Pakistan Reader# 117, 5 July 2020
During the week, there was increased anxiety about whether there is an attempt (by the Deep State) towards a minus-one strategy (PTI without Imran Khan), and a series of independent developments relating to Justice Isa and Justice Arshad Malik underlining the pressure from political and intelligence establishments on the judiciary. Both the developments underline the role of the Deep State in political and judicial re-engineering.
The Minus-One Debate: Is the party over for Imran Khan?
In the news
This week, the debate on minus-one started with Imran Khan making a statement in the Parliament in 1 July 2020, blaming the opposition that they "don't know that even if minus one happens, the others will not spare them." ("Imran rubbishes talk of 'minus one' formula," Dawn, 1 July 2020). Later, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Railways minister, made another statement on the same subject, but expanded on who would get minused. According to him, it would not be just one, but three; he was quoted to have stated: "We are neither the last choice nor will there be any minus one. If someone thought that there will be minus one, they should know that then it would be minus three instead of minus one." ("Sheikh Rashid says 'we aren't the last choice', hints at 'minus three'," Dawn, 5 June 2020)
Issues in the background
"Minus-One" is a political re-engineering strategy pursued by the Deep State in Pakistan. It aims at making the political parties pliable to the Deep State's strategies. In the past, the Deep State was successful in making the MQM distance from its leader – Altaf Hussain. During the last few years, before the 2018 elections and even after that, a similar strategy was pursued vis-à-vis the PML-N aimed at forcing the exit of Nawaz Sharif. The same strategy was pursued vis-à-vis the PPP in keeping Zardari outside. While the Deep State succeeded vis-à-vis the MQM, in the case of PML-N and PPP, the leadership has gone to the next, but within the family. Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto leader have replaced Nawaz and Zardari respectively in these two major parties.
The strategy targets the primary leader of the party leading to his removal, but the second rung leaders and the party are kept intact. The Deep State does not want the parties to collapse; it only wants to make them pliable and not have an independent objective.
Third issue is the question of why. If Imran Khan was a "selected" Prime Minister, as some senior commentators like Najam Sethi repeatedly refer, why would the Deep State wants to replace him. Despite Imran Khan being "selected" there has been tensions between the two; the highlight of this tension was the controversy over Gen Bajwa's extension which could have been avoided. (See Editorial, "A Shambolic affair," Dawn, 28 November 2019) Najam Sethi's editorials in the Friday Times have repeatedly been emphasising on the above.
However, it is too early to conclude that there would be a minus-one within the PTI. The party would fall like a pack of cards if Imran Khan is replaced. The party is facing infighting already, and there are visible factions led by Asad Umar, Jahangir Tareen and Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Imran Khan will remain the glue, that would bind the PTI.
So, will there be a PTI minus-one, meaning PTI minus Imran Khan? Unlikely. The bridges have not been burnt. Imran Khan seems to have given adequate space to the Deep State vis-à-vis Afghanistan, China and the US.
Then, where does the suspicion comes from? Perhaps, the opposition wants this to be true. Perhaps, it comes from the Deep State's history with political parties in the recent past. Perhaps, the Deep State wants the debate, to keep Imran Khan in line.
Judicial Integrity: The case of removing Justice Arshad Malik, Justice Isa reference and Justice Ijaz Chaudhry's interview
In the news
Three developments during the week highlight an important phenomenon in Pakistan – intervention by political parties and intelligence agencies in the judicial process.
The topic of the week in this context, undoubtedly was the removal by the Lahore High Court of Justice Arshad Malik, a former judge of the accountability court, that has convicted Nawaz Sharif. Last July, Maryam Nawaz has submitted a video in which Judge Malik has been caught telling that there was pressure on him to convict Nawaz Sharif. Shahbaz Sharif tweeted: "The LHC Administrative Committee's decision of sacking Accountability Court Judge Arshad Malik establishes that Nawaz Sharif was unjustly sentenced. His innocence stands proven today. As a natural corollary, Mian sb's sentence ought to be declared null & void."
During the last week, in another unrelated development, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, former Lahore High Court chief justice and a former Supreme Court judge, in an interview to the Voice of America underlined the pressure from the intelligence agencies in appointing judges. He was quoted to have stated during a telephone conversation with a military officer working with the ISI: "During the phone call, he [ISI general] asked me whether we were inducting judges. I replied in the affirmative. He then asked me to appoint someone as a judge."
Third development is the continuation of the debate on Justice Isa's reference by the government and the Supreme Court's rejection of the same.
Issues in the background
All three developments during the week underline one single issue – intervention in the judiciary by political actors and intelligence agencies. While in the case of the first two (Justice Malik and Justice Chaudhry) the two judges make an explicit statement on the intervention, it is implicit in the case of Justice Isa.
There is enough discussion within Pakistan in the media that the reference against Justice Isa came not from the PTI, but from the Deep State. The latter is apprehensive about the former, thanks to his judgement in earlier cases, questioning the role of the intelligence agencies, especially in the Faizabad sit-in by the radical groups. Justice Isa had questioned the role of the military in mediating the outcome between the government and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in November 2017.
Why would the Deep State want to intervene in the judicial process? The answer is simple: why would it want to intervene in the political process? Why would it want to attempt political re-engineering? Why would it want to attempt a "minus-one" strategy?