A gathering of electables


The formation of the Istehkam Pakistan Party has been heralded as the launch of a new King’s Party, but even a cursory look shows that it is not the PTI, even though its leadership consists of PTI veterans.

That seems to be its most pressing purpose: that it provides a platform for those PTI leaders and electables who had left the party after the May 9 attacks on military installations made that party too hot to hold them.

It is interesting that the new party is being led by Jehangir Tareen and Abdul Aleem Khan, both of whom had left the party before the May 9 attacks convulsed the PTI. It is also interesting that both men were known as PTI chief Imran Khan’s ATMs, who bankrolled not just the party but him personally. It is thus no coincidence that Tareen left the party because he was accused of having been responsible for the sugar crisis of 2021 because of his business interests. When Aleem Khan left the party, he was accused of trying to misuse his position to get undue favours for his real estate businessBoth are also veterans of the PML(Q), Tareen having served in Shaukat Aziz’s federal Cabinet and Aleem Khan in Pervaiz Elahi’s Punjab Cabinet.

However, the real test  of the new party will be how attractive it is for people from other parties. It is only when people start leaving the PML(N) and the PPP to join the new outfit that it would become a political platform capable of playing a national role.

At present, the IPP seems to have its ranks full of potential Punjab Chief Ministers. Tareen and Aleem have both been aspirants for the slot, as has been Fawad Chaudhry, one of the lowkey participants at the launch.So was Murad Raas, who had earlier announced a Democrats Group.  Pervaiz Elahi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Hammad Azhar have stuck to the PTI, and while Usman Buzdar has left, he has not joined the PTI.

One problem the new party has, something which was probably in its genesis, but which it has somehow not tackled, is that it lacks a candidate for PM. The PTI was the political platform through which Imran Khan became PM. Indeed, the ideology of the PTI was primarily to elect Imran PM. Even through the events of May 9, that remains its ideology.

Imran brought a record to the election; a rather thin one, true, but still, there were things he could point to. Principally, he had two major achievements to show: he had captained the 1992 World Cup-winning national cricket team, and he had successfully built the country’s first cancer hospital.Neither Tareen nor Aleem can point to anything similar.

Tareen and Aleem are men of achievement, but that achievement is making money. Though both have experience of government, neither has any achievement while there which immediately springs to mind, which can be used as a talking-point by either to reach out to the public. There is also the dilemma of what will happen if Tareen’s current disqualification is lifted. At present, Aleem is party president, but the chairmanship is still vacant.

This then brings one to what is the new party’s defining issue. Imran’s and the PTI’s was corruption. He took the sense among the public that the PML(N) and PPP were headed by7 corrupt politicians, and converted it into votes. It was a telling point that he himself was perceived as being untainted by that corruption. One of the most enduring efforts of the opposition to Imran has been to dent that reputation.

The real test of the IPP is whether, without Imran, it can get votes. It is the party of electables, those who depend on ties to a constituency. If it succeeds in its purposes, it will mean that the combination of electables and establishment will gain strength. However, never before have either seemed as vulnerable as now.

Corruption was not mentioned in the new party’s foundation, leaving it without an issue. Its leaders spoke about providing an alternative to the economic mess, but seem to have missed the point: the fight against corruption was not an end in itself, but was a  eans to improve the economy. The IPP leadership cannot also claim the squeaky clean image that Imran cultivated.

Tareen is the originator of what might be called the South Punjab strategy, from which the PTI benefited in and after the last election. There is a group of electables who come from South Punjab, where party affiliations seem the least, who go to the party which seems likeliest to win. Train himself is from South Punjab, and sat for a Lodhran seat before his disqualification.

Another person pursuing the South Punjab strategy is PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari. Hemight have noticed that whenever the PPP has won an election, it has won a majority in South Punjab, which is precisely the area which Tarin is targeting.

The PML(N) does not seem to be part of this race, which might explain why if the IPP is looking to coordinate, it is looking to the PML(N). Another reason is that if Aleem is to be found a seat, it would be better for the PML(N) not to put a candidate in his constituency than the PPP.

If the IPP is looking to coordinate with the major parties, it is not really competing for national power, but wants to act as a pressure group, getting enough seats in the provincial assembly to parlay its position into either the chief ministership or the speakership, in exchange for its support to that party in the Centre.

Of course, there are certainly more permutations, but it does mean that the IPP is basically a power-seeking platform. In that respect, its lack of ideology serves it well. Is the new party as much of an establishment creature as the PTI is said by its detractors to be? In fact, its existence is one of the biggest arguments against the claim that the establishment is out of politics. One of the noticeable features of the IPP is that it seems a platform not just for PTI dissidents, but those who have always been loyal to the establishment. This includes those who are reputed not to make a move without establishment blessing.

If that is indeed the case, it seems that the establishment is now  inclined to exert control. Through the creation of pressure groups. It already has control over the PML(N) and the PPP though Mian Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Zatrdari respectively, not so much because they are enthusiastic about the establishment, as because they have learnt  that it cannot be beaten, and if you can’t beat them, join them.

Establishment control requires cooperation. Establishments in Myanmar or Thailand are much more direct, having a number of seats allocated to the armed forces in Parliament, convenient blocs which can be used in support of one person or another. However, in Pakistan, since the establishment is formally banned from taking part in politics, it requires the support of political parties, preferably parties which are too weak ever to challenge it.

So far, that has been the problem. The PPP, the PML(N) and the PTI all became too big for their boots. However, the problem is that unless the party is strong enough to contend for power, it is in danger of not fulfilling the purpose the establishment has assigned it. So far, any party that could contend for power, has done so. That seems to be the problem facing the establishment with the IPP. If it grows strong enough, it will challenge for power. However, if it remains as it is, it may not be able to generate enough votes to let it get enough seats to act as a pressure group.

The real test of the IPP is whether, without Imran, it can get votes. It is the party of electables, those who depend on ties to a constituency. If it succeeds in its purposes, it will mean that the combination of electables and establishment will gain strength. However, never before have either seemed as vulnerable as now.


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