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June 19, 2019

Govt-Opposition confrontation imminent

June 19, 2019

Political confrontation between Prime Minister Imran Khan- led coalition government and joint Opposition looks quite imminent particularly after what happened in the Parliament Monday, and the green signal which the PTI leader has given to his ‘hawkish team’.

While the PTI leaders predict bad days ahead for the Opposition and believe more of their leaders would go in prison, the Opposition parties have agreed in principle to give tough time to Imran Khan, both, inside and outside the Parliament.

Sources close to PM, disclosed that these days Imran Khan is inclined towards the hawkish party members and has even conceded that he took the wrong decision by not showing resistance to the nomination of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif as leader of the Opposition as well as chairman Public Accounts Committee, which he did on the advice of party’s saner voices. Now he wants his party not to allow him to speak in the National Assembly and he himself was looking for means to get Shahbaz arrested. The most difficult position at present is that of the speaker National Assembly, Asad Qaiser, who till last month enjoyed full confidence of the Opposition, when he issued the production order of Kh Saad Rafiq and also of Shahbaz Sharif.

Now he has been told and sources said got the tough message from the leadership not to issue production order of former president Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N central leader Kh Saad Rafiq and two PTM MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir unless Opposition agreed on certain conditions including allowing premier to speak and given respect.

On Monday, he even failed in controlling the Treasury members during the speech of Shahbaz Sharif and the message was given to him ‘not to stop PTI members from shouting’. He was later told that they did all this under PM’s instructions.

It will be interesting to see how this budget session will go, but in case of voting the Opposition can create hue and cry if their detained or jailed leaders were not called in case of voting on budget.

But it is also not good news for the ruling coalition both that two of its allies BNP (Mengal) and MQM-P have agreed to support the Opposition on the question of Production Order.

Prime minister, who has almost lost his cool during the PTI and coalition parliamentary party meetings, went to an extent that he has issued directives to its MNAs not to get too friendly with their counterparts in the Parliament and asked them to avoid them in the Parliament’s cafeteria or other public places to an extent that they should also avoid smiling to each other. If true, as revealed by some of the participants it is quite unprecedented. They have also been told to go tough while sitting in the TV talk shows and don’t mind in using remarks like ‘thieves, dacoit, corrupt, criminals’, glimpses of which one has noticed. Question is why the premier is losing his cool as government needs Opposition’s support not only for smooth sailing during the budget session but also regarding forthcoming legislation and some pending decisions like on military courts pending since March 30 or on the nomination of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan, from Sindh and Balochistan.

Sources close to the premier disclosed that in the recent weeks he was briefed in detail about the progress in mega corruption and money-laundering investigation against the PPP and the PML-N leaders and was assured about some ‘good news’.

After these briefings, PM decided to constitute a National Commission for probing massive loans which Pakistan had taken in the last 10 years and where they have gone. The premier will also be taking some important decisions in the next two or three months and hopes to get some good news from FATF, failing which can make things quite difficult for future economic plans of the government. Opposition on the other hand have their own problems like trust deficit between the PML-N and the PPP, which still persists despite Bilawal-Maryam meeting. It would be interesting to see now whether Maryam will attend the Nawabshah public meeting of the PPP, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on June 21.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has practically taken the driving seat in the Opposition campaign and after meeting Akhtar Mengal, MQM-P and Maryam Nawaz, met JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman regarding latter’s All Parties Conference likely to be held by the end of this month.

So if the Opposition fails in forming Grand Opposition Alliance and agreed on the movement to oust the government, the latter has counter strategy to go all out.

Some political observers believe that PTI Chairman Imran Khan is a non-traditional politician, which also reflected from his recent statement that he hardly cares whether any of his allies stay with him or not, knowing well his party is not in a very comfortable position in the National Assembly. The saner elements within the PTI were not happy with this strategy as they believe that confrontation could only help in building Opposition’s narrative that government is nervous and prime minister is frustrated with the situation.

Imran has some other ideas to deal with the Opposition and may now take some tough measures in case of any ‘Long March’ towards Islamabad. He has already given instructions to interior ministry and other relevant quarters in this connection. In a way he has decided to take a ‘U-turn’ to his earlier proposal for facilitating them with his ‘container’ and lunch boxes. His remarks that he don’t care if any coalition partner remains with him or not is an indication that he would no longer bargain with the BNP or MQM-P, also a sign of concern for PTI’s anti-hawkish group as they strongly believe that this strategy is nothing but ‘suicidal’ for them. However, the hawkish elements in the party backed PM’s move and believe that the attack is the best defence as it could create panic in the Opposition’s rank and file but even then they conceded that government may find difficulties in getting the budget passed in case they lose BNP and MQM and suggested they must be engaged. While the BNP leader Akhtar Mengal has put forward his ‘six points’ before the government as well as before the Opposition (with whom he wants firm assurance); the MQM-P still wants to go with the PTI government and there are chances it will support the government but still wants some way forward.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO