Political temperatures in the capital are rising with political leaders of all hues giving heated statements as the date for PTI’s long march approaches. One of these statements that created a lot of stir was that of former president and PPP’s co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari who strongly criticised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the issue of verification of votes in four constituencies (a longstanding demand of PTI), interfering in provincial matters and neglecting the internally displaced persons (IDPs) last week.
Though the statement raised many eyebrows in the power corridors, it brings some hope for party’s Punjab chapter leadership which has long been demanding the central leadership to remain relevant in the politics of the province — in short, to adopt a tough stance against the ruling PML-N government.
PTI chief Imran Khan also welcomed Asif Zardari’s statement.
PML-N leaders, on the other hand, think the statement was meant to pressurise the central government to safeguard PPP’s interests in Sindh. “PPP leadership in Sindh was not happy with PM Nawaz Sharif over his announcement of Rs 72 billion worth of projects in Karachi which is the constituency of MQM. The appointment of IG police of Sindh is another bone of contention between both parties,” a senior leader of PML-N says on condition of anonymity. “I do not think PPP would become part of any move to destabilise the system.”
PPP leaders in Punjab think the party has not been taking serious steps to activate the party in the province and say that the latest statement of Zardari is proof that PPP leadership would go to any limit to safeguard the party’s interests in Sindh.
Senior leaders of PPP from Punjab and KPK held a meeting in Islamabad in the second week of July where they raised their concerns loudly. “There was consensus that, in the backdrop of the current political scenario, the central leadership should not ignore the members of party from these two provinces. Leaders from both provinces came to the conclusion that the current political scenario in Punjab could be the best time for the party to exploit and to make its space,” a senior member of PPP who attended the meeting tells TNS. “The Sindh chapter of the party has been dominating the affairs of the party. If the situation persists and chairman and co-chairman kept ignoring the party in Punjab, several leading members may quit.”
He says the current president of PPP Punjab, Mian Manzoor Watoo, had failed to mainstream the party in the province. “If the party does not take Punjab seriously, it would soon become irrelevant to the people in the province.”
Analyst Khawar Ghumman says the PPP Punjab chapter has strong reservations over the policies of central leadership. “One thing is clear that without becoming active in Punjab no party can even think of becoming politically relevant on the national level. That would mean countering the PML-N strongly.” He says that Zardari is presently keeping his cards close to his chest. “His last statement was just a teaser for the PML-N. PPP may not join PTI in its long march but if, in the coming days it sees that PTI is in a position to give a final blow to the PML-N government, it would join hands with PTI.”
A senior leader of PTI says his party would soon extend a formal invitation to PPP leadership to join the long march. “We hope PPP would join us in our demand for votes audit in four constituencies. We would at least expect PPP to give moral support to our stance if it decides to not become part of our long march.”
The PPP leadership from Sindh believes the party could only think of ignoring Punjab if it decides to quit from the entire country. “It could be the point of view of some leaders of the party but it is not true. We know the party cannot form a government at centre without winning from Punjab,” says Senator Saeed Ghani, PPP’s leader from Sindh.
“Asif Zardari gave a policy statement which covered issues relating to provincial autonomy and future of democracy in the country. It had nothing to do with petty issues like the appointment of IGP Sindh,” he says.
Ghani thinks the party strongly believes the last elections were rigged and endorses Imran Khan’s stance in this regard “but to re-open four constituencies is not the job of government but of the election commission and the courts”.
He is of the opinion that the government needs to tackle the situation amicably instead of going for a policy of confrontation. “We have already seen that in Lahore this policy of PML-N has projected Tahirul Qadri, otherwise irrelevant to the politics of the country. The situation could be worse if they adopt the same policy vis-à-vis PTI,” says Ghani.
He thinks PPP would be the last party to become part of any movement meant to destabilise the system. “The rigid behaviour of PML-N leadership is a major threat to the future of democracy in the country,” he says, adding that there are no permanent friendships and animosities in politics. “PPP and PTI can also end up in an alliance if their political agendas coincide.”
Political experts however believe that there would be two phases of PTI’s movement against the government. First phase would totally concentrate on ouster of PML-N government and for which they would accept support of every party. But, second phase would be contesting mid-term elections for which it may not go for alliance with PPP as it would compromise their narrative on corruption.
There is also a sense that PPP is not in a good position to create problems for the sitting government since it does not have the street power. “At present only those parties which have a political following in urban centres like PTI, MQM and even Tahirul Qadri’s party to some extent can create a problem for the government,” PPP politician Fawad Chaudhry tells TNS.
“PPP is in power in Sindh, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan but it will not become part of any move to destabilise PML-N government. Its leadership knows that in case of mid-term election the party may not even be able to give results ‘as good as’ it gave in 2013 elections,” he says.
Chaudhry thinks the PPP leaders in Punjab have strong resentment against its central leadership just the way the PML-N leadership in Sindh has strong reservations over its central party leadership. “In Sindh even leaders like Ghaus Ali Shah and Mumtaz Bhutto have almost left the party. They believe that their leadership has conceded Sindh to PPP the way PPP leaders in Punjab think their leadership has conceded Punjab to PML-N. There is also some truth in this assumption.”
Everyone agrees that Punjab is the powerhouse of politics in Pakistan. “In the 2013 election, PML-N made central government on the basis of its performance in Punjab. PPP would have to come up with some good strategy if it wants to get active in Punjab,”concludes Fawad Chaudhry.