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April 13, 2021

Tareen’s power show With crisis deepening, where are PTI’s trouble-shooters?


April 13, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Members of the national and Punjab assemblies belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who have openly sided with estranged party leader Jahangir Tareen mainly demand the closure of criminal cases against him -- something Prime Minister Imran Khan is strongly averse to doing, writes Tariq Butt.

In this tense stand-off, when the party is confronted with a mounting threat from Jahangir Khan Tareen, where are the PTI’s main trouble-shooters? If the ruling party has anyone who has the clout and the ability to eliminate trouble in its ranks, they have preferred not to swing into action to put a halt to the growing number of open sympathisers of Tareen or dissuade them from opting for the path of rebellion. The rebels in PTI ranks are members of the National and Punjab assemblies, including some provincial ministers. It seems like none of the potential trouble-shooters can become an honest broker without a nod from their boss.

As part of a well-thought-out strategy, Tareen is publicly demonstrating his rising power within the PTI. When he had first done so a few days back, 22 federal and Punjab legislators had turned up in a banking court where he appeared to seek an extension of his pre-arrest bail.

Three days later, the number swelled to 38 members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and 22 members of the Punjab Assembly (MPAs). They rebels make up a sufficient number to vote out the incumbent federal and provincial governments in case no-confidence resolutions are moved against them and Tareen’s supporters back the movers. However, they have made it known that they remain part of the PTI but wanted to get the ‘targeted injustice’ undone—essentially meaning the withdrawal of criminal cases lodged against Tareen.

It is only Prime Minister Imran Khan who can name a senior party leader enjoying his full backing to talk to the ‘rebels’ and pull them back from their present trajectory. This is the only way to get rid of the mounting threat and embarrassment caused by Tareen’s moves. The prime minister, however, has not acted so far. In fact, the federal and Punjab governments are apparently helplessly watching the scenario unfold as silent spectators, waiting for some miracle to avert disaster.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is usually assigned serious political work and troubleshooting, would hardly like to be involved in the present crisis as he would like to see his old rival Tareen down and out as far as the PTI is concerned. When Tareen had complete sway over the present government or even before that, he and Qureshi had sparred openly and bitterly. The politics of wheeling-dealing is not the foreign minister’s forte. He has now counselled Tareen to take up his concerns with the prime minister that the investigators are “working on a phone call”.

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, who generally jumps into the fray over different political disputes, has also stayed away from the present fracas. He does not enjoy any special bond with Tareen in the internal PTI politics. Like Qureshi, he too has not been deployed to put an end to the revolt. He has also not spoken openly about the stand-off.

Federal Minister Asad Umar, who is also often engaged by the government in sorting out political disputes, does not enjoy any working relationship with Tareen. On the contrary, they had publicly exchanged barbs in the past and were not on talking terms since. Asad Umar too is apparently not averse to seeing Tareen get his comeuppance.

Every prime minister in Pakistan’s history has always assigned to the chief ministers belonging to his party the task of looking after the federal and provincial lawmakers of their provinces so that they do exactly what they are told to do when required. A time-tested tradition is that no lawmaker can dare defy the chief minister of their province. It is always the responsibility of chief ministers to ensure that the MNA and MPAs of his province do not support any move against the ruling party because they are armed with abundant powers to adequately deal with those picking up the courage to flout such calls.

In the present scenario, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is seemingly helpless. His haplessness becomes more pronounced given that some of his own cabinet members are openly siding with Tareen. He is in no position to take them to task for their actions that are bringing a bad name to the government as well as the PTI.

In the prevailing dispensation, the prime minister has always countered any criticism of Buzdar by saying that he himself was taking care of the provincial government and for this purpose paying regular visits to Lahore. Ironically, all the lawmakers who are currently showing signs of being estranged from the PTI hail from Punjab, a province that has been under Imran Khan’s special focus.

As the noose is tightened around the neck of Tareen through the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), it will be naïve to conclude that he will remain content with what he has publicly done so far. He is likely to try to put greater heat on the prime minister to back-pedal on the umpteen criminal cases instituted against him.

It is perhaps premature to conclude what shape Tareen’s relationship with the PTI will finally take and how much more damage he will do to the ruling party before the finale of the ongoing saga. However, it is certain that he has not revealed all his cards as far as the support he enjoys within the PTI is concerned or how he will ratchet up further pressure. Until now, he has publicly brought forward the MNAs and MPAs who are not fearful of being exposed.

There could be more such legislators who did not want to come out in the open right now. After all, it was none other than Tareen who, with his role in inducting dozens of electables, had brought the PTI to a position where it could win the 2018 general elections.

For this reason, his good relations with the MNAs and MPAs from Punjab is well-known. Tareen is not a man who moves in the top gear in his political manoeuvrings. He usually moves cautiously and steadily. What he has done so far has created a difficult situation for the ruling party.

He is not likely to change his mind unless the proceedings on the cases against him are slowed down or totally wound up. , it will be difficult for Imran Khan, who has built up his entire narrative on accountability, to back down without losing face. He has made this clear through his accountability chief Shahzad Akbar, who is in-charge of the FIA.