The threat posed by the long march and resignations is no more there while the PDM’s house is in disarray. This has led Prime Minister Imran Khan to heave a sigh of relief and declare that he has won the war. He is sadly mistaken, as he is confusing survival with victory.
The opposition has suffered a setback. But the failure of JUI(F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s long march at the end of 2019 didn’t deter him joining hands with ten opposition parties to plan another assault. The PDM, set up six months back, has already a number of feathers to its cap: a major defeat administered to the PTI in by- elections, exposing the PM’s claims of honesty and transparency in the Daska by-polls and delivering a stunning blow to the PTI government by defeating its Finance Minister in the Senate. The PDM also exposed what constitutes the PTI government’s Achilles’ heel: the party cannot win even an electoral battle without the establishment’s help. The PM is further tarnishing his image by attacking the Election Commission of Pakistan, an action triggered by the PDM’s victory in by-elections.
There are differences between the PML(N) and PPP on strategy that are reflective of their peculiar political interests. The PML(N) and nine other PDM components have supported a confrontational stance with resignations and a long march as tactics. With Punjab still its stronghold, it suited the PML(N) to seek fresh elections at a time when the PTI’s ratings are falling like a stone. A government formed at the centre with help from other PDM allies would end the PML(N)’s miseries and lead to the return of its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif.
With little support in Punjab, the PPP stands to gain little from an immediate overthrow of the government. The party therefore decided to work through the system, strengthen itself in the Senate, forge alliances and wait for good times. Both the confrontationists and those working through the system forgot that when the push came to shove, the establishment was bound to come to the support of its protégé.
While the government remains confident of the establishment’s support, it needs to realize that there comes a time when the client becomes a liability for the patron and then the unexpected happens.