- Opposition being forced to combine
PPP Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s visit to PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz was not the first time they had met (they had iftari together during Ramazan last month), but the first since both had had family members arrested by NAB. Bhutto Zardari was worse affected, for his father Asif Zardari and paternal aunt Faryal Talpur had been arrested by NAB, and in a case where he himself had been called in for questioning. Meanwhile, Maryam’s cousin Hamza Shehbaz had been also arrested by NAB, though in a case which did not involve her. However, her father Nawaz Sharif is in jail, having been convicted in a NAB case. It was thus only to be expected that they would discuss the political situation arising out of these arrests. The government immediately began efforts to portray the meeting as between people devoted to protecting corruption, with a tweet from PM’s Information Special Assistant Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan containing this message, as did a statement by Punjab Information Minister Samsam Bukhari.
The government seems to be taking the meeting seriously, as it hints at a future opposition movement. At the moment, the opposition does not seem to be positioned for a protest movement, but then, political parties are designed to fight elections, not bring down a government by protests, but a number of strands seem to be coming together. Apart from the arrest of the natural leaders of the parties, the government is presiding over a faltering economy, and has just signed a highly unpopular agreement with the IMF. That agreement has led to a draconian devaluation of the rupee, which has led to a fresh bout of inflation.
Perhaps it is because they prefer contesting elections that the opposition parties are refraining from launching a movement, but they are facing increasing pressure from below. The dilemma for the opposition has always been that it cannot afford to let go any opportunity of opposing the government, especially when there are rival opposition parties waiting for them to provide a chink. One result of the latest arrests has been to place the leadership of both major parties in the hands of relatively inexperienced hands. The PML-N does have Mian Shehbaz Sharif as its President, but he too has his troubles with NAB.