Pretty obvious must be the crackdown on Opposition politicians in Pakistan.
After the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, the country’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has brought the former President and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, Asif Ali Zardari, to his knees. The latter, a politician who has not exactly covered himself with glory, has been arrested in a case related to fake bank accounts.
Beyond Monday’s arrest, the NAB has arguably emerged as a critical factor in Pakistan’s power-play, in addition to the federal government, the judiciary and the GHQ in Rawalpindi, not necessarily in that order. And the truism as Lord Dunning had famously said ~ “be you ever so high, the law is above you” ~ has been reaffirmed.
Within 24 hours of Zardari’s arrest, the crackdown was intensified by the NAB with the arrest of the PML-N leader, Hamza Shahbaz ~ the nephew of Nawaz ~ in a money-laundering case. To these two arrests can be added the detention, albeit unrelated to corruption, of Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder, for his inflammatory speeches.
Markedly, the government has denied any role in effecting these arrests, but there is little doubt that Prime Minister Imran Khan had wanted the high-profile cases to be expedited. In effect, the civilian dispensation has confronted its political rivals ahead of the eagerly awaited budget and the IMF bailout. The two may or may not shore up a stuttering economy.
This week’s crackdown on corruption appears to be related to the anxiety to revamp the economy. The government is anxious to project the impression that it acts, however grave the economic crisis. That compulsion can be contextualised with the confrontation between the PTI government and the Opposition parties. A show of unity, however contrived, cannot be ruled out lest the move to crush the political opponents is intensified.
The arrests are, therefore, a symptom of the seemingly firm hand of governance. It remains open to question whether the current political and economic scenario is suitable for a spirited movement by the PPP (Bhutto family) and PML-N (Sharif’s outfit). Both Opposition parties have a variety of resons to be disenchanted with the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf dispensation. Both are connected to other Opposition groups and are intrinsically opposed to the ruling establishment.
If the Imran Khan dispensation shows signs of complacence, it may have to countenance unexpected developments should the Opposition’s campaign gain momentum. This is the first major instance of political shadow-boxing in the past year, specifically since the PTI government assumed power last July. And any political conflict can only get uglier.
Mr Khan’s party has sustained itself with the same human resource that was available to other parties when in power. It is early days to speculate whether its actions are tantamount to a witch-hunt. That could only vitiate the atmosphere to the west of the Radcliffe Line.