Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Can Pakistan’s APC Bell The Cat?

At long last, the opposition parties of Pakistan showed some semblance of unity and came together recently in Islamabad, at the invitation of Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), to hold an All Party Conference (APC), and set an agenda for joint action for future. The Jamaat-e-Islami distanced itself from the show, even as 12 other opposition parties attended it.

This was the fourth time since the July 2018 elections that the opposition parties are holding an APC. The first APC was held on 28 July 2018 three days after elections, where all opposition parties alleged widespread rigging to tilt the results in favour of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party. The other two convened by JUI-F, in June 2019 and June 2020; were poorly attended and did not go beyond issuing tame statements about the poor performance of the government.

In contrast, this APC, called Multi-Party Conference (MPC), showed some sign of resolve to take on the Pakistan government. The meeting called for resignation of Imran Khan and ended with a 26-point resolution. A three-staged anti-government action-plan was announced to launch an all-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

The PDM is to take shape soon. Countrywide public meetings, demonstrations and rallies will be held in December and culminate with “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021. All democratic methods like protests, mass resignations and no-confidence motions in the parliament will be tried, said the opposition leaders.

Two patriarchs of the leading political parties, PML-N and PPP, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari respectively, addressed the audience through video-links. Sharif’s speech was openly critical of the Imran Khan government and its backers. He said “Our struggle is not against Imran Khan. Our struggle is against those who installed Imran Khan and manipulated elections to bring an incapable man like him into power and thus, destroyed the country.” It was reported that the Pakistan government considered stopping his address but finally relented.

Others raised a host of issues where the PTI government had failed to act, ranging from price hike, sectarianism, non-implementation of National Action Plan on Terrorism, interference in judicial matters, release of political prisoners, CPEC, and establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. True to the spirit of the moment, the APC did talk about putting “an end to the role of the establishment in politics”.

It has also been reported that a meeting was held last month between the Army Chief Bajwa and 15 opposition leaders. Among the attendees were Shahbaz Sharif of PML (N), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (PPP), Sirajul Haq (JUI), Amir Haider Hoti (ANP) Asad Mahmood (JUI-F) and many others. Few government ministers also attended this meeting according to reports.

It was reported that the Pak Army Chief had assured the attendees that he would not brook interference of army in politics and urged them not to drag the Army into it. He also said that the Army did not have direct or indirect links with any political party and whenever the civil administration calls upon the Army to help, it is bound by the Constitution to do so.

Interestingly, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and some PML-N leaders urged Gen. Bajwa to ensure free and fair elections in future! Maryam Sharif of PML (N), later, took a dig at those attending the meeting and said that such issues pertaining to elections and democracy should better be thrashed out in the parliament and not in GHQ, Rawalpindi.

However, days after the meeting, Shahbaz Sharif, the Leader of the Opposition in Pakistan National Assembly and member of PML (N) was arrested on corruption charges by the National Accountability Bureau. It has been reported that Pakistan Prime Minister wants to bring back Nawaz Sharif from London at the earliest. This is to portray Imran Khan as the Prime Minister who fought corruption head-on.

It appears that the stand-off between Pakistan government and the opposition parties is going to take a turn for the worse in the near future.

Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Senior Fellow & Coordinator South Asia Centre,

Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses

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