In the wake of PMLN’s falling out with the establishment, will the PPP be able to leverage Punjab vote?
A blanket of cool breeze engulfed the federal capital last week but the political temperature even under the chilly weather continued to rise. The tirade of the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif against his tormentors went on unabated.
The disgraced PML-N leader, who is considered dry and unwitty, seems to have become adroit at employing sarcastic sentences, reflecting his resentment towards the highest and powerful institutions of the country. He jokingly stated he did not remain sadiq and ameen after ending loadshedding before 2018.
His tirade against the top judges continued unabated in London, where he accused the five judges, who convicted him of pushing the country towards a ruinous path. However, the apex court seems to be sticking to its guns. The CJP Justice Saqib Nisar’s statement that "verdicts are given on merit, not prejudice" clearly indicates that the highest judiciary is not in the mood to buy Nawaz’s argument that the verdict against him was biased.
It seems the rejection of Nawaz Sharif’s application by the Islamabad High Court seeking to merge the two references, the alleged threats to his parliamentarians by invisible powers, the disgraceful exit of his close comrade Zahid Hamid and the proceeding of the accountability court against his family members has not deterred the recalcitrant Sharif from fuelling the confrontation. He asked those who accuse him of inviting confrontation with powerful state institutions as to which prime minister got along with them (the establishment) in the past 70 years.
So, what is the man, who earned the ire of General Asif Nawaz Janjua, infuriated General Abdul Waheed Kakar, sent General Jahangir Karamat packing, besides sacking General Musharraf, up to? His hobnobbing with veteran politician and old comrade Javed Hashmi and a softening position on Nehal Hashmi suggests he is likely to fight back.
The interview of his daughter Maryam Nawaz to a local channel some days ago in which she claimed the ceding space weakened democracy in Pakistan, and the statement of Khawaja Saad Rafiq bemoaning the democratic forces are not allowed to work clearly indicate that the PML-N does not pin any hopes on any possible reconciliation with the powerful institutions of the state. It rather wants to confront such institutions and play the card of victimhood.
But does this confrontation augur well for the future of democracy? Some fear the confrontational line by Nawaz Sharif could benefit non-democratic forces. If confrontation increases, it will create problems for the democratic set up. "In a state of crisis, it is always the non-democratic forces that benefit," says the PPP leader Taj Haider. "Debt burden is rising. Political crisis is growing. The government seems to have collapsed. Under these circumstances, if the tension continues to rise, then it could be detrimental to democracy."
A statement of PPP Chairman Bilawal Zardari Bhutto on November 30 also created an impression that democracy is in danger in Pakistan. However, clarifying the party’s point of view, PPP spokesman Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed told TNS, "The chairman said let democracy run in the context of dharna by clerics in Islamabad. We think that Nawaz Sharif is fuelling conflict, which is likely to benefit the non-democratic forces. Nawaz is proving to be the biggest enemy of democracy by fuelling conflict. However, if there is any danger to democracy, the PPP will fight for it as it did in the past."
There were rumours in the federal capital about the back-door contacts between the PPP and PML-N over the issue of early polls but the PPP spokesman insists no backdoor contacts were established with them. "We do not have any contacts with the PML-N. We do not want early elections. We want this government to complete its term. How can there be any talks on early polls when we want the polls to be held on time."
But many believe that after the Baqir Najfi’s Model Town report having become public, it will become very difficult for the government to complete its term as more crises are likely to brew. The firebrand cleric Tahir ul Qadri has already asked his workers to be ready for a sit-in.
Analyst Lt General retired Amjad Shoaib believes the PML-N will face more crises. "I think Qadri will approach the court asking them if the report handed to him was genuine. If the tampering in the court’s report is proved, as some circles are claiming, it will be politically catastrophic for the PML-N."
He described the ties between Nawaz Sharif and the establishment tense. "The establishment enjoys good ties with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and army chief and the PM also visited Saudi Arabia. However, Nawaz has been maligning the army and creating a political crisis by hurling allegations, which does not go down well in army circles. He wants to be a political martyr but despite all provocations, the army will stay neutral acting only within the parametres of the constitution."
Other analysts also believe that the Najfi report could add to the PML-N’s problems manifolds. Lahore-based analyst Ahsan Raza says the report is a huge setback for the party, "Politically it could be very negative for the party. The political parties will cash in on the report content which clearly sees blood on the hands of Shahbaz and Rana Sanaullah. However, it may not implicate them in a court of law."
He adds the issuance of the report also suggests that Shahbaz is no more the good boy of the establishment. "The PML-N sat on the report for a long time and did not want it to be released. The report was compiled in 2015 but back then Shahbaz had good ties with General Raheel Sharif. The issuance of the report now indicates that the whole Sharif family is under a cloud."
Pressure is already mounting on Shahbaz Sharif and Rana Sanaullah to resign. Chairman PTI Imran Khan has already asked Punjab’s chief minister and law minister to resign. But it seems the PML-N will put up a fight instead of resigning and being apologetic.
The recent statement of Khawaja Saad Rafiq, asking if the chief justice and army chief can never be wrong, clearly indicates that Nawaz Sharif’s camp in the party has managed to subdue the reconciliatory elements. The damning report of the ISI and IB in the Najfi inquiry will also force Shahbaz to lose hopes of reconciliation with the GHQ.
Seizing upon this opportunity, the PPP is trying to reclaim political space in the Punjab. Its recent public gathering in Islamabad to celebrate 50 years of the party seems to have revitalised the moribund party in parts of Punjab. Even conservative estimates suggest more than 15,000 attended the public gathering, though some party insiders claim over 30,000 attended the gathering of the party addressed by Bilawal. Insiders claim thousands of others got stuck in traffic.
Bilawal vowed to revive the socialistic aspects of the party but many analysts wonder if the young man will be able to help the party get rid of its corruption-tainted reputation before the polls of 2018. Euphoric Zardari predicts that the PML-N might not be able to complete its term but it is yet to be seen if the PPP would be able to fill the possible political vacuum in Punjab caused by the shifting of the Barelvi votes, or if it will be the right wing religious parties that will benefit from such shifting.