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October 5, 2017

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View from the Gallery: PTI-MQM move to replace opposition leader fizzling out

ISLAMABAD: The recent PTI-MQM political offensive to grab opposition leader’s seat in the National Assembly is fizzling out and at a surprisingly fast pace. 

All Kudos is to the high on rhetoric and low on planning attitude of top PTI lot. Icing on the cake is internal power dynamics of the PTI as the party is thronged by the electables representing varied and distinct vested interests. And then we all know the powerful Jahangir Tareen is not ready to accept Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s leadership credentials. Naturally, as opposition leader Mr Qureshi would tend to become more prominent, especially if by a remote chance Imran Khan gets disqualified by the apex court. And then sky is the limit for Mr Qureshi if PTI does well in the 2018 elections. Remember, he left the foreign ministry and PPP during Pasha sahib’s hay days as top spy master. He must be expecting big from his former benefactor who acts top PTI adviser till date. 

MQM-Pakistan is a different ball game. It is treading this opposition leader related political adventure on a no profit, no loss basis. They are eager to maintain a good working relation with the ‘real establishment’ in pre and post 2018 scenario (in post-Altaf leadership days). PTI lot, on the other hand, has high stakes in every political move they make till the 2018 elections. So there is less space for political follies although they happen unabated. Hence the situation at hand where on one hand they want Nawaz Sharif and family thoroughly grinded by accountability mill, and are desperate to establish their credentials as the best alternative to the PML-N in the political battleground of the Punjab province. PTI lot is fully agitation hardened, some claim, worn out since 2014 Islamabad sit-in days up to the 2016 lockdown days that earned them former premier Sharif’s disqualification through Panama case as a political jackpot.

Despite inflated-egoistic claims of a total political success and dominance in post Panama case days, they face some stark realities. Especially when some of them fear with more weeks and months under PML-N government aided by an aggressive and aggrieved Sharif, they are not left with little political fuel and rhetoric to ride the public opinion and media waves. So they have to act fast to force an early elections. Till now there is no big success till they are able to rock the PML-N boat. PTI acted fast rather hastily on opposition leader’s replacement issue without taking into account pros and cons of the move, exposing in the process those forces who had tried artificially to put together PSP, Haqiqi and MQM only last month. Sensing trouble, the mainstream parties had backed out from MQM-Pakistan’s moot. In the present get Khursheed Shah operation, not even Jamat-e-Islami is ready to follow the PTI blindly. Same goes for some Fata members and an annoyed seasoned politician like Aftab Sherpao. And even the tiny PML-Q. So at present MQM-Pakistan and Sheikh Rashid stand besides PTI – the same MQM members having voted for Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi now eager to vote for the opposition leader. That leaves the treasury to opt for a wide variety of moves to shift some ally like JUI-F or some other members in PPP’s opposition camp perhaps for a short time period.

Treasury knows the value of keeping a high on rhetoric, soft on action and manageable opposition leader like Mr Shah in the election year. With 2018 elections just a few months away, Sharifs know how important Khursheed Shah is even when elder Zardari sahib is still shying away from holding a formal meeting with elder Sharif due to his own political compulsions.

What a hotchpotch the opposition leader replacement saga has turned out to be where number game reigns supreme. Political ideology and stance do not matter anymore. From the word go, the PTI top notch, aided by its more disciplined than brainy advisers, made the media believe success was just around the corner. Reality check suggested otherwise. Now, at best, both the parties have been left with some more days, but before they could launch the move seriously the PPP-PML-N would most likely nominate their own candidates as NAB chief. Opposition leader and Premier Abbasi have had two back-to-back meetings that resulted in propping up of 6 names – three each from both sides.

That amply makes it clear why opposition, especially PTI, was having a go at IB Chief Aftab Sultan lately. They know like the outgoing NA chief, PPP under the brainy give and take style of Zardari sahib’s leadership could accept Mr Sultan or some other consensus candidate as a last resort. In case of Mr Sultan’s elevation, PPP could demand some concession in the selection of a caretaker setup in June 2018. Sensing trouble, the PTI has already started crying foul as Shah Mahmood Qureshi complains he has not been consulted. Khursheed Shah claims otherwise. Shah and PPP, under brainy directions of elder Zardari sahib, consulted all the opposition groups for the last a few days. Even Jamat-e-Islami forwarded one name for the slot. MQM is not much concerned about these developments. They know their limits, and have other important things to attend to. But PTI, as usual, remains sidelined in the larger picture. 

Footnote: Speaker Ayaz Sadiq is always there as a political fire fighter when the treasury is in trouble. Look at the members’ oath (under electoral laws bill 2017) issue mishandled by the law ministry which had serious repercussions. As Sheikh Rashid aided by PTI second tier was all bent to exploit it especially on social media, Speaker had to act fast to save the situation. And he did it gathering all the parliamentary leaders and announcing to do away with the “clerical mistake” on Thursday through an amendment to the bill. Apart from this issue, there was no steam in the assembly proceedings marred by usual non attendance of the ministers. Only a single minister, and another junior colleague of his graced the House on Wednesday, prompting none other than the Deputy Speaker to suggest that such ministers should be barred from attending the house proceedings as a punishment as has been done by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani. Are you serious Mr Abbasi, or just kidding? Let’s see how this chronic treasury legislators’ attendance and attitude problem is taken up and addressed by the Speaker Ayaz Sadiq or it remains beyond him.

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