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The force of 10

Chasms are beginning to appear in the ruling coalition of the PTI and PML-Q in Punjab, following the resignation of Ammar Yasir. The PML-Q, however, has little to lose in the power play

The force of 10

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is faced with multiple challenges in the Punjab province. These include, above all, the growing grievances of its chief ally, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

In the house of 371, a majority party needs to have secured at least 186 seats. As it stands, in the present Punjab Assembly, PTI boasts 181 seats, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 168, PML-Q 10, Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) 7, and independents 4. Given this scenario, the PML-Q’s 10 members enjoy a crucial status: they can either be a big threat or great help to either of the PTI and PML-N whichsoever it wants to join forces with.

However, ever since it became part of the coalition government in the Centre as well as the Punjab, the PML-Q — previously dubbed the “King’s Party” — has held grievances. Ironically, a couple of federal ministers have only contributed to add to this sensitive situation through their statements. For instance, Fawad Chaudhry, Federal Minister for Communication, recently made a comment in a TV show that PTI is capable of creating a forward bloc within PML-Q along with PPPP and PML-N, if only the PM Imran Khan gives his consent to it.

Replying to the minister on Twitter, Chaudhry Monis Elahi, son of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and a member of the National Assembly, warned the government that such comments could “rock or even dismantle” the coalition, and, therefore, the PTI must discipline its “children.”

Plainly put, every unit of a coalition government makes a pact with the majority party on the basis of their political and/or personal agendas. Considering the importance of its 10-member force in the Punjab, the PML-Q is in a far better position to manoeuver. (The party also provides significant support to PTI’s government in the Centre, what with its five members in the Lower House.)

At the time of forging deals with different political parties to help it form government in the Centre and the Punjab, the PTI had to make certain commitments to its allies. Reportedly, Khan, who is also the chairman of the PTI, accepted “four demands” that were brought to the table by the PML-Q: a)two ministries in the Centre, and two in the PA; b)the PML-Q will be taken on board on policy matters; c)the PML-Q will have its share in all level, right from the Union Council to the Centre; and d)the suggestions given by the PML-Q leadership on matters such as postings, transfers, and promotions will be entertained.

In return, the PTI leadership wanted Chaudhry’s role in creating a silent forward bloc within the PML-N. The specific target was somehow achieved in the three polls for the Speaker, the President, and the Senate. Some of the PML-N lawmakers either voted for the PTI-PML-Q candidates or preferred not to vote.

However, the PML-Q leadership as well as the lawmakers in the Centre and the Punjab are frustrated at the government’s attitude towards its allies. The resignation of Ammar Yasir, the Punjab Minister for Mines and Minerals, describes the existing wrangle between the PTI and PML-Q. In his resignation, the minister cited undue pressure and hurdles in performing his duties as reasons for him calling it quits.

Kamil Ali Agha, the spokesperson for PML-Q, tells TNS that the party’s major issues with the PTI leadership include “not awarding [the promised] second ministry in the Centre [for which Monis Elahi’s name was given], interference in ministerial affairs headed by the PML-Q lawmakers, postings in the constituencies of our members without consultations, bureaucracy being pressurised not to cater for us in the province, and undermining the role of an ally in policy matters.”

Agha also speaks of “most of PTI’s allies [as being] unhappy.” According to him, the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-Pakistan), and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) are also criticising the PTI leadership for not delivering on its promises.

He calls the team around the PM as “incompetent, and disrespectful. They must learn the basic ethics if they want to stay in the coalition government.”

 

Political analysts believe that PTI’s inter-party politics, especially in the Punjab, is causing problems for the government as well as for its important ally (PML-Q). Senior journalist Amjad Warraich says that the video leaked in November last year sent out a loud-and-clear message to the PTI leadership in which Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi along with the other PML-Q leaders (Tariq Bashir Cheema and Ammar Yasir) urged Jahangir Tareen, a close aide of Imran Khan, to check Governor Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar.

“Chaudhry Sarwar is reportedly interfering in the Bahawalpur district by promoting his Arain baradari (clan) and undermining the role of the PML-Q in local politics,” he adds. “The same is true of other districts where the Chaudhrys of Gujrat have political mileage and won’t accept any interference at any level and want to control each political matter.”

Warraich is of the view that the governor “is planning to establish his team, mostly from the Arain [clan] settled in different districts and having a strong political role. Certainly, the Chaudhrys being old players won’t let such tactics affect their presence in the province.”

It is obvious that the politics for the upcoming local bodies’ election is taking a new turn. Both the PTI and the PML-Q would indeed want to bring maximum number of districts under their control in order to secure a better position in the next general election. The latter has even started reorganising the party at the union council level. It wants a sizeable chunk not only in the districts in which the party won national and provincial assembly seats — in Chakwal, Gujrat, Rawalpindi, and Bahawalpur — but also at places where they have strong political affiliations.

Analyst Salman Abid believes Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had the agenda to expand his party’s role in future politics, which is why he whole-heartedly accepted the chair of the Speaker: “PML-Q would want at least 7-8 districts to come under its control in the upcoming LG polls.

“The Chaudhrys being canny politicians would definitely try to cash in on the PTI’s internal tug-of-war. In this context, the pressure will only build up, as it is a defining moment for the PML-Q’s future,” he adds.

The resignation of provincial minister Ammar Yasir and the serious threat given by the PML-Q leadership to the PTI’s government compelled the PM to intervene. Earlier, the Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was unsuccessful in engaging with the Chaudhrys. The PM formed a committee, led by the Federal Minister for Defence, Pervez Khattak, to help the situation.

So far, the PML-Q leaders are said to be satisfied with the committee’s progress, but they want the commitments made by the PTI Chairman to be fulfilled in their true spirit.

Political pundits say that both the parties shall remain allies, at least for the current tenure, as neither is able to survive discretely. Having said that, the tussle to grab greater political mileage in the province might continue to affect the coalition every now and then.

Shehryar Warraich

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The author is a member of the staff and can be reached at [email protected]

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