From time to time, the politics of Pakistan works itself into a position of helpless and impotent immobility. A sterile and energy-sapping expenditure of effort that is taking nobody anywhere, least of all the democratic dispensation. The Panama Papers have had that effect. They have created the political equivalent of an irresistible force and an immovable object, with the opposition being the former and the prime minister the latter. This would not be an entirely bad thing were the struggle to be played out in parliamentary time, instead it is being fought from prepared positions that leave no space for compromise and as the battle rages, the country tends to drift, an inattentive hand on the tiller.
Whilst military interventions in the democratic process are rarely welcome especially given past history, the evolving nature of democracy in Pakistan has a khaki space, and the need for reasonably equable civil-military relations means that from time to time, suggestions as to course-correction come with a military tone to the voice delivering them. Thus it is that Army Chief General Raheel Sharif is reported to have urged the prime minister to resolve the logjam that the Panama Papers have produced. Much of the rest of the business of the state has been placed on the backburner, with pressing issues particularly relating to national security no longer centre-stage.
Doubtless the subtext of the meeting between the army chief and the prime minister was the yet unresolved matter of who takes primacy in operations against extremists in south Punjab. The military will favour something rather more robust than the generally hands-off approach of the prime minister who has a vote-bank to protect. The addition of matters Panamanian to the mix has had the effect of hamstringing the government, a position that the opposition is more than happy to abet and collude with. The prime minister is said to be coming to parliament on May 13; though whether he does, and if he does whether what he has to say dampens the fires, remain open questions. He would be wise to come clean and give ground gracefully, honour preserved all around. This could also ensure that civil-military relations remain smooth. A khaki-hued solution but a solution nonetheless.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2016.