An unclear narrative

February 14, 2021

Experience shows that political movements struggle to be effective at the later stages if the initial phases lack clarity about goals and approaches. This is the biggest challenge the PDM is facing

Photo by Rahat Dar

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has staged another power show in Hyderabad, Sindh. Leaders of the PDM have again criticised the leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for “dragging the establishment into power politics” and vowed to get rid of the incumbent government soon. Nevertheless, political analysts have started arguing that the first phase of the PDM’s show of power has been “politically unproductive” on account of its “confused political strategy”.

Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is a political alliance of heavyweights including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), and others who aim to: remove the incumbent government, force mid-term elections and establish a democratic system free from the establishment’s influence.

The PDM leaders have been accusing the PTI of involving the “establishment in all kinds of issues” only because of the alliance’s incompetence. They hold Imran Khan responsible for the economic crisis, precarity, unemployment, inflation, global isolation, nepotism and mounting corruption. By the same token, the PDM leaders have been demanding that the establishment “must apologise for their political adventurism and refrain from such maneuvering in future”.

Political analysts say that the PDM parties have nothing in common except “the agenda of removing Imran Khan from power and criticising the establishment for its involvement in the political process”.

A basic rule for any fight is to figure out the weakness and strength of one’s opposition, says journalist Mazhar Abbas.

“Apparently, the incumbent government enjoys full support of the establishment.” This means that the PDM has a limited room to act against the government”, he claims.

“Unfortunately for them, members of the PDM have been unsuccessful, so far, in chalking out a practical framework to shake this status quo in its favour.

Abbas believes that the policy to hold public gatherings to protest ‘rigged elections’ after two years in the parliament is “vague and unattractive for the masses”. He holds that “this confusion has damaged the opposition’s narrative”.

The JUI-F was clear from the very first day that opposition parties must refuse to be part of the parliament. However, the PML-N and the PPP agreed to be part of newly-elected parliament while voicing some reservations.

Once they agreed to be part of the system, they should have concentrated on exposing bad governance and government’s weaknesses in and outside of the parliament, Abbas tells TNS.

Abbas believes that the policy to hold public gatherings to protest ‘rigged elections’ after two years in the parliament is “vague and unattractive for the masses”.

Moreover, he says, the opposition would have been more effective if the PPP had chosen to engage the MQM-Pakistan (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) in Sindh and the PML-N had decided to squeeze political space with PML-Q (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) in the Punjab.

In the first phase, the PDM vowed not to be part of any electoral process. Now, these parties have decided to participate in elections at every level.

This highlights vagueness in PDM’s political approach, says Tahir Malik, author of the book, Warrior after War.

“Once political parties agree to be part of a system, they cannot protest against the same structures”, he says.

“The biggest problem with the PDM has been the mistrust among the parties. That has been followed by a lack of clarity on the mechanism for getting rid of the PTI-led government. The hard narrative presented by the opposition that the political system of the country is controlled, is fading away. This will disappoint their followers”, he says.

The first phase of such political movements is crucial. Experience shows that such movements can never be effective if the first phase lacks clarity in terms of goals and approaches.

Analyst Salman Abid says that the “policy of attacking the incumbent government as well as the establishment cannot help the opposition”.

“The PDM strategy of creating the impression that the establishment is no longer backing the incumbent government has been unsuccessful. Their last attempt to get a chunk within the establishment to their side has failed”, Abid says.

The opposition is now looking towards the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) hoping that it will disqualify the PTI in the foreign funding case, adds Abid.

PDM chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has stated in a press conference that “Imran Khan can no longer be described as sadiq (honest) and ameen (trustworthy) and his government must be declared illegal.”

The PDM has also announced a march towards the capital on March 26. The PDM chief has declared in a TV interview that it would end in a sit-in that will go on until the opposition has reached its target. The analysts say removing the PTI government will be a huge task for the PDM considering its present situation and incoherent decisions making.


The author is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]

PDM: An unclear narrative