Wednesday April 24, 2024

Umpire’s neutrality leaves smaller parties confused

Country’s premier intelligence agency had made it clear that it would purely focus on intelligence work without involvement in any other business

By Umar Cheema
March 30, 2022
MQM-P Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui speaks to media along with PDM chief Fazlur Rehman in Karachi. -PPI
MQM-P Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui speaks to media along with PDM chief Fazlur Rehman in Karachi. -PPI

ISLAMABAD: The ‘umpire’s neutrality’ is behind the change of plans by smaller political parties, as they are reluctant to trust the commitments made by the government and the opposition.

“There used to be a guarantor to ensure that the commitments would be honoured. It is no more there,” said a PMLQ leader while explaining his party’s change of stance in the current political scenario.

To address this insecurity, there was a tacit understanding among the PMLQ, MQM and BAP to make a joint decision about their future plan. But, now, they are taking different routes in the absence of a patron.

This has also resulted in disunity within the parties: Federal Minister Zubaida Jalal opted to remain part of the government, as the BAP, her party, has announced support for the opposition.

Tariq Bashir Cheema of the PMLQ has resigned from the cabinet and announced to oppose Imran Khan in the no-confidence vote, as his party is with the prime minister. The PMLQ was in regular contact with the government and the opposition, weighing the offers made by them. Although, the PMLN had agreed to install Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as Punjab Chief Minister, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat were unsure whether the opposition party would go for the completion of the tenure or prematurely announce the elections. Trust deficit was the cause of concern.

Nevertheless, the PMLQ was all set to join hands with the opposition but it had surprised all and sundry by announcing its support to Imran Khan. It made the decision on an assurance from Imran Khan that he would give a free hand to Pervaiz Elahi as Punjab CM.

The Chaudhrys are not fully confident whether Imran will keep his word or not because there is visibly no guarantor to ensure that the commitment will be honoured. However, one leader of the PMLQ said the decision would not affect the party in constituency politics, as he believes Imran Khan has gained politically in the past few weeks. “I conducted a survey of my constituency and 62% of the constituents said the party should support Imran Khan,” he said.

Asked why the umpire has decided to remain neutral, he didn’t have any idea but said that “nobody had been in touch with them for some time now.” “They are no longer in contact. We tried to reach them a couple of times but each time the calls went unattended. From then onward, we are on our own,” he said.

A lawmaker from the BAP said the same. “They remain tightlipped even during the meeting as if they don’t know what is going on,” he said. An important office holder in the Senate explained the situation in the following words to his close friends: In the past, even an officer “whose beat was Parliament would know the complete details of what was going on. Now, even the officers senior to him look clueless.”

A dissident group of PTI in the Punjab Assembly had been on the radar of an official since the government was formed. They would receive a call from the official in the event of a meeting the group would convene. No more. “This time, we held a meeting and made that public even through the media but nobody contacted us,” said a member of the group.

Caught in disbelief, a leader of this group then called the official a number of times which went unattended. A few days later the call was returned and the official said that his department would no longer advise them on political matters and that they were independent to make their own decisions.

An official of the country’s premier intelligence agency said that the new leadership had made it clear in the inaugural speech that the agency would purely focus on the intelligence work without involvement in any other business. Right now, he said, the agency is more focused on public engagement. For this purpose, discussions are organised in colleges and universities with the military leadership in attendance. Such an event was recently organised in the Lahore University of Management Sciences where Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa answered the questions of students.

As the agency had stepped out of politics, the intelligence official said, the Intelligence Bureau tried to fill that gap by contacting politicians on behalf of the government. But this was an unsuccessful effort. After the IB’s failure, he explained, the government’s reliance shifted to the district administration but it was largely related to the logistic arrangements for making PTI rallies successful.

About who is the major beneficiary of this neutrality, he said the opposition. There used to be arrests and other hurdles created as and when the opposition parties would plan any protest rallies, it is no more there. “Now, the opposition has a level-playing field,” he said.