PPP under fire

The 18th Amendment is being cited as a reason behind crackdown on the PPP, but that is not the only reason

PPP under fire

The spectre of a possible conflict along the Line of Control may have overshadowed everything but it seems that PPP leaders and parliamentarians will get no respite from the National Accountability Bureau. The PPP believes it is the 18th Amendment that infuriated powerful circles of the country, prompting it to move against the party.

Traditionally, the PPP has been an anti-establishment party but it came under fire in recent years for throwing support behind the GHQ. It may be mentioned that during the Senate elections the party sided with the powers that be. The party also enraged PML-N by allegedly helping invisible forces change a government in Balochistan a few years ago. But it seems despite extending cooperation to all powerful elements of the state, it is still facing the wrath of the establishment.

Why this wrath? Some leaders of the party believe that the activities of NAB are meant to break the party and it is being punished for bringing in the 18th Amendment. Former minister of state for industries and production, Ayatullah Durrani, claims that the establishment broke the party in the past and is doing the same now, warning despite all that the party would not support any move to scrap the pro-provinces amendment.

"The PTI has been brought to scrap the amendment but those who want to do so, should remember that the amendment has strengthened the federation. East Pakistan got separated because of the one unit and over-centralisation. Any attempt to remove the 18th Amendment will weaken Pakistan."

NAB claims that Agha Siraj Durrani was arrested on corruption charges but Durrani believes he was coerced into providing support for the scrapping of the 18th Amendment and when he refused to bow to this pressure, he was arrested.

Will such tactics help the powers that be break the PPP and create defections? "I think such tactics will never succeed," said an Islamabad-based PPP leader on condition of anonymity. "Some politicians of other parties who switched their loyalties, and joined our party in the last few years might leave us but they are hardly four or six. The majority of the PPP MPAs in Sindh Assembly will stay with us. The establishment cannot carry out any in-house change because for that they might need 20 to 22 provincial law makers. Imposing Governor’s rule would also be difficult after the 18th Amendment. This is something that has frustrated the establishment and it is using sledge-hammer tactics against the party."

Some analysts believe that it is not a matter of one political party. The powers that be want to cut every entity to size. They are not ready to tolerate large media houses, organisations and political parties. Karachi-based analyst Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan says since the PPP is the second largest party, the invisible hands also want to break it. "The PPP committed blunders by being a part of the conspiracy against PML-N during Dawn leaks and Panama, now the party is itself under the wrath of the very elements that wanted to dislodge Nawaz Sharif."

Tauseef believes that more arrests of party leaders would be made in coming months. "But the weakening of the PPP does not augur well for the country because it is the only mainstream liberal political party albeit with all its demerits. Its elimination will lead to the rise of religious, sectarian and nationalist parties which will harm the country in the long run."

Sindh is the largest oil and gas producer in Pakistan. After the 18th Amendment the share of the provinces in such resources has increased. Now, there are reports suggesting that huge reserves of oil and gas could be found off the Arabian Sea in Sindh. Some multinational companies have been working on this project. After the 18thAmendment, a substantial share of natural resources is supposed to be given to provinces. This dents the interests of the centre that is dominated by Punjab, says Lahore-based analyst Ahsan Raza, adding, "Since the amendment greatly hurts the interest of the Centre, certain powers are trying to get it scrapped".

"The reduced share of the Centre in the National Finance Commission greatly hurts the interest of the establishment because it has become dependent on provinces for its expenses and sometimes these federating units raise tough questions about such spending."

"The 18th Amendment has closed down the doors of unconstitutional rule. Now, neither the parliament can be dissolved nor can a coup be legitimised. Had the amendment not been there, the democratic governments would have been removed during the Memo Gate and the sit-in of 2014. So, it is not corruption but the 18th Amendment that is the target of non-democratic forces."

Does it mean that the PPP is solely being targeted for this reason? Zulfiqar Rajper who has deep knowledge of politics in interior Sindh, differs. "Name a few dozen PPP leaders who are not involved in corruption. The PPP says billions of rupees have been pumped into development. Go and look at the situation in Larkana, Dadu, Thar, Ghotki and other parts of Sindh. Hepatitis has become an epidemic in several parts of Sindh. No job was given without bribe in the last eleven years. A D Khawja tried to appoint people on merit and he was shown the door. So, this is absolutely wrong to say that the PPP is being targeted for defending the 18thAmendment."

Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Environment Minister Taimur Talpur, MPA Razzak Raja, ex minister for local bodies Jam Khan Shoro and Agha Siraj Durrani are already facing NAB inquiries. Sources in the party believe MPA Mukesh Chowla, ex-home minister Suhail Anwar Sial, ex-law minister Zia Linjar, MNA Khursheed Shah and a number of other PPP leaders from Sindh will also face inquiries in coming months.

But Rajper believes that it will not hurt the party. "Because there is no strong alternative to the PPP in interior Sindh and the opponents of the party are considered stooges of the establishment. Then a certain class has enriched itself with the help of the PPP rule. So, their government is there to stay."

But the party asserts that it will not bow to the pressure of the establishment and will continue defending the 18th Amendment.