Monday, August 17, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 17, 2015

Predictable fall The furore over Mushahidullah Khan's interview to BBC Urdu Service regarding an alleged plot to overthrow the government has ended as expected by the former Climate Change minister being asked by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return to the country from The Maldives where he had gone to attend a conference and submit his resignation. The minister has duly obliged by submitting his resignation by email and returning without attending the conference. Mushahidullah has said he has not been summoned by the prime minister and would submit an explanation if asked to. He did add, albeit too late to make any difference, that he had not personally heard the tape. That makes his reliance on the story even more unacceptable when he was holding a cabinet post. Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid has poured cold water over any expectation of clarification, saying there was no need for the prime minister to summon the errant minister or ask for any explanation since the interview in question clearly showed that Mushahidullah had spoken irresponsibly. As though to reinforce the government's refutation of the whole story, including denying that any purported tape existed indicting former ISI chief Lt General Zaheerul Islam for supporting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek's agitation against the government last year, ISPR has called it totally baseless, unfounded, farthest from the truth, irresponsible and unprofessional. There is little doubt that the interview embarrassed the government and fed fevered speculation regarding the civil-military relationship, constantly under scrutiny for any hint of tension. It once again exposed the fragile balance between the civilian elected government and the powerful military. That relationship has been steadily tilting against the government since last year, in what some have described as a 'creeping coup'. Perhaps to bring to a grinding halt the rumour mills, Pervez Rashid has attempted to reassure everyone that the civil government and military were totally one in fulfilling the critical task of combating terrorism. All institutions, he reiterated, were performing their role in accordance with the constitution. In answer to a question from reporters, he underlined that there would be no compromise on the Karachi operation. This question and the minister's answer can be located in the context of one set of speculations that the whole Mushahidullah fracas was an attempt by the government to bring pressure to bear for an easing of the Karachi operation in order to facilitate bringing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members of parliament who had resigned back to the Assemblies. It is good the information minister has categorically refuted any such kite-flying that could potentially have fed into perceptions of the civil and military sides diverging on the ways, means and objectives of the Karachi operation against terrorism and crime. With the resignation of Mushahidullah Khan, it would not have been unreasonable to expect that the matter would be laid to rest. However, given that the story, even if untrue, casts the PTI in a poor light as collaborators in subversion of and a coup against an elected government, their spokespeople are now demanding a commission be set up to investigate the allegations. This is pie-in-the-sky since the government would dearly like to close this chapter to avoid any further friction with the military, which too has been besmirched by the allegations. It was no surprise therefore, that Pervez Rashid rejected the suggestion out of hand. The veracity of the story retold by Mushahidullah Khan had never been established. He stands accused therefore of an error of judgement so serious as to have cost him his cabinet seat. Irrespective of the story not holding water, however, the whole affair has once again cast the spotlight on the perceived shift in the balance of power towards the military in foreign policy as well as some domestic areas. The government is under pressure because of this. All the more reason that its ministers adopt the policy of discretion being the better part of valour rather risking upsetting the whole apple cart by adventurous statements.

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