In the spotlight: The political game

Published: December 31, 2013
2014 is set to be an important year for Pakistan’s polity and politicking. PHOTO: REUTERS

2014 is set to be an important year for Pakistan’s polity and politicking. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: 2013 – the year of the voter and of the people, in so many ways. Of the rise of activism and protests. Of some things changing and others persisting. Of the growth of cinema and of the marginalisation of the sporting community.

Here, The Express Tribune’s reporters, each an expert in their own field, give us round-ups of what took the spotlight in 2013 and what to watch out for in 2014.

13 of ’13

The year 2013 was nothing if not a year of transition and new beginnings. Here’s a list of the 13 most important political stories of the year.

1.      General Elections

Forget just the last year; few will argue that the General Elections on May 11, 2013, could be the single biggest political event of the country’s history: The first ever civilian government to complete its five-year mandated tenure; the first civilian-to-civilian transition; the highest voter turnout in four decades – that too despite a clear and present danger of terrorist attacks.


2.      Balochistan government sacked

After a string of bloody attacks on the Hazara community in Balochistan, the Federal government finally moved to into action. Blasts in the provincial capital claimed the lives of at least 92 Hazaras – leading the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government to sack Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani’s cabinet. Governor Rule was imposed.


3.      End of a judicial era

In a tenure that saw him sent packing twice, only to be reinstated, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry retired on December 11. His tenure saw the rise of the activist judiciary that stepped in on a number of controversial political matters. His successor, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, is reputed to be less interventionist.


4.      Kayani retires/PM choses successor

After six long years, Gen Ashfaq Parvaiz Kayani retired from the office of Army chief. The lead-up to his retirement was filled with rumours of another extension, a possible new post for Kayani, and even differences between the Army and the new prime minister. But the retirement went ahead as plan, without incident. The new premier, Nawaz Sharif, even picked the third in line in terms of seniority to replace Kayani. There were no repercussions.


5.      President Zardari completes tenure

If the pundits would have it had their way, Asif Ali Zardari wouldn’t have made it beyond his first year in the Presidency. However, President Zardari not only completed his five-year tenure, he set the record for addressing a joint-sitting of parliament – five times. He didn’t leave the Presidency in an ambulance or through a coup; he left to a guard of honour.


6.      Tahirul Qadri’s long march

After a much-hyped return to Pakistan in the last days of 2012, 2013 saw cleric-cum-politician Tahirul Qadri take his supporters in a march to the capital against what he termed a political and governance crisis in Pakistan. The march turned into a massive sit-in outside near Parliament. While there were fears of an impending attack on the rally, or of the rally resulting in a last-minute derailing of the democratic transition, the end result was the government negotiating its way out of the supposed crisis.


7.      All-Parties Conference on terrorism

It’s not often that all political forces in the country are on the same page. Or even in the same place (even Parliament, given regular absences, etc). But in September, an All-Parties Conference decided unanimously to pursue peace talks with militant umbrella group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The resolve was closely scrutinized given the growing number of terrorist attacks across Pakistan over the last few months.


8.      Hakimullah slain

Though this was technically a security-related event, the backlash of Hakimullah’s assassination by way of a US drone strike was very much political. Not only did it derail the nascent peace talks initiative, it was divisive in terms of political reactions – locally and internationally. Locally, one party went as far as to call him a martyr – which then led to a political melee that even saw the armed forces’ public relations wing jump into the fray.


9.      The return

Most thought that when former military strongman President Gen. Pervez Musharraf formed his own political party and announced he would return to Pakistan to contest the 2013 elections, he was only doing it for publicity. But he did return. It wasn’t the grandest of entrances, but it certainly did have its effects – the most recent of which is the setting up of a special court to try him for treason. This process is in itself a historic one in a country that has given immunity to former military dictators who have overthrown civilian dispensations. He was even arrested, presented before courts for various charges, and detained.


10. Nawaz’s three-peat

Nawaz Sharif completed an incredible political turnaround in 2013. Just 13 years ago, he was in jail and found guilty of hijacking and facing life imprisonment or even death. A ‘deal’ found him able to escape the country to a quiet life of exile in Saudi Arabia. He was not heard of or from for years, his political career was meant to fade after his party faced a wipe-out in the elections and a number of high-level defections. Yet, in 2013, Nawaz became the first-ever three-time Prime Minister of Pakistan


11. Osama’s ghost resurrected

As far as thorny topics go, the new government couldn’t have possible been greeted with a worse beginning, barely a month after the new premier took charge. A supposedly leaked version of the heavily-secretive report of the commission that was formed to probe the presence and killing of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, in the city of Abbottabad surfaced in the media. The contents of the report, or one version of it, were damning, calling the Osama raid the “collective failure” of the security and intelligence apparatus of the country.


