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March 13, 2020

New political divide

National

March 13, 2020

The 'New Political Divide' within the opposition ranks is a blessing for PTI government of Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who himself appeared somewhat unhappy with some of his own cabinet ministers and party leaders for creating issues out of nothing.

In an atmosphere of 'coronavirus,' which has practically brought major markets around the world at 'stand still,' the challenges for the government is more from within rather from the opposition, which have not come out of their own problems as yet. Now, pressure is mounting within the opposition parties for not doing much to increase the pressure on the government as clearly reflected from the insider reports of the meeting of the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (Nawaz) while some other party leaders also met Punjab Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar in clear violation of party's discipline.

On the other hand PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who in January had threatened to 'protest march' against the government has apparently withheld his decision and has instead launched a much awaited mobilisation campaign in Punjab, where the party lagging far behind PML (N) and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, PTI. The third mainstream opposition party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, JUI (F), has also dropped its earlier plan for making another attempt of ' Azadi march,' after getting negative signals from the strong quarters. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is now blaming both the PPP and PML (N) for providing indirect sustenance to the PTI government and Prime Minister Imran Khan by keeping the opposition house divided. In his meeting with the PML (Q) leaders and his telephonic conversation with Ch. Shujaat Hussain, the latter had advised him to 'wait and see'. The Chaudhries of Gujrat, who recently had received relief from the government are now gearing up for the next year's local bodies elections. They are also trying to develop an understanding with other members of the ruling coalition like MQM (Pakistan) and BNP (Mengal). The coalition may mount further pressure on PTI government during the budget session, where the divided opposition parties may adopt a joint stance to bring the government under pressure. This is a new 'Political Divide' where the three major opposition parties have adopted their own ways of dealing with the government and the powerful quarters. Some of them are seeking relief while others have already been let off the hook with or without the consent of Prime Minister, Imran Khan.

The happenings at the PML N's high command meeting on Tuesday, clearly reflected the discomfort among the party leaders over the party policy since PML President, Shahbaz Sharif decided not to support JUI (F) Azadi march and opting to staying back for long in London. The PML(N) leaders blamed him for neither following Nawaz Sharif's narrative nor giving his own line of action. This potrays the picture of the PML (N) camp like a 'Divided House', between pro-Nawaz and pro-Shahbaz narrative but, the most surprising aspect of the meeting was the manner in which it chose to simply disregard Maryam Nawaz's 'silence,' as a non existent factor. The party also did not discuss the 'six point' formula earlier presented by former Prime Minister, Shahid Khakan Abbasi. It was clearly a show of force by pro-Nawaz faction. and it will be interesting to watch the political activities of former Prime Minister, Shahid Khakan Abbasi and Secretary General, Ahsan Iqbal, who presented 'six points' formula calling for national dialogue among the Institutions and the four pillars of the state, which includes government, army, judiciary and media. In addition, to determine the role of the Intelligence agencies in political matters. The party did not announced any date of Shahbaz Sharif's return amid reports that he may further extend his stay as majority of the party leaders now want to return to Nawaz Sharif's narrative which can also mean that Maryam Nawaz should be asked to break her silence and come out on the streets.

Some leaders of the PML (N) believed that the reigning confusion within the party may force some leaders to change their loyalties as they have already been approached by both PTI and PML (Q). Pakistan Peoples Party, PPP, on other hand and its Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, are facing a different dilemma as each time when he decides to take an aggressive posture he is stopped in tracks as we saw in the case of 'Long march' to Islamabad. Instead, Bilawal is now active in Punjab and holding meetings and conventions with cross section of society including women, trade union, student groups and Bar Associations. In the second phase, he will be addressing conventions at the district level followed by string of public meetings. However, since the release of former President, Asif Ali Zardari and some of the key leaders on ' fake account cases,' the PPP decided to keep its activities at low key. However, for the first time Bilawal criticised both the PML(N) and Nawaz Sharif.

This 'New Political Divide,' has eased the pressure on ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, PTI, which despite confronting problems of governance and those with its ruling coalition looks stable. The ruling PTI, Punjab has also geared into action and by using mix bag of old and new tactics encouraged the PPP and PML (N) MPAs and some leaders to hold meeting with Chief Minister, Punjab, Usman Buzdar. Some other leaders went to meet PML (Q) leader and Speaker, Punjab, Assembly, Ch. Pervez Elahi. The leaders of PTI, southern Punjab including Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the disqualified former federal minister, Jehangir Tareen, want to quickly establish the Southern Punjab Secretariat, which they term as a first step towards formation of South Punjab as separate province, a demand which they and PTI Chairman and Prime Minister, Imran Khan raised during the 2018 election campaign.

In another interesting development the Prime Minister, Imran Khan has proverbially mend his differences with the Sindh government by eventually accepting Sindh's request to transfer IGP, Sindh, Kaleem Iman and replacing him with Mushtaq Mehar, which was welcomed by CM Syed Murad Ali Shah. The two governments are also working together to meet the challenge of 'coronavirus. So, as things stand today, Prime Minister, Imran Khan and his team have all the time to implement whatever policies they want but, with 'coronavirus' badly impacting the global economy and world markets, the government has to confront serious challenges in getting the economy to the right track.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO