemblies.
Sponsored by a PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, the resolution also condemned derogatory remarks against parliamentarians by those leading protests and sit-ins in Islamabad.
The sitting witnessed low attendance of Senators as 9 (9%) were present at the outset while 24 (23%) at the adjournment of the sitting. The Leader of the House was present during the entire sitting while the Leader of the Opposition did not attend the sitting.
Pakistani Opposition Clashes With the Police AUG. 30, 2014
The political standoff eventually escalated into a national crisis on August 30 night when the clashes between the police and protesters attempting to storm the prime minister’s house left three people dead and at least 500 wounded, raising the specter of a government collapse.
Thousands of people stormed toward the prime minister’s official residence. Others cut through a barbed-wire fence surrounding Parliament and rammed a truck through a metal fence. In clashes that lasted through the night, paramilitary and police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators, who stopped their advance only when army troops stationed inside the buildings issued a warning.
The defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said the government had been compelled to use force to protect important buildings that symbolized the state.
One protester fell into a ditch and died of a heart attack. Two others admitted to the hospital died from their injuries.
On August 31, protesters erected tents on the sweeping lawns in front of the main Parliament building; nearby roads were littered with debris, and skirmishes between protesters and security forces continued throughout the afternoon.
The violence, in which the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters armed with sticks, provoked an intervention from the military, which has a long history of seizing power during times of chaos. On August 31 evening, the army chief held an emergency meeting with the military high command, moving it up by a day as the situation in Islamabad, deteriorated rapidly.
In a statement afterward, the military stressed its commitment to democracy and urged rival politicians to resolve their differences “without wasting any time.” But it also stated that “further use of force will only aggravate the problem,” an assertion that put further pressure on PM Nawaz Sharif by limiting his options to halt the chaos.
In a sign of the seriousness of the standoff, PM Sharif requested on August 28 that the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, help defuse the tensions, and the two men, who are not related, agreed to push for negotiations to resume. But those talks collapsed over the weekend, and the protesters tried to leverage their position by seizing control of symbolically important ground. On August 30 evening, Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri ordered their protesters to push through police lines in the capital’s “red zone” — a high-security area that includes the Parliament, the Supreme Court and many diplomatic missions.
In order perhaps not to be left behind and perhaps yearning for media attention, Javed Hashmi, the president of PTI lashed out on August 30 at Imran Khan’s decision to escalate the protest, and effectively announced that he was quitting the party. Hashmi said Imran Khan had overruled the senior party leaders who opposed his decision, and suggested that Mr. Khan had been influenced by a “signal” from outside, an apparent reference to military intervention. “Imran Khan will be responsible if martial law is imposed in the country,” Hashmi told reporters. Later the same day, Imran Khan said in a speech that he was “upset” by Hashmi’s statements. “From today our paths are separate,” he said.
PM Sharif reached Islamabad from Lahore on August 31 for talks with cabinet ministers. A senior official in the government, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about its plans, said the government did not intend to arrest Imran Khan or Qadri but was planning to “push them out of the red zone.”
The military has seized power in Pakistan four times since 1958, usually at moments of upheaval in the political system. That history is particularly significant for PM Sharif, whose last stint in power ended in 1999 with a military coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
PM Sharif has angered the military leadership by pursuing treason charges against General Musharraf and preventing him from leaving the country. Sharif’s supporters see the current turmoil as part of a military scheme to bring their leader to heel, if not to oust him entirely.
Some independent analysts agree with that view, while others see the upheaval as the product of a naked power grab by the two protest leaders.
By August 31 evening, Constitution Avenue, the main road linking Parliament to other major government buildings in central Islamabad, resembled a war zone. The police fired sporadic volleys of tear gas at groups of protesters, who in turn attacked them with bricks pulled from the sidewalk. Demonstrators set fire to trees and to a shipping container that blocked a road leading to an office housing several key ministries.
