Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Sept 6, 2016

War of the references The 2014 confrontation between (principally) the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the government is receiving a rerun. This time round, the arena is not a dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad but a more nuanced and multi-tracked assault through various forums and ultimately on the streets. To this end, the PTI has moved four references to the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq seeking the disqualification of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and some members of his family for concealing their offshore assets as revealed by the Panama papers. The Speaker has also received similar references against Imran Khan (two in number), Jahangir Tareen and Mehmood Khan Achakzai. The Speaker has decided that all but one reference against Imran Khan and the other against Jahangir Tareen deserve to be rejected for “insufficient evidence”. The two references above have however been forwarded to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for action. This step by the Speaker raised a veritable mini-storm in the house on Monday, especially when the PTI members were not allowed by the Speaker to raise a point of order on his ‘partisanship’ in the matter, an attitude the Speaker maintained rock-like even in the face of desk thumping by the PTI MNAs and the intervention by the Leader of the Opposition, the PPP’s Syed Khursheed Shah, in an attempt to persuade the Speaker to let the PTI members have their say. This led to the inevitable token walkout by the entire opposition. When the issue was finally taken up by the Speaker after the prayer break, he attempted to justify his decision and soften the blow by adding that despite lack of actionable evidence, he had nevertheless seen fit to forward the other six references too to the ECP for its information. This neither convinced nor mollified the opposition, and now the Speaker is being castigated for toeing his party’s line rather than acting as the custodian of the house. Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has not done his office or the issue in the midst of the ongoing PML-N government-PTI confrontation any good. As it is, had he adhered to masterly inactivity, all eight references would automatically have landed in the ECP according to Clause 2 of Article 63. That would have saved Ayaz Sadiq all the opprobrium he is now suffering, and perhaps will continue to suffer in the days ahead. How the house will be run smoothly in these circumstances beggars the imagination. Miffed by the Speaker’s behaviour, the PTI is also appealing the rejection of its petition for the disqualification of the PM and his family by the Registrar of the Supreme Court (SC). The Jamaat-i-Islami’s similar petition too was rejected by the Registrar, and they too have appealed against the rejection on September 3. A battle royal awaits in the apex court too therefore. Last but not least, Iran Khan is threatening a march against the PM’s Raiwind residence in Lahore after Eid, having failed to set the city on fire through his Ehtesab (Accountability) Rally in Lahore on Saturday last (even Maulana Qadri and Sheikh Rashid’s auxiliary rallies on the same day in Rawalpindi failed to bring the roof down). The PTI and its two ‘allies’ want to bring the government down by hook or by crook, and as soon as possible. Like 2014, Imran Khan’s hopes from the third umpire have failed to bear fruit so far. The multi-tracked approaches to the various forums being approached, institutions like the FBR and NAB being castigated for non-action against the PM and his family and the resort to street agitation are all intended to increase the pressure on the government, if possible make it dysfunctional, and then wait for the low hanging fruit to fall into the PTI’s lap. The government’s strategy on the other hand is one of procrastination, delay as long as possible and muddying the waters by so widening the scope of the inquiry into the Panama papers revelations (and more) as to make the whole process impossible to wind up before 2018. Who will succeed in this tussle of wills is difficult to say with certainty, but so far the chances of the PTI upsetting the applecart by achieving critical mass through a combination of legal means and street agitation seem distant. The government is gritting its teeth to see out the challenge. Meanwhile governance, the economy and the business of the state are bound to be adversely affected by the conflict.

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