2021 ends with portents of a gathering storm

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 12:04 PM, 29 Dec, 2021
2021 ends with portents of a gathering storm
Representational image.

Another valuable year (2021) of the country was wasted because of the incessant government-opposition confrontation. And, unfortunately, the New Year is beginning with heightened tensions with no idea about the ultimate outcome. 

The government failed to take any measures to address the miseries of the common man, and continued to pin the blame of all difficulties on the flawed policies and decisions of the previous governments. 

The opposition parties, on the other hand, continued their efforts to mount pressure on the government to quit. For this purpose, the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of more than half a dozen opposition parties headed, by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, announced a long march on Islamabad on March 23. Details of the anti-government plan will be announced in the weeks ahead. A meeting of the alliance leaders will be held during the next few days to work out details.  

Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on the 14th death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, announced that the party will launch a decisive movement against the government on January 5 next year, with a rally in Lahore. 

He urged the “jyalas” to pull up their sleeves to hammer what he branded as the “puppet government”.

During the year, the PPP and the PDM decided to join hands in parliament but pursue their separate policies elsewhere. 

At the end of the outgoing year there were reports that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif planned to return to Pakistan very soon. Political circles interpreted it as a sign of the all-powerful establishment withdrawing its support to the PTI government.  

However, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed was quick to dispel the impression. He said the establishment prepares long-term policies and that it is still backing the present setup.  

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the PML-N supremo was not returning but the PTI government would bring him back.   

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari deemed it necessary to refute the speculation that the PPP was entering into a deal with the establishment to come to power. “PPP does not believe in politics of deals. We only rely on people’s support. We can never resort to non-democratic politics,” he insisted. 

In case the PDM goes for a long march, it will be the second such initiative against the government. The first one had been launched by JUI-F in 2019 which had failed to achieve its target. The PPP and PML-N had supported the plan but had not practically joined it. 

The JUI-F had to wrap up its sit-in in Islamabad after mediation by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat.  

This time the JUI-F chief believes that the establishment has withdrawn its support from the PTI government, after which it is destined to face humiliation. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose party had won the first phase of local government elections in 17 districts of KP, claimed that his party showed its strength and popularity because the establishment was no longer behind the PTI. 

During the outgoing year, the government arrested Tehrik-i-Lubbaik chief Saad Rizvi under anti-terrorism law. However, he was released on court orders. 

Thereafter, the PTI developed a soft corner for the TLP, and now there are reports that the two parties may join hands in the next elections. 

However, nothing can be said with certainty about it. 

No improvement was witnessed on the economic front, notwithstanding the government’s claims that it has set the economy on the right track. Gas outages during winter exposed the government’s failure to make necessary arrangements on time.  

The unbearable raise in power tariff every now and then added to the problems of the common man.  

Price hike made the lives of people miserable. Prices of almost all items went out of people’s reach, a factor that provided the opposition parties a pretext to plan a long march on Islamabad against this ‘monster’. 

The rupee continued to lose its value and the government says this is the major factor responsible for the inflation.  

The change of ISI chief was a major development of the year. 

While the prime minister wanted to retain Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as ISI chief, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa designated Lt. Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum for the post. 

The prime minister did not immediately appoint the man recommended by the army chief, as a result of which ties between the two sides were affected. Many say that the two are no longer on the ‘same page’.   

Now, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed is commanding the Peshawar corps. 

Most people believe that after a year Lt Gen Faiz will qualify for the post of army chief  and he is likely to succeed Gen Bajwaja, who is due to retire in November 2022. 

In Case Gen Faiz Hameed became the army chief, the relations between the army and the PML-N will remain tense in the foreseeable future. 

The NAB chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, an irritant for the opposition parties, completed his four-year term in October. However, nobody has been appointed as his successor because of the lack of consensus between the government and the opposition. 

Since the procedural formalities have still not been completed, Justice Javed’s term was extended through a presidential ordinance. He will retain the seat till his replacement is agreed upon. 

The year 2021 will also be remembered as the year of leaked audios and videos. 

Former GB chief judge Rana Shamim kicked up a new controversy by alleging that former CJP Saqib Nisar had influenced in his presence a judge of the Islamabad High Court by directing him by the phone to ensure that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam are not released before the 2018 elections.  

He made the claim some three years after the incident – when his “conscience woke up”. 

The controversy is going on and the matter will be decided by the IHC. 

FOREIGN AFFAIRS:  

The biggest event in this field was the OIC foreign ministers council meeting in Islamabad on December 17. 

It was aimed at discussing the situation in Afghanistan after takeover by Taliban on August 15 and averting an imminent humanitarian crisis there. 

A fund was set up to help the war-ravaged Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia donated one billion riyals. 

However, no decision was taken by the participants about recognizing the Taliban government. 

During the outgoing year, there was no progress on the Kashmir front, although India had annexed occupied Kashmir in August 2019. 

Although Pakistan raised the matter at various for a, India remained unmoved – and there is little hope of any change in the situation in the foreseeable future.  

Pakistan’s relations with the US remained frosty during the year as President Biden, for reasons best known to him, did not like to make a telephone call to Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

This attitude, despite US pullout from Afghanistan in August after two decades of stay in the war-ravaged country, is simply deplorable. Pakistan did not deserve this treatment. 

The terms of the over four billion dollar loans and deposits from Saudi Arabia are simply humiliating. They are not reflective of the warm relations Pakistan claims to have with the kingdom. 

In brief, 2021 was a routine year that brought no ray of hope for the country. On the contrary, the opposition parties’ plans for the future may be taken as portents of a gathering storm.

Ashraf Mumtaz

The writer is the Deputy Editor of 24 Digital.