A Bubble Called Pakistan
Barely 14 months after convincingly winning a general election, PM Nawaz Sharif’s government is being asked to resign amid threats of street protests. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based Sunni cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri marched separately on Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day and then merged on August 19.
Several politicians and parties known for their close ties to Pakistan’s deep state, the ISI, have announced support for the anti-Sharif protests.
Sharif will most likely ride out this first wave of attack. He retains an absolute majority in parliament and, by most accounts, there is no appetite in the country for a military coup. But the protests will weaken Sharif and sap the elected government’s energies, diminishing its effectiveness. That is exactly how the wings of the previous civilian government led by Asif Zardari and Yusuf Raza Gilani were clipped. Then, the judiciary played a critical role in tying up elected leaders in knots though, this time, the judges have yet to get involved.
The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its existence as an independent country. When it can’t govern directly, the military and its intelligence services still want to exert influence, especially over foreign and national security policies. At any given time, there are enough civilian politicians, media personalities or judges willing to do the military’s bidding for this manipulation to persist.
Currently, the military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics. It also wants an end to the treason trial of General Musharraf.
In the Pakistani military’s worldview, coup-making should not result in a trial for treason. The armed forces represent patriotism, even if their errors result in the loss of half the country’s territory, as happened in 1971 with the loss of Bangladesh. Civilians, on the other hand, can be judged traitors merely for advocating a different path forward for the country.
Ironically, the latest effort to destabilise an elected civilian government is taking place at a time when the Pakistan army is ostensibly waging war against jihadi terrorists in North Waziristan. The chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, has promised that the war will continue until all terrorist groups are eliminated. Usually, war unites political rivals, but there has been no effort by the military and its civilian political allies, or for that matter by Sharif’s PML-N, to overcome polarisation.
The current political chaos reminds me of a conversation I had with the then US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, soon after the covert American operation that resulted in discovering and killing Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
Grossman, who was in Islamabad at the time of the May 1, 2011 operation, described the atmosphere in Islamabad as “surreal”. He told me that he felt Pakistani officials and the rest of the world seemed to exist in “parallel universes”.
The veteran American diplomat noted that instead of realising the need to be apologetic about the world’s most wanted terrorist being found in their country, Pakistanis angrily protested America’s decision to kill bin Laden on Pakistani soil without informing Pakistani authorities.
As Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time, I could not tell Grossman that I agreed with him. But like many Pakistanis who worry about their country’s future, I have often noted my compatriots’ tendency to live in a world all our own.
The rest of the world is clearly concerned about the inadequacy of Pakistan’s efforts in eliminating the jihadis. The spectre of terrorism impacts Pakistan’s economy adversely and makes it difficult for Pakistanis to find jobs or travel abroad. Sri Lanka recently withdrew visa-on-arrival facility from Pakistani citizens, further reducing the number of countries where Pakistanis might travel without a visa.
But these adverse reports barely find mention in Pakistan’s media, which remains preoccupied with the shenanigans of people like Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri. Such is the media noise that Pakistanis are often kept ignorant of how the rest of the world looks at their country and remain confused about considering jihadist terrorism the principal threat to the country’s survival.
Pakistani leaders seem to prefer hyper-nationalist rhetoric and allegations of corruption against their rivals to an honest debate about the country’s loss of direction. Thus, Imran Khan and Qadri are not behaving differently from the way Nawaz Sharif and the lawyers’ movement acted against Zardari in the preceding five years.
Calls for a change of government, even if it is only a few months after its election, serve as a substitute for serious debate about how Pakistan may have lost its direction as a nation. There is virtual denial about real problems like rising extremism, increasing intolerance, widespread violence and the prospect of global isolation.
Denial leads to self-deception. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey recently found that even in Pakistan’s closest ally, China, only 30 percent of those polled had a positive view of Pakistan. But the poll and its implications were barely discussed in the Pakistani media, which has been focused on the verbal duels between Sharif’s supporters and opponents. Parallel universes indeed.