Crisis deep enough to attract military takeover, Abbasi warns

Published April 23, 2023
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. — Screengrab
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. — Screengrab

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has warned that the current economic and political crisis has all the makings of attracting a military takeover, adding that the army intervened in the past in much less severe circumstances as he urged the top stakeholders to initiate a dialogue.

Speaking on Dawn News English show ‘Spotlight’, the PML-N leader made it clear that martial law always remained a possibility if the system failed or when there was a conflict between institutions and the political leadership was unable to chart a way forward.

“Pakistan has had many long periods of martial law in very similar situations,” he said. “In fact, I would say Pakistan has never witnessed a [more] severe economic and political situation before. In much less severe circumstances the military has taken over.”

Abbasi warned of anarchy if friction within the society and institutions became too deep, adding that such a situation could also see the army step in.

“It has happened in many countries,” he said. “When the political and constitutional system fails, extra-constitutional [measures] take place.”

The PML-N leader, however, hoped that the military was not considering the option of imposing martial law. “I don’t think they are considering that but when they are left with no choice, the old famous speeches of ‘meray aziz ham watno’ (a phrase synonymous with military takeovers) are heard.”

He clarified that if the army were to take over, it would make things worse instead of doing any good.

“A political dispensation is the only way forward,” he said. “Every political party today has been in the government for 12 months but they have not delivered so far. It’s a really deep crisis. The visible phase is the economic crisis.

“There is more background including constitutional and institutional failure, political and judicial system failure and failure on part of the military establishment.”

He said PTI Chairman Imran Khan, PML-N Supremo Nawaz Sharif, and Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir — the three important players in the game — should initiate a dialogue.

“We need to start from the leadership, and then everything will flow from there,” Abbasi added, highlighting that the way only way forward would be for sanity to prevail and for the country’s interests to supersede personal agendas.

Commenting on whether the military should play an arbitrary role to resolve the political impasse, Abbasi said there was no bar on institutional heads sitting down and trying to work out a solution for the country.

“In fact, it’s a responsibility [of theirs],” he said. “We have an extraordinary situation. We need to look for an extraordinary solution. There is no other solution. In most democracies, and even in Pakistan, elections did always provide the solution but unfortunately this time they won’t.”

He brushed aside the suggestion of friendly countries such as the US and the UK’s attempt to mediate like they did during the Musharraf era.

“Our friendly countries definitely see what is happening,” he said. “They will play their role, but they are perhaps behind the scenes. They use their influence but those are only to nudge us in the right direction and find a solution.”

The former prime minister stressed that solutions will have to come from within the country, but wondered how a solution would be found if the leadership did not understand and recognise the extent of the problem.

“It’s a leadership crisis today if they don’t address it, and the problem is that if you have elections today, you can have one party win every seat in the country but will they be able to handle the issues? I don’t think so because the system doesn’t have the capacity to address the solutions,” he remarked.

Abbasi said dialogues were supposed to have a purpose but if they benefited only one political party, they would defeat their purpose. “If the intent is just to decide a date for the elections or the political benefits of one, it’s not a proper dialogue.”

He lamented the political discourse of the country that he said had shifted to blaming and abusing each other, terming it a toxic environment. “Parliament does not discuss national issues. Provincial assemblies are the same way. Dialogue in media is all about abusing each other.”

Abbasi rued the current composition of the economy, saying the country could not interact with the world just on the basis of being a nuclear power.

“Yes, we have achieved nuclear deterrence but it cannot be viewed as a menace to the world. We need to recognise that the security situation we have in the country does not have solutions either. If you are a weak economy, your capacity to be a state that has nuclear deterrence comes under stress.”

When asked what could be done to remedy the situation, the PML-N leader stated that Pakistan needed to acknowledge its own situation in the world pertaining to what Pakistan expected from the world and vice versa.

“This is something that we need to address and articulate clearly,” he said. “When the situation is not rational, it is difficult to provide solutions and talk of a way forward. And this is where we are today. It has become a very irrational situation.”

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