‘I am not in favour of persecution in the name of prosecution of any political force.’

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan’s former prime minister, was recently interviewed by a leading news channel. The following are the excerpts taken from the interview.

August 2023

Do you know when the General Elections will be held? In October or November? Any idea?
I don’t think that holding elections or not is a choice. More’s the pity that numerous doubts have been cast on the intent to hold the general elections in Pakistan. However, there is an apparent reason behind this, which is more to do with the proceedings which had taken place in the provincial governments earlier. Let me say that the elections will be held within a 60 to 90-day time frame.

Even international observers are not sure whether the general elections will take place or not. What’s the reason behind such misgivings?

As I mentioned earlier, the reason behind this is related to what happened in provincial politics a few months before, and I don’t want to go into those details. However, it is incumbent upon the Supreme Court which should have settled the matter then and there, as the top institution showed a different behaviour for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and took the matter of Punjab in a dissimilar way while leaving the main bone of contention unsettled and unresolved. The Supreme Court should have decided whether the KPK and Punjab Assemblies were dissolved in the right manner as per the provisions of the Constitution or not. In fact, it is quite a complicated and challenging task to interpret the Constitution. The intent of those who included such clauses in the Constitution should be assessed, as assemblies should not be dissolved on the spur of the moment.

The political class also has a primary role too. However, its inability to sort out these matters by sitting together is also a leading cause of the political crisis.

What role could the political class play? There is a caretaker government, and the Election Commission is entitled to hold the elections, and the matter is in the Supreme Court. If the top court would not let the dubiety created and let the full court sit and decide the fate of elections and democracy by determining the matter concerning the intent behind the dissolution of the legislative assemblies, the matter would have been resolved now and forever.

Why didn’t the political parties show some flexibility in their behaviour and sit together to decide the election date on their own?

The dates for elections are not decided by sitting together, as the Election Commission decides such things.

The Election Commission is dependent on the federal government that the PML-N controls. Then how can we say that the Election Commission is independent in making such decisions?

If the government influences the Election Commission, the Supreme Court must take suo moto notice and impeach them. How can you hold such elections, which are already controversial, that too by acquiring more loans from foreign lenders? Yet again, the prevailing stalemate could only be resolved if the Supreme Court could ascertain whether the Punjab and KPK assemblies were dissolved as per the Constitution or not.

What’s the way forward? What are you planning for the caretaker set-up? Have you shortlisted the names running the caretaker government?

There is a lot of emphasis on the caretaker set-up. In the past, Khursheed Shah, the then Opposition leader, and I, the Leader of the House, took merely 2 minutes to decide the people who would run the caretaker government. So, there must be a caretaker set-up on which nobody could raise their fingers. In fact, it is not difficult to form a caretaker government, but it should be able to run the electoral affairs fairly and transparently, including the holding of the elections. Otherwise, the whole election exercise will be held controversial.

In the 2018 Elections, the PML-N made pre- and post-poll rigging allegations. Now, the same reservations are being made by the PTI.

I don’t think their reservations are valid since they had the opportunity to sit in the assembly as the Opposition despite losing the no-confidence vote. They were many in numbers and could play their role, but they missed the opportunity, and then the May 9 incident took place, putting the last nail in their coffin. Personally speaking, I am not in favour of persecution in the name of prosecution of any political force.

There has been a trend in Pakistan that persecution takes place in the guise of prosecution. Is it happening right now?

History will determine the matter. However, will anybody be concerned about the future of the country? As things currently stand, whatever we are concerned about is merely related to grabbing power instead of thinking anything about improving the country’s affairs. There is no more choice left. In fact, there is a need to sit together to bury the past and decide the course of action for the near and far future to get the country on the path of stability and progress.

The Supreme Court should have decided whether the KPK and Punjab Assemblies were dissolved in the right manner as per the provisions of the Constitution or not.

What path must we take to come out of the prevailing crises?

It does not make such a difference if we don’t trust or have confidence in each other or have any such rules of the game. In fact, the need of the hour is to decide the right course of action that the future government must take. No party in the country can make any claims about a revolution in the poor state of affairs since all parties have remained in power. What difference have they made to the country? In the given scenario, all the major stakeholders must sit together and decide the course of action for the future in all key areas. The future government cannot improve things alone and will need the support of other political parties and key institutions. The PML-N government took some difficult decisions in the last one, and a half-year, and lots of difficult decisions need to be made in the future too. No single party can afford to bear the brunt of making such decisions alone.

Why was JUI-F chief and PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rahman not invited to the most important meeting held in Dubai?

Personally, I am not really aware of Maulana’s concerns he shared with the media lately. The meetings were held between the country’s leading political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, respectively. In fact, those meetings in Dubai were held face-to-face. Though many people raised their concerns over the absence of Maulana Fazlur Rahman in the meetings, I think the scope of those meetings was limited to only the PML-N and the PPP. In fact, many consultations and discussions are made in such meetings, where not every leader has a physical presence in every meet-up. No doubt, Maulana Fazlur Rahman is also the president of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), who meets with the coalition government leaders, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, now and then. However, regarding recent Dubai meetings, I don’t know any details about the scope of those discussions and why Maulana was not invited. No doubt, Maulana Fazlur Rahman has a right to raise his concerns and share his reservations with the PDM alliance and the coalition partners, and they must step up to remove his concerns. Maulana has his own place and status in the alliance and should have been taken into confidence.