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January 17, 2018

PAT agitation seems to have lost steam

ISLAMABAD: Despite heightened political rhetoric, the PAT agitation on Mall Road, Lahore seems to have lost much of its steam in absence of a well-thought-out and clear-cut political strategy, end game.

Some opposition figures feel longevity of such an agitation without visible public support may end up in confusion that might not deliver political good to the opposition. The only way out of such a bleak picture is to convert such an agitation into a mass mobilisation campaign. But past January-February Imran Khan, not even Asif Zardari, will be ready to give the political steering to Dr Tahirul Qadri for obvious reasons.

Top opposition figures, already perturbed by the recent Supreme Court verdict on Hudaibya case that brought a major relief to the ruling Sharif family, are not attaching much expectations to the PAT agitation for now. But they think It may become a first of the series of protests against the PML-N and its provincial government. At this point of time, major political players, however, tend to feel that the powerful establishment is keeping a hands off approach in the matter.

“The powerful quarters are not ready to side with any political activity (especially sit-ins in big cities) that would scuttle the civic life, and put a strain on the already fragile economy,” said an informed official on anonymity. Such an approach on ground that could give a level playing field to all the political parties in run up to the 2018 elections, and establish legitimacy of the electoral process, and end conspiracy theories . But some PTI brains fear it might also prompt electoral chances of its most likely 2018 rival for premiership – Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

That’s why, the PTI chief Imran Khan in his latest instructions to top party leaders has asked them to move on after a token protest on Wednesday, and focus on next elections for a pitched battle with the PML-N. PTI hierarchy feels Dr Qadri may further compound problems for the Punjab government if he continues the agitation streak in days and weeks to come on the 2014 Model Town killings issue, still there are very thin chances that all this political pomp and show would dislodge the Punjab government or Shahbaz Sharif.

Dr Qadri may gather PTI and PPP top leaders on one stage during the Lahore agitation on Wednesday in a first ever political step to gather forces against the PML-N and Sharifs in their stronghold, but all this is making some PTI leaders uneasy. Some of them strongly feel such a sharing of stage with Asif Zardari will weaken party’s stance and send confusing and wrong signals to their vote bank in the Punjab province.

Until recently, PTI leader was launching strong attacks on PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari. Imran was however lately persuaded by his advisers and some hidden and powerful hands to lower his tone in the name of collective good of the opposition forces to take on Sharifs in their stronghold, Punjab province.

Background chats with informed PPP and PTI leaders suggests they feel early elections as a result of opposition's mass resignations from National Assembly and dissolution of PPP controlled Sindh and PTI dominated KP Assembly is not a viable option at the moment. “No one is willing to sacrifice and pay such a high price for Dr Tahirul Qadri’s cause,” a top PPP leader said on anonymity. “PAT is only providing us a chance to play it to the galleries, and in in case of PPP, we feel obliged to indulge in any such activity given party’s dismal performance in 2013 elections”.

For the moment PPP may go an extra mile with Dr Tahirul Qadri in a desperate attempt to shore up its thinning vote bank in the Punjab province. But PTI under Imran Khan is only interested in offering minimal support necessary to keep the Punjab government under pressure in run up to the general elections.

Some PTI leaders also feel such a first ever joining of hands with opposition parties like PPP, may send out a wrong message to both voters and masses. “We don’t want to echo a message that opposition is on one platform against the PML-N, especially former premier Nawaz Sharif,” a prominent PTI leader said, adding all the opposition parties verses Nawaz Sharif will weaken PTI prospects in the political arena in run up to 2018 elections.