May 9, 2011

Alliance of necessity

For the time being, the PPP-PML-Q united front has created political stability of sorts

By Adnan Adil

The original script of PPP-PML-Q alliance was written in 2007 and has been realised in 2011. In 2007, President Gen Pervez Musharraf alone could not fight the so-called Islamic extremists and lacked the required mass support to seal an agreement with India over Kashmir. The king’s party, PML-Q, was not popular enough to help the general. The influential US lobby in Pakistan saw to it that Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto came to terms. The PPP was promised power-sharing with Musharraf following the 2008 general elections and the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was promulgated to pardon the corruption cases against the PPP leaders to pave their safe return to the country. The plan fell apart as Benazir Bhutto became victim to the Taliban in December 2007 and Musharraf sagged under the pressure of the judicial movement.

Now, with the next federal budget around the corner, the minority government of the PPP, with just 127 members in the house of 342, faces a desperate situation having already lost the support of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUIF (8 seats) and is struggling to keep on its side the flip-flop MQM (25 seats.) If the party does not get the National Assembly’s majority vote for the budget, it would amount to a non-trust vote in Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

So far, the PPP government survived because the PML-N (90 seats) flatly refused to join forces with the other opposition parties or bring a no-confidence motion against the government. After PML-N’s alienation, an alliance with the PML-Q, having 50 seats in the National Assembly, would bring the PPP in a comfort zone.

On the other hand, the PML-Q was in disarray as the party consists of local political notables of Punjab and Hazara who have no tradition of staying out of power for long. More than 40 members of the party have defected to form the Unification Bloc, which supports the PML-N government in Punjab. More than 25 members of the National Assembly were ready to part ways and support the PPP government. Already, the party has split at the national level with Hamid Nasir Chattha leading the Like-Minded Group that also includes Salim Saifullah, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Gohar Ayub Khan and Kashmala Tariq. Only the support of government patronage could save the party from further meltdown.

Nawaz Sharif has taken a hard line position against the Chaudhrys who ditched him to support Gen Musharraf. He stubbornly declined to take them back. Nawaz Sharif reportedly said “Curse the government for which I have to join hands with the Chaudhrys.” That left no option for the Chaudhrys to seek other alliances.

An urgent, pressing issue for the Chaudhrys of Gujrat was the arrest of Chaudhry Pervez Elahi’s son, Moonis Elahi, on charges of a multi-billion rupee corruption case. Desperate in search of allies, the federal government helped the Chaudhrys by transferring the investigation officer who was aggressively pursuing the case and on whom the accused had shown their distrust.

For the time being, it is a win-win situation for both the PPP and the PML-Q. The PPP would survive the budget approval in the National Assembly. Moreover, if the Chaudhrys succeed in luring back their defected 40-plus members in the Unification Bloc, the PML-Q and the PPP can form a coalition government in the Punjab dislodging PML-N’s Shahbaz Sharif. Another major relief for the PPP is that it would get rid of the daily blackmailing by the MQM. Soon after the PML-Q joined the federal cabinet, the MQM, which was staying away on one excuse or the other, fell in line and agreed to accept ministries.

If the PPP-PML-Q united front lasts, it may lead to significant gains for the two parties at the local body polls, Senate elections in 2012 and the 2013 general elections. The combined strength of the two parties, popular appeal of the PPP and the local heavyweights of the PML-Q make a good winning combination at least in rural Punjab, provided some spontaneous wave in support of some other politician does not upset the traditional electoral arithmetic.

The major disadvantage for the two parties is that this alliance has started causing resentment within their ranks and may cause major defections. The PPP’s leadership in Gujrat has been a victim of the Chaudhrys for long and has spent almost 40 years opposing them at the local level and suffered immense victimisation at times during the days of Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf. It seems hard they would reconcile with the new alignment as PPP’s Nawabzada Ghazanfar Gul has already said he would not support this alliance in his life. PPP senator Raza Rabbani has resigned from the federal cabinet. PPP’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi has condemned the new marriage.

Within the PML-Q, a group of senators have turned to PML-Q’s like-minded faction, led by Senator Salim Saifullah. These detractors allegedly include Senator Tariq Azim, Naeem Hussain Chattha, Jamal Leghari, Javed Ali Shah and Gulshan Saeed. The group is also trying to get the support of senators SM Zafar, Muhammad Ali Durrani, Muhammad Khan Marri and Nilofer Bakhtiar.

However, if one goes by history, the attraction of power is so great that minor defections would not make much difference to both the parties and many defectors would return to their parties when the crumbs of power are thrown to them.

The major setback of the PPP-PML-Q partnership could be to the PML-N and the Sharif brothers. Nawaz Sharif is seriously ill, recuperating from his open-heart surgery in London, and is not likely to take the pressures of practical politics in near future. His two sons, Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz, are not interested in politics and are busy in their businesses in the Saudi Arabia and London. Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz are minding the store. The PML-N is facing inside groupings with Chaudhry Nisar, Javed Hashmi, Ahsan Iqbal, Pervez Rashid, Zafar Ali Shah and Raja Zafarul Haq having their own areas of influence within the party.

Nawaz Sharif’s political stand solely relies on his popularity in Punjab, especially in urban areas. That support base is too threatened by Imran Khan’s rising popularity in urban areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If Nawaz Sharif does not get his act together in the days to come, his party may be the major victim of the new political alignments. If PPP and PML-Q move to carve Seraiki province out of southern Punjab, the PML-N is likely to be confined largely to the central and northern Punjab unless Nawaz Sharif manages to create some strong waves in his favour.

In Pakistan, pragmatism and rank opportunism has proved much stronger than any ideological rhetoric and it will keep the two parties united and satisfied. For the time being, the PPP-PML-Q united front has created political stability of sorts and enhances the chances of the sitting assemblies completing their five-year tenure.

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