Sunday November 28, 2021

Why opposition is weak?

September 16, 2020

As much awaited Opposition’s Multi-Parties Conference (MPC) is due Sunday (September 20) at Zardari House, Islamabad, not much hype has been created by the Opposition parties themselves to expect much out of it to challenge the government.

Can they come out with any surprises or confine to ‘limited protest’ or ‘Tik-talk’. When Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif met with the PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in Karachi recently, they agreed to disagree over the strategy to oust the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which despite multiple problems within and outside succeeded in completing its two years without much hue and cry from the Opposition and now in its third year.

There is no doubt that the government’s own ‘house is not in order’ but the Opposition’s house looked in‘disorder’. Shahbaz before the meeting held an informal sitting with some anchors and journalists in connection with Karachi situation but when I asked him about his expectation from his planned meeting with Zardari, he said, “I have come to inquire about his health and you know when political leaders meet they also discuss politics”. I believed he met him on the advice of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who wanted to bridge his difference with the PPP leader. Some leaders were missing from the delegation like Kh Asif in particular while Ahsan Iqbal and Marriyum Aurangzeb accompanied him.

Opposition looked weak because of too many ‘ifs and buts’ between them and over the future line of action. Secondly, Opposition is also weak as it is confused whether to go all out or confine protest within the Parliament. Except for Maulana Fazlur Rehman, no one wants street agitation unless the government ‘overreact’ which can trigger some unexpected developments.

Following this belated meeting between the two leaders in which nothing concrete came out except that Shahbaz agreed to participate in the much-awaited All Parties or Multi Parties Conference; the ‘Rahbar Committee’ set up about a year ago fixed September 20 date for the conference to be held at Zardari House in the federal Capital.

There is no doubt that both the PPP and the PML-N have strong vote bank in Sindh and Punjab respectively but when it comes to converting it into posing a street challenge to the government they have their own problems and weaknesses. They also expect a possible harsh counter attack from Imran’s government.

Prior to this meeting, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman did some ground work and even held telephonic talk more than once with PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, after which Karachi meeting was planned. Both parties have reservations against each other and trust deficit still persist but they agreed to give some ‘tough time’ to the government both inside and outside the Parliament.

However, on ground things looked a bit more difficult for both. They have not yet issued any directives to their second and third tier leadership in regard to any mobilisation required for any ‘dharna’ ‘long march’ or agitation or even called their Central Executive Committee or provincial workers convention for mobilisation purposes. Thus, it appears APC will unlikely give any call for ‘Islamabad dharna’ soon. Instead, they may go for joint public meetings in major cities.

However, Maulana wants more seriousness from the PPP and the PML-N, if they are really serious in challenging the government. The government on its part wants the National Accountability Bureau to speed up high-profile cases and show more seriousness in the pending references. While the government still sees the recent NAB move to open some of the pending inquiries like the Billion Tree project as a ‘balancing act’ while Prime Minister Imran Khan wants cases against Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to reach conclusion soon.

Contrary to the past PPP and PML-N governments’ relationship with the establishment, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government learnt the lesson from them and maintained a better relationship with them.

This relationship or smooth sailing is another reason why mainstream Opposition parties find it hard to create a space for themselves at individual or collective level. They know the risk and capacity to go ‘head on’ with the government like en bloc resignation from the National Assembly, in the first stage, which Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the key player in the Opposition suggested soon after the 2018 elections.

The PPP on its part has the biggest stake as they still have firm grip on Sindh and any adventure here could land them in deep trouble where their key leaders are facing multiple cases of corruption and money-laundering worth billions of rupees.

However, the government on its part so far failed to create any major rift within the PML-N despite repeated predictions from people like veteran politician Sh Rashid. The PTI leadership is still reluctant to hold local bodies’ elections soon amid reports of expected victory for the PML-N.

On the other hand, the PML-N, whose leaders are facing scores of cases or inquiries in the NAB, FIA and ANF, still await the outcome of appeal in the cases against former premier Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

It will be interesting to see who will be part of the PML-N delegation if it is led by Shahbaz Sharif. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal and Marriyum Aurangzeb are certain but all eyes are on Maryam Nawaz’s decision. There are chances that she may join the delegation if given consent by Nawaz Sharif.

The PML-N has decided to resist all moves to bring back Nawaz Sharif but want a more proactive role for Maryam Nawaz while Shahbaz Sharif is still trying to mend fences with those who matter in making and breaking governments and parties.

All this has made Opposition weak as far as challenging the government with limited options particularly when it comes to street agitation as they can’t even take the risk which could allow ‘third party’ interference as that too would land them in more trouble.

Even within the Parliament, the Opposition despite having a majority in the Senate till March 2021 could not do much in blocking the legislation except the recent case of FATF.

Contrary to the Opposition’s preparations, Prime Minister Imran Khan held regular meetings of the party leaders and ministers, aides for counter move. They have also made up their mind that in case of anything happening in the FATF, they would put the blame on the Opposition as their ministers are already making ground that Pakistan was put in the ‘grey list’ because of the past government policies.

The APC may come out with strong resolutions in regard to rising price hike, government failures in international matters, using the NAB as a tool etc but will they be able to convert this APC into an Opposition alliance or announce any long march or ‘dharna’ that still looks a remote possibility.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO