Jahangir Khan Tareen launches the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party
number of recent defectors from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) have come together and formed the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP), led by former PTI secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen.
Those joining the new party include some PTI workers and leaders who had only recently announced retirement from politics. Some analysts have read this as a sign that they are being herded into the new group by the powers that be. Interestingly, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has shown willingness to make adjustments with the IPP to optimise its chances in the next elections.
The pertinent question, however, is: can the new group take away most of the PTI voters from the parent party?
Tareen, who was declared ineligible for public office for not being honest and truthful, had been politically inactive for the last year and a half. In July 2022, former MPAs who had broken rank with the PTI parliamentary party had lost by-elections to 15 seats in the Punjab. However, the situation has changed considerably after May 9 and Tareen has resurfaced on the political horizon. He has been meeting former PTI stalwarts who have left the PTI following the May 9 violence and differences that have cropped up in the party since then.
Last year, 20 PTI legislators in the Punjab Assembly had defied the party line and voted for Hamza Shahbaz. For this, they were de-seated under the defection clause of the Political Parties Act. They had then contested the seats as PML-N candidates. Fifteen of the 20 had lost the seats to fresh PTI nominees.
Tareen, Abdul Aleem Khan, Fawad Chaudhry, Saeed Akbar Niwani, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Ishaq Khan Khakwani, Ali Zaidi, Imran Ismail and others gathered at a local hotel on June 7 and formally announced the launching of the new party. Attaullah Tarar, an advisor to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, issued a statement that the PML-N would make suitable seat adjustments with the IPP.
More than 100 former PTI parliamentarians are now IPP members. Tareen believes that a majority of them have a solid support base in their constituencies. He expects the party therefore to emerge as a significant political force in the forthcoming elections.
Another PTI splinter group, the so-called Democrats’ Group, led by Hashim Dogar, was disbanded on Wednesday. Dogar told the media that his friends and allies were free to join any party. His close aide, Dr Murad Raas, then joined the IPP.
Sources say Pervaiz Khattak, the former PTI Khyber Pakhtunkhwa president, is also meeting like-minded people from KP in Islamabad and may announce the lunch of another PTI faction. Some analysts expect his faction to end up merging with the IPP.
An analysis of the electoral history of the IPP electable shows that most of the people joining Tareen lack a vote bank of their own. Some of them have won elections in the past with the support of the PTI or other parties. Only a handful of the IPP leaders can secure their seats on their own.
The PDM leaders are of the view that the PTI’s days are over… Nevertheless, making a dent in the PTI’s vote bank will be quite a challenge for the IPP. If it does not come up to the expectations of its sponsors and fails to get the desired number of seats in the National and Punjab assemblies, its political career may be very short.
As for Tareen himself, he was first elected in 2002 from Rahim Yar Khan as a PML-Quaid candidate. His brother-in-law, Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood, the PPP stalwart, had won the constituency in 2008 as a PML-Functional candidate. In 2013, the PTI fielded him from Lodhran where he has his sugar business, but he lost. However, he won the constituency in the subsequent by-elections. Close aides say that he will file a review petition under the new law and expect the verdict against him to be overturned. If he runs from Lodhran and the PML-N does not oppose him, he can easily win the seat.
Saeed Akbar Khan Niwani is another strong electable. He lost his constituency in Bhakkar after he defected. However, he and his brother can easily win their constituencies for the Punjab and National Assembly in the next elections.
Nauman Iqbal Langrial is another ‘electable’ who has his own vote bank. He and his father have a history of winning seats for the PML-N, the PML-Q and the PTI.
Ishaq Khan Khakwani from Vehari is also a strong electable. He has won his constituency three times for various parties including the PTI.
Most of the other electables had flocked to the PTI after 2011. They had lost in the 2013 elections but won in 2018. There is a perception that the 2018 polls were engineered in PTI’s favour.
A similar level of rigging is unlikely in 2023. The PTI, once a party with artificial popularity, has turned into a strong political force. Despite the exodus of some of its well known leaders, it is still strong thanks largely due to its deep roots amongst the masses.
The poor performance of the Pakistan Democratic Movement government will also make it difficult the PML-N, the PPP and the JUI-F. Some analysts say that under the current circumstances, any candidate fielded by the PTI will easily win, especially in the Punjab and the KP.
However, many PDM leaders are of the view that the PTI’s days are over. Nevertheless, making a dent in the PTI’s vote bank will be quite a challenge for the IPP. If it does not come up to the expectations of its sponsors and fails to get the desired number of seats in the National and Punjab Assemblies, its career will be very short.
If the PML-N and the IPP make seat adjustments across the Punjab, the IPP might emerge as a strong parliamentary group that may play an important role in government formation. In Sindh, it may seek adjustment with the PPP in Karachi and Hyderabad. In the KP, it will have to make similar adjustment with the JUI-F and the Awami National Party. In Balochistan, there is no other option but the Balochistan Awami Party.
If the IPP leaders expect to win a significant number of seats in the National and provincial assemblies by going solo flight, they may be in for a surprise.
If the IPP wins a reasonable number of seats in the Punjab, the PPP will be the most comfortable with it. The party is already in negotiations with Tareen through Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood. The election results will set the future course for the IPP and Tareen.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher