THE opposition has once again united against a shared adversary. Still, Sunday’s multiparty conference, where more than 10 political parties with varying ideologies joined to form an alliance, is in many ways a unique event. Christened the ‘Pakistan Democratic Movement’, the alliance unequivocally hit out at what it said was the unrelenting interference of the establishment and intelligence agencies in political affairs. Former premier Nawaz Sharif, declared an absconder by a court, broke his two-year silence by taking the lead in the onslaught. On the basis of his experience as prime minister, and that of prime ministers in the past, he spoke of constant intervention by elements belonging to “a state above a state”. His criticism of alleged interference by the security establishment in civilian affairs may have been construed as an outburst of a politically aggrieved person, but his sentiments were reflected in the strongly worded resolution which made references to this encroachment. The unanimously adopted resolution also took the same position and called for the establishment to adopt a neutral and apolitical role.
Pakistan’s chequered past has seen many a military takeover, with the unfortunate result that the security establishment in the country has remained involved in civilian affairs even when the military has not been in power. However, it is also a fact that their involvement has largely been accepted — even encouraged — by political parties in the past few decades, as they sought help to oust political rivals. Although both Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari say they have learnt from past mistakes, it is difficult to predict how these parties will practically galvanise support on their foremost issue of ‘non-interference of the establishment’ when their present aim is to oust the incumbent PTI. Forming opposition alliances is relatively easy, and our country’s history is full of them. The daunting aspect, however, is achieving a shared goal. Very rarely have such alliances fulfilled their objectives on their own. Such ambitions in the past became realities only with the help of extra-constitutional forces that the opposition is taking on. These forces, too, have manipulated situations to their advantage and taken charge of the country.
This time, the challenge is even bigger. In these early days, it is unclear how the PDM alliance will oust the government and simultaneously neutralise its alleged backers. Much will depend on the revised charter of democracy that they have promised to prepare and adopt. The coming days will decide how committed these parties are to their pledges at the MPC and the resolutions adopted there. Until then, the political game of push and pull may go on, with the government maintaining its age-old position that the alliance is a group of corrupt politicians, and turning its guns on Nawaz Sharif for leading the way for a future street agitation from what appears to be a self-imposed exile.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2020