The politics of APC | Pakistan Today

The politics of APC

  • No clear direction

Finally, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif has declared himself fully recovered from Covid-19. Since his return from London in March the former Punjab chief minister has been hibernating at this Model Town residence in Lahore, initially as a preventive measure and later on the pretext of having been struck by the pandemic.

During this long hiatus, including his four months stay in London, the head of the largest opposition party in the country has virtually remained an absentee politician, restricting himself mostly to issuing statements.

In the meanwhile, performing the role of the opposition in the National Assembly was left to parliamentary party leaders Khawaja Asif, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal. While on the other hand Bilawal Bhutto, the chairperson of the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), has been leading from the front.

His hard-hitting narrative in the parliament and his various interactions with the media sharply contrast with the timid politics of Sharif. Most analysts contend that the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim league -Nawaz) president’s reticence is more by design rather than because of dint of circumstances.

Sharif has never hidden his propensity to cohabit with the ubiquitous establishment. In the past he has been openly disagreeing with his elder brother Nawaz Sharif and niece Maryam Nawaz’s hawkish rhetoric.

As a precursor to the 2018 general elections, the younger Sharif missed the bus primarily because he failed to deliver his brother, being unsuccessful in tempering his anti-establishment narrative. Only after the damage was done Sharif has been able to convince ‘bhai jaan’ to keep quiet.

Shahbaz also had a pivotal role in enabling his brother to travel to London on the pretext of receiving urgent medical treatment.

And he is not returning any time soon unless something gives in, like a regime change.

But since then, enthusiasm for this kind of dispensation has waned. There is a belated realisation that it is simply impractical and hence a non-starter. If Khan goes the PTI government will go with him as well.

In the meanwhile, Sharif is waiting in the wings instead of taking the bull by the horns.  But waiting for what?

If the PML-N president thinks that he will get any brownie points for being a ‘acha bacha’ (well behaved boy), he knows something that the rest of us don’t. There is no gain without pain. If he reckons that he will be crowned one day sitting at home, he is sadly mistaken.

Khan, despite his almost daily gaffes is firmly entrenched. His mentors have never had it so good under a civilian dispensation. Why would they upset the apple cart?

In the meanwhile, the opposition (sans PML-N) are very enthusiastic about holding an APC (All Parties Conference). Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Bilawal are its main proponents.

The Maulana held an APC of his own in Karachi last Thursday. Second tier leaders of different political parties- with exception of the PTI of course- made a token presence.

Bilawal, who recently came to Lahore to confer with Sharif to finalize APC arrangements (its date and agenda etc.) could not meet him as he was still quarantined. Later the two leaders spoke on telephone.

Despite the urgency shown by the PPP chairperson, the PML-N leadership, apart from paying lip service, does not seem to be too enthusiastic about the idea. Most of them talk in vague terms about holding of the APC.

On various talk shows PML-N leaders claim that an APC will be held soon. They are neither clear about its agenda, venue or timing.

The maulana’s previous attempt to unite the opposition under one banner for a sit-in (dharna) in Islamabad last November miserably failed. None of the mainstream opposition leaders attended it.

The JUI-F’s (Jmiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl group) so called plans A and B proved to be a damp squib. Failing to gain any traction, Maulana Fazl ur Rehman’s largely solo show withered on the vine.

This time round, things are slightly different. Bilawal seems to be more enthusiastic about it and Sharif has not rejected it out of hand. Nevertheless, the opposition has yet to spell out its objectives for launching a putsch against a government that has hardly completed two years of its five-year term.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi the other day claimed that the PTI government is like a ‘mayat’ (dead body) waiting to be buried. The longer it remains unburied, more the stink. Similar rhetoric is expressed by other opposition leaders.

But on the other hand, most of them, including Abbasi, also contend that the government should not be ousted through extra constitutional means because if that happens, the opposition will not be a beneficiary.

While some argue that fresh elections should be held as Khan a ‘selected’ prime minister has failed to deliver.  But why would he call general elections knowing very well that despite tall claims to the contrary the PTI coalition has so far performed miserably?

There is a forlorn hope expressed in some opposition circles that the coalition is imploding from within. Truly, BNP-M (Balochistan National Party – Mengal) has already left the ruling alliance with its four members in the National Assembly and one senator. In terms of majorities at the centre and in Punjab the PTI government is treading on thin ice

The PML-Q (Pakistan Muslim league Quaid) does not seem too happy with its alliance with the PTI either. The Chaudhry brothers do not mince their words while criticising their senior collation partner on various issues

However, the Chaudhrys, despite flirting with their erstwhile mother party the PML-N, are unlikely to quit the coalition. Same is the case with the so-called dissidents within the PTI. As long as the PTI has the support of powers that be, the coalition will remain intact. The gel that binds them together is the twin instincts of self-interest and survival.

In this context, Khan will continue his undeclared policy of painting the opposition in a corner with a helping hand from NAB and other coercive arms of the state. The recent spat about leaking of the JIT (joint investigation team) reports is also a drama created to discredit the PPP leadership in Sindh.

There has been talk about the so-called ‘minus one formula’. The first time I heard it was from Shahbaz Sharif himself before he left for London. Even foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was named as an acceptable face for a consensual prime minister.

But since then, enthusiasm for this kind of dispensation has waned. There is a belated realisation that it is simply impractical and hence a non-starter. If Khan goes the PTI government will go with him as well.

Fresh elections could be a solution. But the country, infested with the Covid-19 scourge, it is impractical to hold them in the near future.