The Bajwa Doctrine: Muddying Pak’s Election Scene
March 23, 2018 Commentaries
Pakistan and instability are born twins. The turn of events in recent months amply proves this point. It is a country where no elected government is allowed the luxury to rule without the fear of perpetual conspiracy being hatched by unelected vested-interest groups to unseat it. It is no mean feat that last two elected governments have almost managed to complete their full tenures, of course not with a single Prime Minister completing office in both the cases.
At this juncture, as the country is heading for the next general elections, it is not yet certain whether there would be a smooth and non-controversial transition. An overactive judiciary and an ever-assertive military seem to have similar agendas, i.e., to keep out Nawaz Sharif and his family from contesting the elections, and to ensure a fractured mandate, where no party would win a majority, leaving the door open for their manipulations.
Last week, the Pakistani media alluded to the ‘Bajwa doctrine’, based on the Army Chief’s informal interaction with the media. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa vowed to protect the institutions (judiciary and election commission), and to restore law and order in the country, which had taken a hit. He held his own government guilty for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) reverses! In a democracy, political remarks, that too criticism of an elected government by a professional soldier are out of sync.
The way things have shaped up in Pakistan during the last few years, gives reason to believe that the country has evolved its own form of controlled ‘parliamentary democracy’, where an elected government is forced to operate under huge constraints.
The latest to join the fray and constrain the civilian forces further has been the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Barely four months to go for the elections, it displayed the newly delimited constituencies on March 5. This has led to further controversies. No political party is happy with the way the delimitation has been done. A vexed parliament has set up a committee to look into the case. However, the ECP is in no mood to accept either its observations or directions.
Independent observers say that the ECP, even if worked within the framework provided by the Electoral Act 2017, has seriously compromised the principle of equality of vote in as many as 81 National Assembly (NA) constituencies, where population exceeds the permissible limit of 10% variation. So far, only 12 complaints have been filed with the ECP—11 from Punjab and 1 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while the last date for filing the nominations is April 5. The ECP is set to display its list of 104 million-strong electorate on March 26 across the country in 14,487 centres.
The next challenge is the appointment of caretaker governments at the centre and the provinces, which should be acceptable to the opposition. In view of the widening chasm between the government and the opposition parties—who came together despite their differences to defeat the ruling PML-N party in the elections for Senate chairman and his deputy— it is difficult to find a consensus on this issue so easily. All in all, the tentative dates towards the end of July look far from certain.
Amid such uncertainties at home, a diplomatic row with India has been carefully orchestrated to create an anti-India atmosphere within Pakistan ahead of elections and inhibit the peace-enthusiasts in Pakistan who had made it a plank for their electoral campaign in the 2013 elections.
Simultaneously, the invisible players within the Pakistan army have tried to address the chronic instability next door in Afghanistan by trying to push their pawn— the Taliban—towards dialogue and earn American confidence. They hope to soften Trump Administration’s tough stance towards Pakistan through such gesture and not allow space to India to harm its interests in Washington.
The Taliban have, in the meanwhile, however, metamorphosed into a decentralized group that refuses to oblige even their masters. With Afghanistan reeling under anti-government and sectarian attacks by Taliban and ISIS, the chances of restoration on normalcy in Kabul look remote.
On the contrary, persisting Afghan instability may complicate Pakistan’s internal security problem and add to the existing mess and uncertainty in the days to come.
Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Coordinator & Senior Fellow, So