Trouble has raised its disquieting head, or is looming, on diverse fronts for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government. First and foremost, Chief Minister (CM) Balochistan Jam Kamal Alyani has finally succumbed to the logic of having lost the trust of his own party, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), and resigned on October 24, 2021, on the eve of voting on the no-confidence motion moved against him by BAP dissidents and virtually every other party in the Balochistan Assembly, which the numbers showed even before the vote he was bound to lose. Thus drew to an ignominious close the two month long crisis in the province. The denouement seems to have been clinched by the talks Senate Chairman Mir Sadiq Sanjrani and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak held with Alyani after flying into Quetta. Sanjrani had earlier made attempts to reconcile the alienated BAP MPAs with the former CM, but to no avail.
Alyani lost out to ignoring one of the by now cardinal principles of our so-called parliamentary democratic system, which more than ever fails to justify this description for this 'system'. It's about constituency politics, stupid. His own party members incrementally got alienated from Alyani for his failure to take into account their concerns about development funds for their respective constituencies, without which they feared losing the next election. The system of political patronage in the country has therefore two layers, the first between the incumbent government head and his Assembly members, the second between those members and their constituency electorate. If either or both are disrupted, the end is nigh.
Following Alyani's late night resignation after assertive denials of the same earlier, the Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo, was named as the new leader of the house, i.e. the would-be next CM. On October 25, 2021, Bizenjo resigned as Speaker, thereby clearing his path to the CM's office. His replacement as Speaker is likely to be Mir Jan Mohammad Khan Jamali, a veteran of serving as CM and Speaker Balochistan, and Deputy Chairman Senate twice. What change, if any, can be expected from this 'new' dispensation? Hardly any, except perhaps greater sensitivity to and accommodation of MPAs' constituency concerns. The development funds of the country's poorest province are now more likely than ever to end up in pockets they were not intended for. To single out Balochistan in this regard, however, would be unfair since the whole political structure functions at its core on this basis.
The successful BAP dissident group mentioned and thanked Asif Ali Zardari for his support, although everyone and his uncle had pitched in to ensure seeing the back of Alyani. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which left the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) over strategic and tactical issues, is now trumpeting the success of its preferred strategy of bringing political change through no-confidence motions, in Balochistan today, Punjab and the Centre tomorrow, it argues. The latter two challenges may appear more daunting than the Balochistan collapse of Alyani's rule, however.
The second, and even more serious crisis confronting the PTI government simultaneously was the Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) agitation against the continued incarceration of their leader Saad Rizvi and the failure of the government to implement the agreement signed with the TLP in November 2020 regarding, amongst other things, the expulsion of the French Ambassador over the republication of blasphemous cartoons in France through a reference to parliament. The trouble started a few days ago in Lahore, which led to deaths and injuries to both the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) as well as the TLP protestors. The latter announced in the wake of these clashes a long march on Islamabad in an ominous reminder of their previous demonstrated ability to use their undoubted street power to paralyse the federal capital. Last time round, a months-long sit-in in Islamabad by the TLP was only dispersed through the open distribution of cash to the protestors by an LEA official, an incident that Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court roundly criticised in a judgement and which sparked off the honourable judge and his family's protracted round of troubles of one kind or another.
Now the PTI government called in Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid to negotiate with the TLP to halt their long march at Muridke, where they are still camped, in return for the release of Saad Rizvi and the hundreds of incarcerated TLP supporters. Seemingly successful, the new agreement reiterates the fulfillment of the earlier commitment to take the matter of the French Ambassador's expulsion to parliament and revisiting the inclusion of TLP supporters' names in the Fourth Schedule under the ant-terrorism laws. All this palaver conveniently ignored the fact that there is in fact no French Ambassador currently in Pakistan, the incumbent having left the country to avoid any embarrassment or threat when the blasphemous cartoons issue re-emerged and French diplomatic relations since then being handled by the Charge d' Affaires.
The third direction trouble is looming from is the opposition campaign against the PTI government's incompetence generally, and its inability to control runaway inflation particularly. On this battleground, whatever their differences, the PDM, PPP and even the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) are marshalling their troops. How far a divided and so far less than inspirational opposition can trouble the incumbent government cannot be firmly predicted at present. But if the PTI government's demonstrated incompetence and lack of grip or direction over the last three years continues, all bets are off.
Fourth, the quite unnecessary controversy in public about the appointment of the next DG ISI. Strange things surround the issue. The ISPR issues a 'proclamation' in this regard, which appears to fall foul of Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan's preference as well as irritation at indicating the decision was made by the army as an institution rather than the PM, whose theoretical prerogative it is. This 'storm in a teacup' may well blow over soon, all indications say, but our commentariat has read this as the 'shredding' of the same page narrative.
However, things may not be as black and white as this. There are indications the top brass is less than pleased at the manner in which the issue has been handled and bandied about publicly rather than discreetly behind closed doors. One fallout of the shredded same page thesis is the palpable unease and distancing from the PTI of its coalition partners, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), who are reliable weather vanes of which way the political wind emanating from the establishment is blowing.
Two years away from the next general elections, the chickens of that establishment's imposed government seem to be on the verge of coming home to roost.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021