The F-16 issue
How it’s going to be
The F-16 issue is only partially about the F-16s, of course. That Washington was unimpressed – and therefore, again unhappy – and was clear enough when the ‘do more’ reappeared after Islamabad failed to get the Taliban to talk. But it’s not just that Congress is up in arms that ought to worry Pakistan; rather it’s that the White House is silent that should get some people in Islamabad, and Rawalpindi, to think hard and fast. Richard Olson did his best to sell Pakistan’s difficult case, but even he hit a brick wall on the matter of the Haqqanis, etc.
The immediate future, therefore, is pretty certain. Unless Islamabad moves on the “some specific actions” that US lawmakers have demanded, they will not be comfortable tying more of their taxpayer money to our F-16 subsidy. That’s just how it is going to be from now on. Pakistan’s utility has clearly diminished since it proved unable to get the talks rolling. And since the need for our airbases and land routes has long since expired, if we can’t deliver in favour of the peace then we’re little good for them in the present setting.
This particular domino effect was triggered in Kabul. Frustrated with the back-and-forth about the Taliban engaging in talks, Ghani finally pulled the plug on Pakistan and its role in the peace process. Then it was only a matter of time before Washington’s favourite ‘do more’ came into play; and it did quickly enough. Our foreign policy gurus meantime, clueless as they have been for years, remain optimistic for unexplained reasons. And while the ministry’s detachment from reality is understandable to an extent – considering it’s without a minister – it’s still not clear why the prime minister chose to leave it rudderless. There is no chain of command, there is nobody lobbying Pakistan’s case at Capitol Hill, and the man supposedly in charge (the prime minister) is up to his neck in politics of survival. That Pakistan is losing the plot is largely its own fault.
Politics in the long, hot summer
Perfect time to cool down
With mercury touching 45 degree in Lahore and 48 degrees in several places in interior Sindh on May 1, it would become increasingly difficult for the political parties to hold public rallies in the coming weeks and months. Despite the heat, Imran Khan managed to collect a large crowd of charged men and women in Lahore. He was, however, careful this time. Wary of any agent provocateur giving a call for a march to Raiwind, Imran Khan decided to be the sole speaker. He said he wanted to take the opposition along and that his party would jointly formulate the TORs with the opposition on Monday. To keep party workers alert he sought their promise to march with him to Raiwind estate whenever he gave the call. Meanwhile Imran Khan announced a public meeting at Faisalabad before the sit-in.
Nawaz Sharif, who was the first to announce a series of public meetings, has already canceled the ones at Shergarh and Okara, both because of rising temperature and threats from terrorist networks. Under the circumstances, the Parliament presents the safest venue for debates and for resolution of the difference over the Panama affair.
While the government considers itself secure, two imponderables loom ahead: the possible moves by the Supreme Court and the army. The CJ is expected to respond to the government’s letter requesting him to head an investigative commission for probing the Panama leaks case this week. The PM has offered the CJ to rewrite the ToRs if he so desires. Whatever decision the CJ takes would affect the course of events. Hints have been thrown by the government regarding differences with the army. In democracies the elected government has the final word in such cases. With the major opposition parties calling upon the PM to nominate someone else in his place during the proposed probe, the PM’s position vis-a-vis the army has been weakened – all the more reason for him to settle the affair with the opposition.