Why it is still uphill for PDM

It is going to be difficult to convince the public that things could change for the better in case the PTI is ousted

Following the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) head Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s pledge to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan by December, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government is gearing up to face the challenge even though it is claiming not to have been unnerved by the threat.

In any case, the Maulana and the leaders of the 11-party opposition alliance don’t want the PTI to be still in power until March next year when the Senate election is scheduled to be held as the ruling party by then would be in a position to increase its numbers in the Upper House of parliament and strengthen its hold on power.

These are the two goalposts that the PDM, which was formed on September 20 on the occasion of the Multi-Party Conference convened by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Islamabad, is hoping to reach by the end of this year or by early 2021.

The opposition parties want to strike while the government is still weak due to its thin majority in the National Assembly and low numbers in the Senate. Besides, it is seeking to exploit the growing dissatisfaction with the government due to inflation, unemployment and frequent shortages of wheat, sugar and other items of daily use.

The PDM adopted a 26-point resolution as a charge-sheet against the government at the conference and came up with a seven-point action plan to achieve its objectives. A mass movement was to be launched to mobilise the people all over Pakistan until December before undertaking a ‘long march’ to Islamabad in January to paralyse the government and force the prime minister to quit.

Gujranwala, the PML-N stronghold in the Punjab where it won all six National Assembly seats in the July 2018 general election, was chosen as the venue of the PDM’s first anti-government rally after Quetta was selected first and then dropped as the place where the action was to begin. It is true that holding a public meeting in far-off Quetta in sparsely populated Balochistan would not have made the required impact, but another reason could be the fact that the two major opposition parties in the province, Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam–Fazl (JUI-F) and Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtun Khwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), have been fierce electoral rivals for years and another PDM component, Awami National Party (ANP) is part of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP)-led provincial government.

The opposition parties would have to resolve their differences and stay united if they want to take their movement to its logical conclusion. Every party has to contribute its bit to make the agitation a success. The JUI-F and PkMAP, along with the Baloch nationalist parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and the National Party of late Hasil Bizenjo, would have to join hands despite their acute differences to put up a good show at Quetta.

The ANP chapter in Balochistan has to decide eventually to stay in the provincial government or quit, though such a decision would have to be coordinated with the PPP, which is the ruling party in Sindh and is under pressure from Maulana Fazlur Rahman to dissolve the provincial assembly there. Resigning assembly seats before completing the five-year term is the biggest challenge for parties as lawmakers don’t want to spend resources and face another election before time.

ANP’s relations with the JUI-F turned bitter when the former’s provincial head Aimal Wali Khan made corruption allegations against Maulana Fazlur Rahman after reports emerged that the latter was being summoned by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) over allegations of having assets beyond his known sources of income. Though the issue was controlled after a bout of allegations and counter-allegations by the two parties, it could re-emerge as they are electoral rivals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The opposition parties want to strike when the government is still weak due to its thin majority in the National Assembly and low numbers in the Senate. Besides, it is seeking to exploit the growing dissatisfaction with the government.

It also must be kept in mind that the NAB still intends to summon the Maulana as the inquiry against him is continuing. Action could be taken if the PDM campaign gains momentum. The NAB option has been used earlier and the PTI could use it again to keep the opposition in check.

The JUI-F leader who has no stakes in the existing political system has been the most active in putting together an opposition alliance to topple the government since the day he lost the 2018 election to the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He tried last year to force the government to resign by staging a sit-in in Islamabad, but lack of support from other parties prompted him to abandon the effort even though he keeps claiming that he was promised by those who matter in Pakistan that his demands would be met.

The Maulana’s recent tirade against the military establishment must have upset its high command. His threat that the fate of the US forces in Afghanistan could be repeated in Pakistan would have been too much to tolerate for some in the military. Taking the military head-on along with the PTI government cannot be easy keeping in view the ground realities in Pakistan.

Almost all the opposition parties, taking a lead from the PML-N, the PPP and the JUI-F, are now openly accusing the military of rigging the 2018 election in favour of the PTI and bringing an ‘incompetent’ Imran Khan into power as the selected prime minister of Pakistan. This is causing embarrassment to the military, which has asked the opposition not to drag it into politics. Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief, has told all concerned that it would back every democratically elected government.

The PTI government would be tempted to exploit any differences that exist and could arise in the PDM in case a public meeting in a particular place doesn’t come up to expectations. The PML-N with its support base in the Punjab and the JUI-F with its street-power, primarily in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan where madrassa students are in plenty, pose the biggest challenge to the government.

The threat posed by the PPP having its base in Sindh would remain manageable as long as it is in power in the province. Also, for the PPP to be led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman on account of their ideological divide would remain a matter of concern. This is the reason its chairperson Bilawal Bhutto proposed a rotation policy for the PDM leadership.

The most important task facing the PDM would be mobilising the people to join the protest campaign. The PTI has been in power for about 27 months. Asking the masses to agitate for the removal of the government at this stage seems early. It is true that the economic situation is dire and the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse, but it is going to be difficult to convince the public that things could change for the better if the PTI is ousted and a fresh election is held to bring a new coalition government into power.

Why it is still uphill for PDM