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April 8, 2021

Tareen’s political options, non-options


April 8, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Jahangir Tareen, one of the major architects of the present dispensation, has limited political options now as his estrangement with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has now reached breaking point.

Because of the serious action being taken by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against him, any back-pedalling by the government on the issue seems well nigh impossible now. Criminal cases registered against Tareen and his son are being vigorously pursued. There will be a huge loss of face for the government if it backs down now. It has not dropped even a slight hint that it will pursue this path.

On the other hand, while breaking his year-long silence on his estrangement with PTI, Tareen still appears to be appealing to Prime Minister Imran Khan to identify those who have created a gulf between them. “My loyalty is being tested. I have still not parted company with the PTI. The time has come when I should expose those who have created the wedge,” he said.

There are no apparent takers of Tareen’s conciliatory line as key prime ministerial aide Shahzad Akbar, who is supervising the entire FIA operations against Tareen, made it clear minutes after Tareen gave vent to his anguish saying that it is not possible that accountability is confined only to the government’s political rivals.

Tareen displayed his ‘strength and power’ within the ruling party by taking along a dozen federal and Punjab legislators with him during his appearance before a banking court in connection with the extension of his pre-arrest bail. He tried to establish that although he was not in the good books of the prime minister and some of his close aides, he still enjoys considerable support within PTI that he can use against them at an appropriate time.

Interestingly, all those who turned up to show solidarity with him were those ‘electables’, who had joined PTI courtesy Tareen on the eve of the 2018 polls. Most of them had earlier been with the PML-N or PML-Q. They have no serious commitment to any political party and switch sides at the drop of a hat. They were not perturbed by the fact that the PTI leadership would be annoyed over this public demonstration of their camaraderie with Tareen at a time when the government is seriously proceeding against him.

Too much bad blood has been created between Tareen and the PTI and a reconciliation may not be possible. Unless a miracle happens, undoing the numerous cases — including money laundering charges— against him, there is little chance that the two will mend fences. Imran Khan currently stands on the highest pedestal and it would not be easy to climb down from it in this case.

Though disqualified for life by the Supreme Court from contesting any elected office, Tareen may like to remain in the political arena because of his son. Even after his disqualification, Tareen had continued to play an important role in the present government. Later, the situation took an ugly turn leaving him out in the cold.

The possibility of Tareen joining the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) fold is clearly a non-option and can be ruled out as the Sharifs hold him responsible for the sorry plight they have faced for the past five years, including the situation they encountered during the after the 2018 general elections. After Tareen voiced his complaints against the PTI government, the PML-N took no time in lambasting him, reflecting its continued antipathy to him. Tareen himself might also be averse to jumping onto the PML-N bandwagon. At one time, he had worked closely with Shahbaz Sharif when the latter was the chief minister of Punjab.

A return to the PML-Q also looks to be a doubtful option because the Chaudhrys of Gujrat also have grave misgivings about him. A personality clash could also be an impediment in restoring their relations. When Tareen was part of the PML-Q, the Chaudhrys were not very happy with him. He had enjoyed importance only because of his links to General Parvez Musharraf.

Another option for Tareen is to associate himself with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), something that he has never done during his political career. Whether he joins the party or not, he perfectly fits into the greater scheme of things that has been devised eying the next general elections. It is said that the PPP is the main focal point of this plan and is going to be its principal beneficiary in case it succeeds. The plan envisages pushing the electables from south Punjab to the PPP fold, arranging some influential winnables from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and assuring the support of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) for the PPP. It is believed that such an alignment will be helpful in blunting any electoral gains the PML-N might make.

Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood, who chairs the PPP in Punjab, may turn out to be an impediment to Tareen’s joining the party or getting any key position in it. Although they are close relatives and business partners, they have not even been on talking terms for many years. At one point in time, they had ended up in litigation over business matters. However, there is no doubt that the real decision-maker in the PPP is Asif Ali Zardari, who has the capability of ignoring Ahmed Mahmood’s opposition for bigger political gains that the party could win because of Tareen’s association with it.

A hint of how impressed the PPP seems to be with Tareen’s political manoeuvring skills and formidable connections was depicted in a tweet, which was later deleted, by its leader Shehla Raza, who said that after his joining the party the days of the prime minister and Punjab chief minister will be numbered.

She broke the news that Tareen is meeting Zardari next week and might announce his association with the PPP. Although Tareen and other PPP leaders denied the story, there may be something cooking after all. Tareen’s eventual alignment with the PPP may be the only viable political option for him.