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April 19, 2021

Democratic falls and undemocratic betrayals


April 19, 2021

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Nawaz) having a reputation of matured political entities are yet to come out from their past misgivings despite signatories of 2006 ‘Charter of Democracy’ signed by former prime minister late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, which lay down some basic principles for strong democratic order, which unfortunately the parties vigorously violated time and again, making CoD more of a myth than reality.

It would have been better if the two parties while ending their seven-month ‘marriage of inconvenience,’ tore up the CoD. Instead, PPP Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tore apart the ‘show-notice’ issued to his party by the opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). In reaction, PML (N) leader and former prime Mmnister Shahid Khakan Abbasi said ‘kuda hafiz’ to PPP.

Both should share the responsibility of latest break-up which once again showed they seriously lack confidence in each other and have yet to come out from a trust deficit. If Mian Sahib tried to bring Zardari Sahib to play on his wicket, the road to direct confrontation, latter’s advice that in that case he should return and lead the movement put Nawaz Sharif and Maryam in somewhat embarrassing position.

They should also share responsibility for what happened in the election of the Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and finally in the nomination of leader of opposition in the Senate. Here, PPP has a weak case but perhaps both were looking for an excuse to end the relationship of distrust.

Their break-up certainly brought a sign of relief for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party defeat in the recent by-elections except for one seat. But since our Kaptan is quite capable of creating his own opposition, he is at present having a row with once his most trusted aide, Jehangir Khan Tareen.

It is not surprising why there is never a dull moment in Pakistan especially for the media who more often looked for juicy stuff and our leaders and parties are quite capable of providing the same.

The PPP and PML (N) recent break-up was the third in 12 years, and interestingly two out of three occasions the center figure was none other than Yousuf Raza Gilani. First in 2008, when PPP won the elections and former President Asif Ali Zardari invited Mian Sahib to join the government of Yousuf Raza Gilani. PML (N) accepted the offer on condition that the government would reinstate the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, under ‘Burban Delcaration.’ Asif Zardari backed out of the commitment and PML pulled out its ministers from the cabinet.

The relationship between the two became so strained that Mian Sahib announced a ‘long march’ for the restoration of judges in 2009 and the PPP government imposed Governor’s rule. Iftikhar Chaudhry was finally restored. Mian Sahib later went to the Supreme Court in the famous ‘Memogate’ and finally Gilani was disqualified by the SC in contempt of court case.

However, the PPP government completed its five-year term, the first civilian government since 1947, which led to the peaceful transfer of power after PML (N) won the elections in 2013, which Zardari accepted with some reservations after calling it ‘ROs election.’

Relations between the two somewhat improved and they further came close to each other after Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) announced ‘long march’ for re-opening of four Punjab constituencies which IK believed were rigged. It led to an ugly situation when several people were killed in police action against the supporters of PTI’s ally Allama Tahir ul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

PPP-led opposition backed the government and apprehended the role of the establishment behind the move to topple the elected government.

Mian Sahib in return thanked former President Asif Zardari and PPP for showing political maturity. ‘Karachi operation,’ which started in late 2013 against terrorists of the outlawed groups, also targeted Lyari gang war and MQM’s militants when the government submitted a list of political and religious parties having ‘militant wings.’

In 2015, when Sindh Rangers arrested one of the closest friends of former President Asif Ali Zardari, the latter reacted sharply and directly accused Nawaz Sharif of ‘stabbing in the back.’ Even Mian Sahib was shocked and inquired from his Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan. The action ended in the second ‘honeymoon’ between the two.

This break-up lasted for long, as Mian Sahib could not get PPP support after his disqualification in 2017 as a result of ‘Panama Leak’ in 2016 by the SC. Instead, Zardari played a key role in creating problems for PML (N). Months before the 2018 elections a mini-revolt in the PML (N) led to the fall of its government and gave rise to Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).

Imran Khan turned out to be the main beneficiary because of these developments in the 2018 elections and managed to form government with the support of BAP, MQM-Pakistan and PML (Q).

But as Imran went hard on both PPP and PML (N), the two were left with little choice but to join hands as happened after 2002 elections when Gen Musharraf kept both Benazir and Mian Sahib out of the electoral politics.

Like the previous ‘honeymoon’, this time too they separated after developing differences over en bloc resignations before the ‘long march,’ scheduled for March 26, as PPP from the day one wanted to keep this as last option. The Senate election controversy added fuel to an already tense situation and after Zardari’s taunt on Mian Sahib during his speech at PDM meeting in Islamabad the ‘writing was on the wall’ that the two could not go together. So, it was nothing surprising for someone like me to see yet another end to their brief ‘marriage of inconvenience.’ With PPP and PML (N) third honeymoon is now over, the politics between these two parties is now back to square one.

Interestingly, if luck is on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s side when it comes to the present opposition, the two are also lucky to have a government which proved to be quite capable of creating problems for themselves as PTI’s fate is now in the hands of its own man Jehangir Khan Tareen.

As the opposition movement now at a standstill, they anxiously await for the outcome of IK-JKT row. Interesting to see will be the next move of JKT and IK’s reaction, and for this one has to see the forthcoming Budget session both at the Center and in Punjab. What is really cooking up?

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