Eroding the parties from inside

Will the new moves work– for anyone?

The government seems to be so rattled by the PDM’s threat to have its MNAs resign; it is trying to create splits within its components. The split is all cases over whether the resignations should be made. Another issue that seems to be arising is whether there should be any dialogue with the military.

The most effective split is in the JUI(F), where important members of the Balochistan branch, headed by Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, have suddenly engaged in criticisng Maulana Fazlur Rehman both for an undemocratic attitude, and having contacts with ‘The Establishment.’ The accusations that the Maulana was the Establishment’s man surfaced during his Long March on Islamabad. The Maulana apparently was against the Establishment when the MRD was confronting Zia ul Haq in the 1980s, but a strong nexus developed between the intelligence agencies (and thus the Establishment) and the Pushtu-speaking Deobandi ulema who supported (and still support) the JUI(F) and who ran the madrassas which provided so much of the cannon fodder for both the Afghan Jihad and the Kashmir freedom struggle.

`However, the move that most clearly showed the worry in some ruling circles was the visit in jail by PML(Functional) Secretary General Muhammad Ali Durrani to PML(N) President Mian Shahbaz Sharif. As Secretary General of a GDA component, he was a government ally. More important, his links to the establishment were both old, going back decades to the Afghan Jihad (the time when Misn Nawaz Sharif was a provincial minister) and deep. His party’s founder, the elder Pir Pagaro, had been associated with the Zia regime.

The PTI, already under pressure because of the economy, especially inflation, may not be mending matters by saying it will not talk to those who malign the military. The military does not like it said that it is involved in politics. Yet Imran keeps involving it every time he invokes it as a supporter (the ’same page’ narrative), or claims to be a defender.

That Mian Nawaz Sharif rejected the move so promptly ensured that the possibility of a grand national dialogue in return for the postponement of the Assembly resignations could not take off. One of the corollaries would have been the release of PML(N) leaders held by NAB, or at least Mian Shehbaz, who rightly pointed out that he could do nothing while in jail. His being imprisoned has meant that the party’s leadership has passed from him, with his conciliatory policy towards the military, to his niece Maryam, who is much more confrontational.

The PPP is not quite facing a division, but there are definitely voices claiming that ex-President Asif Zardari is unhappy at the confrontation with the establishment his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is carrying out. There are also said to be worries among the PML(N) that the PPP could betray it on the resignations. An immediate way would be not to hand over its resignations, while letting the PML(N) do so.

The PML(N) has more members in the National Assembly and Punjab Assembly, the PPP more in the Sindh Assembly and the Senate. Getting them all to resign creates peculiar problems. The first is the belief that resignations are a bad idea. This is particularly common among those who do not see themselves winning again. It is also a bad idea to those who have been adopted by the establishment. It should not be forgotten that the establishment has got supporters within the ranks of the major parties, people who have been cultivated over many years, even multiple generations. One weakness that electables have is other electables in the constituency. Thus the establishment is certain of having a supporter if it has all two or three of a constituency’s electables beholden to it for winning. Even if the party they are in loses, the electable makes it to the National or Provincial Assembly, and the establishment keeps control.

There has been an apparent loophole left, as there is some debate over whether the parties will contest the by-elections. That is the means by which the members are to be allowed to come back. On the face of it, the gesture would be spoilt if the parties were to contest again. It should be remembered that these are the opposition’s most competitive seats, and their chances of being retained are best.

The by-elections will be so many that they will constitute a sort of general election. If the parties boycott the elections, the seats will probably be won by the PTI. It will be the duty of the Chief Minister to ensure that his party wins. If there is dissolution in Sindh, a caretaker CM has to come to office. The PPP CEC meeting has made it clear that the attempt to prevent the Senate elections has been jettisoned, and there will be no resignations before them.

There is the prospect raised of the handing in of resignations going as far as next winter, indicating that the PDM is not yet ready to carry out a sit-in. Also. If a sit-in begins in March, as was earlier planned, if it prolongs, it will soon run into first the dry hot weather, and then the monsoons. It should not be forgotten that Imran Khan’s own dharna began on Independence Day, which meant that the dry heat was behind it, and the monsoon, while not over, was towards the end. The dharna lasted through autumn, and ended in winter, with the APS Peshawar massacre providing the excuse for ending something that was visibly running out of steam anyway.

Allowing more time might mean more time to PDM components to get resignations, but the resignations of two PML(N) MNAs, which they claim they never filed, indicates how the government intends to operate. Resignations were received, perhaps forged on genuine letterheads, and the Speaker has not asked for a personal appearance to verify the resignations, as was done for Imran’s dharna when the resignations were sent in, but has said he will accept the resignation if the member does not make a personal appearance to deny the resignation.

A contradictory sign, showing a government softening, is Information Minister Shibli Faraz’s declaration that the government is willing for a dialogue, but not with Maulana Fazl or Ms Nawaz. That means conceding the principle of dialogue while quibbling with who the PDM delegates. The attempt to create divisions between parties continues, for it makes Bilawal, an MNA, the person the government is willing to talk to.

However, the readiness to hold a dialogue indicates that the government and establishment are both feeling the heat. The underlying reality that the PDM is trying to exploit is the economy tanking. It blames this on the military, for having chosen the PTI, which it accuses of incompetence. The PDM claims it does not want military interference, but seems to be aiming to obtain the sort of blessing its components used to enjoy at one time or another.

That is a strong force for dialogue. There is no other way known of coming into power. This includes the view that the military is, after all, a national institution. However, the PPP in 1988 is recalled, when it came to power even though the establishment did not want it to. At the same time, it is also recalled that the PPP became dependent on that very same establishment. Another factor is that the PTI seemed to have a programme. Though PDM components have been in power, do they have a programme?

The PTI, already under pressure because of the economy, especially inflation, may not be mending matters by saying it will not talk to those who malign the military. The military does not like it said that it is involved in politics. Yet Imran keeps involving it every time he invokes it as a supporter (the ’same page’ narrative), or claims to be a defender.

Must Read

KalPay partners with Muawin to revolutionize E-Commerce through BNPL

KalPay partners with Muawin to revolutionize E-Commerce through BNPL This partnership will enable KalPay, the nation’s leading Shariah Aligned B2C digital lender, to expand its...