More cracks in the alliance

March 28, 2021

Under the PDM umbrella, the PPP and the PML-N are together. Historically, the two have found it difficult to work together

“We have some common goals under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) but we have our own strategy and they have their own,” Maryam Nawaz, vice president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and heir apparent to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif told the media in one of her recent statements on PML-N’s relationship with the Pakistan Peoples Party.

The PDM, an alliance of almost a dozen opposition parties in the opposition, has been up against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for several months. The alliance appears fragmented over the issue of resignations from the National and Provincial Assemblies, ahead of a mass protest against the regime, which it calls “selected” and accuses of having emerged through “massive political engineering by the establishment”.

The PPP and the PML-N are the two major parties in this opposition alliance presided over by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), a firm opponent of the ruling PTI. Both JUI-F and PML-N, with support from some smaller parties, are pressing the PPP to resign from the assemblies in order to topple this regime, a demand the PPP leaders have rejected. The PML-N and the JUI-F appear quite desperate to oust PTI’s Imran Khan from the government, possibly, as many analysts note, because they are not in power or sharing power in any province. The PPP, on the other hand, is the ruling party in Sindh, has a sizeable presence in the National Assembly, and has now become the largest opposition party in the Senate.

Historically the PPP and the PML-N have not been on the same page for a long time. They were bitter rivals in the 1980s and the 1990s. There first-ever significant alliance or the beginnings of an understanding between them was seen in 2006 – when they were not in power during the regime of military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf. They managed to sign the Charter of Democracy (CoD) in London, a document aiming to strengthen democracy and worked together to oust Musharraf from power. However, the CoD was not implemented in its entirety.

In 2008, together with other political players, the PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government. They were together in the National Assembly and the PPP formed the government in Sindh. In the Punjab, the PML-N was the largest party while the PPP was a part of the coalition. This alliance did not last long, and after a couple of years the parties were once again openly fighting each other. Salmaan Taseer, the PPP governor in the Punjab, suspended the Provincial Assembly. The PML-N leaders vowed then to take Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP leader and then president of Pakistan, to the cleaners over alleged corruption.

Under the PDM banner, the ‘unlikely allies’ came are together to oust Imran Khan from power but the cracks in this alliance are quite visible now. Some experts say that they will never be long-term allies. Their goals converged momentarily leading to the PDM activity. If they can topple the PTI government, they will immediately resume their rivalry. Maryam Nawaz’s recent statements indicate that the two parties are not on the same page. Both are trying to get the maximum political mileage from each other. They are presenting a unified front to pressure the PTI regime.

Some say that Zardari’s demand for a constitutional struggle via the parliament will strengthen its supremacy and democracy, and reinforce the PPP’s image as a political player. 

In the recent war of words, both sides have accused each other of trying to garner the military establishment’s support behind the scenes. However, both sides, have since entered a truce to placate Fazl, who wants to keep the alliance going at all costs as he lacks the parliamentary strength despite his popular following. Maryam Nawaz, in a meaningful tweet, indirectly hit at Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the PPP chairperson, by saying that the establishment is preparing a substitute for the “selected” (a reference to PM Khan). Bilawal Bhutto responded by referring to a political family in Lahore who had been the establishment puppets in the past - an attack on the Sharif family. The PML-N has indicated that if the PPP chooses to go its separate way, the PML-N and the JUI-F will use their street power to campaign against the government. The PML-N says that it might still go ahead and resign from the assemblies - with or without the PPP.

Some experts say that cracks will continue to surface in the PDM on account of mistrust on both sides. Some say that Zardari’s demand for a constitutional struggle via the parliament will strengthen its supremacy and the democracy, and reinforce the PPP’s image as a political player.

“This is more than a war of words between the two parties. The differences appear to be unbridgeable. Since its formation some six months ago, the PDM has remained divided over its narrative,” says Zahid Hussain, the political analyst.

Some say that the PPP’s demand for Nawaz Sharif to return from London to lead the movement against the government is a clever one. However, the PML-N leader has declined citing threat to his safety and possible jail time.

The latest tussle between the two major parties became obvious after both nominated separate candidates for Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The PPP has more seats in the Senate than the PML-N. However, the PML-N is the biggest opposition party in the National Assembly. Both parties are trying currently to convince the other to support their nomination. If there is no agreement, the PPP looks better placed to win this slot. The PML-N might then start attacking the PPP. Another test of the durability of the alliance and that of relations between these two is the upcoming by-election in NA-249 Karachi where PML-N is seeking the PPP support. There has been no clear response from the PPP so far. These developments will determine the fate of what already looks like a sinking boat.

The PPP chief minister in Sindh met the PTI governor last week, amid the war of words between the two parties, a signal perhaps from the PPP that they have other options. Some analysts have pointed out that if Prime Minister Imran Khan accepts PPP as an ally through backdoor negotiations, possibly with help from the establishment, this may help the PTI regime complete its five-year term and give the PML-N a tough time.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at

More cracks in the alliance