How our leaders let their own ambition undo our case on Kashmir

Kashmir or IslamabadIt’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago there was political unity as all parties, both civil and military, had come together to bring the world’s attention to the Kashmiri cause. Today, unity has reverted back to fighting, and the world’s attention is focused not on the chaos in Kashmir, but the chaos in Islamabad. If our political leaders failed to get any media attention during the diplomatic missions earlier this month, they have succeeded in getting the world’s attention now.

Nawaz Sharif has taken a page from Modi’s book by heavily cracking down on opposition protestors. The images on TV are similar with crowds of unarmed people fleeing clouds of tear gas and facing walls of armed security forces. The result has been the same, too. Next time our diplomats mention statements against Indian oppression in Kashmir from international human rights groups like Kashmir, how will they answer when India’s diplomats note that the same human rights groups are condemning our own reactions to protestors?

Nawaz Sharif is not the only one to blame for this disaster, though. Equal blame is shared by Imran Khan for inciting the entire situation. This is not an excuse for corruption or defence of Panama Papers accusations. If Nawaz had broken the law, let him be held accountable. Imran Khan had many choices for how to handle this issue and he chose the one that he knew would provoke the government to overreact. It was a strategic choice made by PTI’s top leadership to cause chaos. The government was stupid for falling for this trick, but there is no doubt that it has not worked out exactly as Imran Khan hoped.

ISPR has reported that cross border firing from India continues along the LoC, but our ability to make this case in the international forums is quickly becoming moot. The world is finally paying attention, but it’s the insecurity in Islamabad that is making headlines, not Kashmir.

The Road To Military Rule

Gen Raheel

PPP finds itself being squeezed rather tightly lately. Sadly, the squeeze really comes as no surprise. When Pakistan Rangers first raided 90 earlier this year, the writing was already on the wall. Today, PPP leadership is crying foul over being targeted, but in some ways their troubles are a result of their own doing. When it became obvious that Army was going returning to operations against political parties, the PPP took the strategy of trying to cozy up in hopes of weathering the storm. Did they really think that it would work?

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The Wrong March

PTI goondas carry dandas into Islamabad

A day after it began, PAT+PTI long march is beginning to reach Islamabad and the Kaptaan himself is expected to arrive later tonight. Imran Khan’s attitude has been comically arrogant, as apparent from his Twitter feed:

The government has been completely distracted by the marches, having to give full attention to security and responding to the crisis. Meanwhile, life moves on and while all political leaders are fighting on the streets, Pakistan continues to suffer from purely preventable problems.

This week, five more polio cases detected – including in Punjab – bringing year’s total to 115. The stock market has crashed 1300 points. Terrorists continue their war against Pakistan, last night attacking near Samungli Airbase bringing a startling reminder of devastating attack against Kamra Airbase in 2012.

This is not meant as a defence of Nawaz Sharif’s policies, or a justification of opposition complaints. Let me just ask this: Imagine if instead of organising long march to overthrow the government, Imran Khan organised a long march to end polio. Imagine if instead of organising long march to overthrow the government, Imran Khan organised a long march to defend minorities. Imagine if instead of organising supporters to deliver blows, Imran Khan organised supporters to deliver text books.

Even if Imran Khan’s ‘Azadi March’ succeeds, PMLN government will be gone but polio, terrorism, sectarianism, lack of education will all remain. Imran Khan knows he can organise massive action. He just doesn’t know what he should be organising action against.

Consequences and Precedents

In politics, decisions have consequences. Rana Sanaullah learned this lesson following Model Town tragedy in June when Pakistan Awami Tehreek protestors and Punjab police clashed and needlessly resulted in 14 deaths and hundreds injured. With 14th August on the horizon, Nawaz Sharif must be struggling with this lesson as well, trying to find some way to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

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It’s Load Shedding, Stupid!

load shedding

During the 1990s, American President Bill Clinton is said to have kept a sign on his desk which read simply, “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” The sign was meant to remind him at all times what he should be working on if he wanted to remain popular among the masses. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces protests and failing support, he should borrow Bill Clinton’s idea and place in the middle of his office a sign that reminds him every day: “It’s Load Shedding, Stupid!”

Imran Khan is planning his next round of protests based on alleged discrepancies in the 2013 elections, but it’s not allegations of vote rigging that are hurting the government.

The popular view that Mr Sharif is floundering has been reinforced by his failure to end power cuts lasting up to 16 hours a day during the heat of summer and by his 10-day visit to Saudi Arabia on a spiritual journey at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan…

In the poor Barakahu neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, Faqeer Khattak, a truck driver who voted for the PML-N last year, echoes common complaints about power cuts and electrical appliances being damaged by unreliable electricity supplies.

“Our fridge broke down and we now use it for storing shoes and clothes,” he says. “I will never vote for this party again because they have failed to improve conditions in Pakistan.”

Nawaz has responded to critics by echoing Asif Zardari and saying that Pakistan can only make progress if it continued to move forward on the path of democracy. Completing a term may have been a good enough goal for the last government (though it wasn’t enough to win re-election), but it certainly isn’t enough now.

Load shedding has reached historic levels to the degree that it is not merely an inconvenience but presenting an imminent threat to the national economy. This should be especially bothersome to the industrialist whose primary political asset is supposed to be his ability to manage the economy.

Nawaz is barely one year into his term, and already things appear to be falling apart. It’s not too early to lose control, but it’s not too late to save it either. If Nawaz wants to save his legacy, he needs to do something quick. It’s not hard to find the obvious answer, either: It’s Load Shedding, Stupid!