Power politics

May 30, 2021

Jahangir Khan Tareen, who faces corruption charges, has galvanised the support of 40 lawmakers

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Throughout Pakistan’s political history, ‘forward blocs’ in the parliamentary parties have been used for various purposes.

Some of the blocs have succeeded in achieving their targets but others have failed, ending political careers of many a turncoat. The latest occurrence of a forward bloc has sown discord in Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) ranks and emboldened the opposition. The ruling party now faces undesirable grouping both in the National Assembly and the Punjab Provincial Assembly.

Despite Jahangir Khan Tareen’s claims to the contrary, the new groups are forward blocs according to every canon.

Another bloc, led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz dissident Jalil Sharqpuri, has existed in the Punjab Assembly in the recent past. Its main objective was to prop up the PTI government at the expense of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The group has outlived its utility and is now defunct.

Tareen, who has been barred from elected office and is facing corruption charges, has galvanised a group of nearly 40 MNAs and MPAs. Given their strength, these lawmakers cannot be taken lightly, especially in the Punjab where the PTI majority is particularly slim. The Tareen-led group poses a serious threat to the PTI in both assemblies. However, it seems that the PTI forward bloc is in no mood yet to topple the prime minister or the Punjab chief minister. Statements by some members of the bloc indicate that some of their targets have already been achieved and that they are satisfied with the progress.

Dr Mehdi Hasan, the political analyst, says: “It appears that Tareen and his group got some guarantees and assurances from Prime Minister Khan. Tareen will try to maintain his strength to keep his political relevance alive, but not go against the government for now.”

The forward bloc emerged after Tareen was accused of masterminding the sugar crisis. He and some members of his family were also accused of misusing public funds for personal businesses. Tareen and his son, Ali, have appeared before courts and shown a resolve to face the cases filed against them. They say the cases are politically motivated.

By getting some 40 parliamentarians to publicly endorse his stance and pledge support, Tareen has surprised not only the PTI but also other political parties and the media. He initially claimed that his supporters had decided to form a separate group in the Punjab Assembly to raise their demands. Later, he tried to say that the perception about there being a forward bloc was incorrect. “We were, we are and we will remain a part of the PTI,” he said.

Saeed Akbar Khan Niwani, a veteran legislator in the Punjab Assembly, has been assigned the role of the group’s chief negotiator. Some politicians in other parties, notably Rana Sanaullah of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, have also raised their voices in his favour. This, seemed to have further unnerved the PTI leadership.

Prime Minister Imran Khan then assigned Barrister Ali Zafar to investigate the charges against Tareen. Zafar has now submitted his report to the prime minister. According to party sources, he has stated in the report that the charges levelled against Tareen and his family are not made out by the available evidence.

After the submission of the report, statements issued by the Tareen group have become more conciliatory.

Talking to The News on Sunday, Niwani said, “We met Prime Minister Khan, Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and several senior leaders of the PTI. The Prime Minister clearly told us that he would not let anyone victimise anybody in his name. He also said would not allow any group to blackmail him. The PM sounded positive. We trust him.”

“It appears as if Tareen and his group got some guarantees and assurances from Prime Minister Khan. Tareen will try to maintain his strength to keep his political relevance alive, but will not go against the government for now,” says Dr Mehdi Hasan

“How can someone like Tareen, who pays the highest amount of taxes annually and holds a clean business record, be accused of corruption? We trust the PM’s assurance that nobody will be victimised.” He said that his group had several grievances but the matters were internal to the party.

To a question about the group’s strategy in case of a no confidence motion being brought in the National Assembly or the Punjab Assembly, he said: “A no-confidence move against the PTI is out of the question. We will oppose such a motion and will stand with our leaders. We believe that Chief Minister Buzdar will remain in office as long as he enjoys the party’s support. He will quit voluntarily the moment the party tells him to quit.”

Requesting anonymity, another stalwart of the Tareen group said, “Not all dissidents support Tareen. Some are trying to settle their own scores. Everybody in the Tareen group has grievances against the top leaders. They were not being heard for quite some time. They had remained silent earlier because they were on a weak footing. When Tareen raised his voice, they found support. This really worked as everybody started giving them importance.”

Apparently, issues between the PTI’s top-guns and the dissidents have been settled However, our political history shows that the politics of forward blocs is a tricky business.

For Tareen, this is not the first time he has organised such a group. He had formed his first forward bloc in Pakistan Muslim League-Functional. He had won a National Assembly seat on a PML-F ticket in 2008 and later formed a forward bloc. In 2011, he resigned from the National Assembly, announcing that he would form a party of ‘clean’ politicians. Later, he joined the PTI along with several comrades.

In 2009, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid suffered a huge setback in the Punjab Assembly where it had had more than 80 seats after more than half of its legislators, led by Najaf Abbas Sial, formed a forward bloc in support of the PML-N. The PML-N, which had 178 members in Punjab Assembly, was already ruling the Punjab with the support of the PPP. The PML-N leaders feared that they might be in trouble if the PML-Q joined hands with the PPP. The fears led to the creation of the forward bloc in the PML-Q. The PPP tried to topple the Punjab government by imposing the governor’s rule but the attempt was foiled by the Lahore High Court. Many of the PML-Q forward bloc later leaders joined either the PML-N or the PTI. During these manoeuvres, fears of the PML-N leaders were substantiated when the PML-Q joined hands with the PPP in the National Assembly and replaced the PML-N in the ruling coalition at the Centre.

Another forward bloc had appeared in the PPP after the 2002 election when the PML-Q, the Farooq Leghari-led National Alliance, the PPP-Sherpao, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and others were unable to put together the numbers needed to elect Mir Zafarullah Jamali as prime minister. The PML-Q had 78 seats in the National Assembly, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal 45 and the PML-N 15. Before the prime minister’s election, it appeared that the PML-Q needed more votes. The PPP and the PML-N appeared more willing to join hands with the MMA led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. However, no agreement was reached.

To overcome the vote deficiency, a forward bloc, comprising 18 National Assembly members, was created in the PPP. Rao Sikandar Iqbal (a classmate of Musharraf), Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, Chaudhry Noraiz Shakoor and Sardar Khalid Khan Lund led the group. During the division of the house for the election of the prime minister, the 18 PPP MNAs voted for Jamali instead of their very own leader, Makhdoom Amin Fahim. Later, the forward bloc was registered as the PPP-Patriots. The Patriots achieved their mission but most of them lost in the next elections.

In 1989, the purpose of Operation Midnight Jackal was to create a forward bloc in the PPP to oust Benazir Bhutto, then prime minister. Two PPP MNAs, Arif Awan and Rasheed Bhatti were recruited for this purpose. However, the plan failed.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at BukhariMubasher

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