12. 1971 revisited

The year may have been of transitions – but in the last month of the year, the pain and ignominy of the 1971 succession of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was resurrected. It all started when Bangladesh tried and hanged a leader of groups that it held responsible for atrocities during the ’71 war. Pakistan, which many thought ought to have remained silent, chose to not only question the trial and punishment, but pass a resolution to that effect in Parliament – leading to a sharp reaction in Bangladesh.


13. Article 62-63

Though it didn’t have much effect at the end of the day, nothing caused a political stir like the election tribunals that interviewed candidates on issues of morality and religious knowledge. Saadiq and Amin became catchphrases across the country


14 in ’14

If 2013 was a year of endings, 2014 is one of beginings. Here are 14 political points to look towards in the new year.


1.       The Musharraf trial

Historic. Unprecedented. Game-changing. Potentially-disastrous. Call it what you want, but the trial by a special court of Gen. Musharraf for treason and subverting the Constitution will be a hot, hot topic – in more ways than one.


2.       Local what?

The Supreme Court ordered the government to hold local government elections, but the two largest provinces are not game – at least not in the tight timeframe given (which has already been revised once). The Election Commission of Pakistan has already announced the dates. But the governments in Sindh and Punjab are still insisting that it isn’t possible. Will the apex court buy into this? Or are we headed for deeply-controversial polls? Will the people finally see a grassroots system revived after eight years of absentia? When?


3.       Government-judiciary relations

Of many things that can be covered under this head, reports had it that the government was waiting on the retirement of Chief Justice Chaudhry to make key appointments in key organizations, including the in the power sector (as promised to international lenders). The logic was that the now retired CJP kept intervening in these matters. Will the new CJP be different if such matters are brought before him? Remember, there will be two more changes at the CJP spot this year.


4.       Going, going, gone…

International forces will be ‘withdrawing’ from Afghanistan in 2014. While the US will maintain a force there, it will officially be the end of the Afghan war. Will drone attacks continue after the withdrawal? What will Pakistan’s role be in post-withdrawal Afghanistan? Pak-US relations? The government’s policies will be in the spotlight at a time rife both with opportunity and with potential disaster in the neighbourhood.


5.       Talks, you say?

The official end of the war in Afghanistan, will no doubt have its effects in Pakistan. Politically, the government will be in in a better position, with less requirements of NATO goods transportation etc and being branded constant collaborators with an occupying force. Will this spur forward the peace process with the TTP? Will terror attacks abate?


6.       PPP chairing the PAC

The PPP’s parliamentary leader in in the chair of the public money watchdog. But he will be overseeing the audit of his own government’s accounts. That’s never a good mix, and makes for a politically explosive situation.


7.       Thumbs down?

The fingerprint verification of voters issue has been simmering for a while, and could explode in coming days. Alternatively, it could also fizzle out. If it does explode, it has the potential to have an effect on the political balance of power, and a domino effect that could mire the entire electoral process in controversy.


8.         The reality of load shedding

This has been a running problem, but PML-N’s campaign was run largely on ensuring a better situation in the power sector – electricity and gas wise. That is not possible in the short run – but politically, this is a tinderbox that the government could find very challenging.


9.       Austerity measures

The PML-N government has secured a new loan. But they’ve made a number of promises for it. The previous government, that of the PPP, was unable to implement austerity, but the PML-N doesn’t have much of a choice. So far, they’ve been good. But sustaining this is the challenge, and may be more difficult given its political implications.


10.   The new PPP

Bilawal is now officially the head of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Priding itself on being the only pan-Pakistan party in Pakistan, the PPP took a hammering in the 2013 polls. It will be looking to reinvent itself – and the face of that reinvention will be the young Bilawal.


11.   Indo-Pak relations

Nawaz Sharif’s election campaign was run on stressing on better ties. But 2013 was mostly a bad year for relations between Delhi and Islamabad. The reasons, however, are debatable: One of them being upcoming elections in India. It will be interesting to see how a new government takes to Nawaz’s peace overtures once they have a guaranteed five years in office.


12.   Governance

The PML-N’s heavily centralized method of governance has worked well in Punjab for Shahbaz, and Nawaz will now be looking to do the same in the centre. Look for lots of committees and many more disgruntled bigwigs, bureaucrats and politicians, in the face of this.


13.   Remember Balochistan?

The PML-N is big a part of the Balochistan government. It has long pushed political reconciliation to end the decades of unrest in the province that has peaked in the last few years. And now it’s time to put words into action. But to what extent will they be able/allowed to go?


14.   Leading the opposition

The PTI has held back from a full-blown attempt to dislodge the PPP from the slot of the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. With growing murmurs of PPP-PML-N collusion, the PTI may make a push to become the leading opposition force in the country formally, and that will make the National Assembly a very very hot spot.

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