EDITORIAL: The opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) can by now be described not only as a house divided but also grappling with internal fissures. The March 16, 2021 PDM meeting in Islamabad put the seal on the fracture between the PDM on one side and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) on the other. The actual dramatics of the split may have taken on personal overtones when PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari launched a personalised diatribe against Nawaz Sharif. But the real cause of the parting of the ways was on the question of mass resignations from parliament. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ‘strategy’ emerged as a combination of such resignations and a ‘long march’ on Islamabad. However, the devil was in the detail. How such a combination was expected to unseat the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government was unclear. It sounded like the triumph of hope over reality. With hindsight, the whole idea of mass resignations had an immeasurable variety of holes in it. The biggest of these was the prospect of mass resignations leaving the field clear for the PTI government to carry out its desire to roll back the 18th Amendment, and bring in the draconian Pakistan Media Development Authority law to further curb not just the mainstream media but film, television, social media and web-based media platforms. If the government had gone ahead with by-elections to the vacated seats, the PDM would have been caught on the horns of a dilemma. If it participated in such by-elections, that brought into question the resignations justification in the first place. If they boycotted, the PTI would have arguably swept the slate clean and merrily proceeded with its legislative agenda without let or hindrance. The issue split the PDM right down the middle. Asif Zardari’s outburst against Nawaz Sharif may have initiated the ‘hostilities’, but the PDM’s highhanded (for an alliance) show-cause notices sealed the break. Now the former allies seem to be gravitating towards two parallel platforms outside parliament, one comprising five parties – PML-N, JUI-F, PkMAP, NP and BNP-M – and the other two parties – PPP and ANP.
However, bleak as these developments rendered the prospects of the opposition, the release from detention of Shehbaz Sharif seems to have set another momentum in motion. Shehbaz is attempting to heal the rift in the opposition ranks, with the upcoming budget foremost in mind. He would dearly love to have the opposition give a tough time to the government during the budget presentation and debate, with, hopeful signs indicate, the PPP on board. Shehbaz would also like the PML-N to veer towards engagement with the establishment rather than the hard line position of Nawaz Sharif being propounded within the country by Maryam Nawaz. Whether Nawaz can be persuaded by his younger brother to take a more pragmatic line rather than confrontation is critical to healing the fissures within the PML-N. The parliamentarians of the party have been mutedly expressing their disquiet at the hard line adopted by Nawaz Sharif against the establishment for very practical reasons. One, their constituency support may slip without defusing the confrontation with the establishment, threatening their chances in the next general elections. Then there could also be local bodies elections looming, which could offer an opportunity to mobilise and consolidate the PML-N’s support base in Punjab. It is difficult at this point to say whether Shehbaz’s more conciliatory approach will work to persuade Nawaz Sharif as to its wisdom and practicality, and whether his more open approach to opposition unity can overcome the gulf between the two sides of the divided opposition. On balance, it appears the opposition may have to get used to fighting within parliament in conjunction with its planned revival of mass rallies from July 4-August 14, 2021. The difficulties in its path have revived memories of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, that magical weaver of opposition alliances in our history.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021