The battle for Punjab | Pakistan Today

The battle for Punjab

And the usual suspects

For four years under Bhutto “Takht-e-Lahore” remained PPP’s fief as did Sindh. Holding power at the center, Bhutto dismissed the NAP government in Balochistan and when the NAP-JUI combine resigned from ministries in NWFP in protest the PPP formed government in both the provinces

Punjab is the battleground for gaining control of Pakistan. Having the largest population among provinces any party winning a significant majority in Punjab can form government in Islamabad single-handedly or with one or more a junior partners, depending on the number of seats won by it in the province.

Three major parties who are challenging the PML-N currently in Punjab are PTI and PAT, the two political cousins, and PPP.

The party of the martyrs

For four years under Bhutto “Takht-e-Lahore” remained PPP’s fief as did Sindh. Holding power at the center, Bhutto dismissed the NAP government in Balochistan and when the NAP-JUI combine resigned from ministries in NWFP in protest the PPP formed government in both the provinces.

After 1977 under military establishment’s directives the security agencies worked hard to keep the PPP out of power. Failing to achieve the objective, a campaign to malign the party was initiated. Among other things PPP was accused of being close to India and thus a security threat. The PPP also started losing mass support on account of its failure to deliver. With Benazir Bhutto remaining out of the country in self-imposed exile for nearly a decade the party organisation weakened. Benazir however still retained mass appeal. She got a thunderous welcome when she returned to Pakistan in 2007.

After Benazir’s killing, the party leadership passed over to Zardari. The party’s five-year rule was marred by unending scams involving leaders of the ruling party and its allies. While it piloted historic constitutional amendments, its economic performance and management of power and gas shortages was dismal. So was its governance. PPP’s rule under Zardari was characterised by apathy towards the masses.

The PPP faced a well-deserved humiliating defeat in all the provinces except Sindh. This led to widespread demoralistaion in its ranks with several instances of desertions.

The PPP now appeals to the people in the name of its martyrs rather than its performance. A whole new generation of voters has grown up meanwhile which knows little about the contribution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.

The PPP is aware that it lacks support outside Sindh. The party therefore is not keen to take part in any movement to urgently overthrow the PML-N government. It knows that if the PML-N government falls, it is not the PPP who will be the gainer.

It suits the PPP however to be a part of a full-fledged campaign against PML-N leadership on charges of corruption. Mired as the PPP has been in corruption itself, it suits it to prove that the PML-N leadership is equally if not more corrupt. Whatever the outcome of the campaign there is little chance of the PPP making any significant headway in Punjab by the 2018 elections.

The PPP has played a key role in bringing round the otherwise impatient Imran Khan to exhaust all other opportunities to expose the PML-N before announcing a final assault. The PTI’s electoral setbacks and internal schisms have helped PPP drive the idea into PTI leader’s head.

The party of change

PTI seeks votes on the basis of the reputation of its leader and the performance of its KP government. Imran Khan takes pride in the captaincy of Pakistan’s World Cup winning team which made him a popular hero. He is also widely respected for setting up a world class cancer hospital which offers free treatment to patients unable to pay heavy medical expenses.

Despite this Imran Khan’s PTI has lost several key by-elections in Punjab, and one each in Karachi and KP. Khan has finally discovered that the people are fed up with the accusations of ‘dhandli’. He has also found to his dismay that the claims of mass support by PTI’s middle ranking leaders were often exaggerated and the PML-N has yet to be fully exposed. What is more there are also schisms in the PTI.

This has contributed to Imran Khan agreeing on the strategy devised by the PPP which stresses the use of all forums to expose the Sharifs before launching the final assault on the government.

Imran Khan has for the time being dropped the idea of demanding Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. He is now campaigning for an inquiry into the PML-N leadership’s corruption.

The PTI, PAT and PPP have written to the Election Commission of Pakistan to disqualify Nawaz Sharif on the basis of corruption. The Commission has already initiated proceedings. The move is however a double-edged sword. The case provides an opportunity to the parties’ lawyers to produce incriminating evidence and present convincing arguments thus turning public opinion against the PML-N government. In case the opposition parties fail to prove that the PM has indulged in corruption they could lose face.

Imran Khan has vowed to approach the Supreme Court also on the issue of PML-N leadership’s corruption. The PTI has meanwhile issued a white paper on governance in Punjab.

How long can a man of Khan’s temperament continue a low key movement remains a matter of opinion. He has already been criticised by the PPP for not taking other opposition parties into confidence before starting the protests, calling it yet another attempt at solo flight.

The more the PTI remains involved in protests and sit-ins the lesser the chance of the party to resolve its internal rivalries and disputes.

The party of the cleric

Pakistan-Awami-Tehrik chief Tahiruil Qadri is ambitious, unprincipled and unscrupulous. He knows he cannot come to power through elections. All along his career he has sought army’s patronage for the realisation of his lifelong dream.

Tahirul Qadri made a bid to enter the corridors of power through back door in 2003 but failed.

After winning his seat in National Assembly that year, Qadri tried to woo the then COAS-cum-President Pervez Musharraf by offering support to the military ruler. As he failed to get an appropriate post in the government he resigned next year from the National Assembly and proceeded to Canada.

Qadri appeared on the political scene once again in December 2012 on the eve of the election. He told media his party had not yet decided to contest elections because it was presently focused on accomplishing its one-point agenda: formation of an honest and trustworthy caretaker government in consultation with the establishment.

He supported the army’s role in the formation of the caretaker set up and offered his unsolicited services as caretaker prime minister.

Finding the military establishment unresponsive Qadri decided to achieve the objective through tour de force. He announced a million march to Islamabad to force the PPP government out of power. Leading the mammoth crowd on January 15 he camped outside Parliament House. “The long march has ended. Now, it’s the beginning of revolution. I give you until11am to dissolve all assemblies, including the National Assembly and provincial assemblies,” he told the PPP government. “Or else the people will take their own decisions”.

The PPP managed to deal with him skillfully. Sending a collection of cabinet minister and prominent allied leaders which satisfied his ego they made him leave the venue in peace.

In 2014, relying on offstage actors, Qadri made another entry on the political stage. A tactless PML-N ordered the police to teach PAT a lesson, killing 16 and adding the motive of revenge to the political ambitions of the cleric. Qadri joined hands with the PTI in confronting the government for several weeks in Islamabad.

In 2016 Qadri still has hopes in the army. So has Imran Khan. Left to themselves they are incapable of changing the government through street power.