Imran Khan has become the aaloo to PML-N’s anday.
There is no denying the fact that, with his October 30 rally in Lahore, Khan was finally able to convincingly announce his arrival on the mainstream political scene ... in the Punjab.
His mammoth rally in the heart of PML-N’s traditional stronghold has sent shockwaves across the corridors of PML-N’s headquarters in the city of Raiwind, shaking an already nervous PML-N leadership.
PML-N’s controversial MPA and the current law minister of the Punjab, Rana Sanaullah, kept calling Imran, ‘Pagal Khan’ (mad Khan), while talking to a local TV channel, as another PML-N stalwart, Senator Pervez Rashid, was seen sheepishly backtracking on his earlier statement in which he announced that he would resign from the senate if Khan was able to gather more than 5,000 people at the rally. Later he claimed that the figure he quoted was 50,000!
It doesn’t matter what Rashid claimed or how Sanaullah mocked Imran by calling him mad, the game is truly afoot between PML-N’s right-wing vote bank in the Punjab and a new, if I may, right-of-left vote bank developing in central and northern Punjab’s urban middle and lower-middle-classes.
This new vote bank is made up of those young people who are likely to perhaps vote for the first time in their lives in the next elections, and of also those who are set to slip into the Khan camp from within PML-N’s traditional vote bank. For PML-N this is certainly a cause for concern. And if you minus its chief, Mian Nawaz Sharif from the equation – perhaps the only element left in the PML-N still not sure about the party’s exceedingly hawkish ways against the PPP-led coalition in Islamabad – the hawks in the party, led by Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, have finally managed to take the reins of the party and dictate its future course.
Of course, PML-N’s palpitations in this respect were always expected to increase in frequency as the date for the senate elections (March next year) draws near, and which are expected to sweep the PPP into the senate as well. But whereas, Nawaz Sharif is hoping for an early general elections (that is, before February 2013), he is clearly not so sure what - if PML-N’s anti-government maneuvers outside the parliament manages to topple the PPP-led coalition governments in the centre and in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - would mean for the PML-N.
There is every likelihood that since the PML-N is unable to move against the current government in a constitutional manner without the help of strong parliamentarian allies (that are all allied to the PPP government) PML-N hawks have decided to take the plunge.
They are hoping that either the military or the Supreme Court would intervene to (somehow) mange to persuade the government to hold fresh elections ‘due to the deteriorating law and order situation.’
This is certainly dangerous territory and thinking.
What if the military – so far willing to work with a more pragmatic PPP and repulsed by Mian Sahab’s ‘politics of principals’ that has, to the much cringing of PML-N’s hawks, not shied away from questioning the military’s role in politics – not ready to play the kind of ‘mediating’ role between feuding parties the way it did in the 1990s?
Also, what happens if the ‘revolution’ being promised by Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif ‘against corruption,’ remains restricted in the shape of agitation and street violence in the urban areas of central Punjab only?
Sindh, Balochistan and KP (as well as Southern Punjab) are (as yet) nowhere in the picture in this respect. History suggests that political violence and turmoil in urban Punjab has only meant the imposition of Martial Law that, in the post-Cold War world, may mean the chucking out of conventional political parties and forming a military-backed regime of ‘technocrats.’
The collapse of PML-N’s movement, as well as, in the extreme case of this movement unwittingly opening the gates for a government of military-backed technocrats will not bode well for the PML-N.
In fact, it won’t sit well with Pakistan itself. Because no matter how ‘incompetent’ the current government is, the idea should be to let democracy flow and let the people decide through their vote whom to elect next.
Otherwise it’ll all go back to square-one: Smug military men and so-called ‘clean’ technocrats at the helm, providing a façade of stability but once again alienating the majority of the electorate in the smaller provinces that, mind you, do not belong to the chest-beating and profoundly concerned urban middle-classes.
But what has made PML-N go on a war path that may witness its own discomfiture?
The desperation in its ranks is clearly an outcome of four main factors:
(1) The failure of its government in the Punjab to:
• Tackle some horrendous health issues (dengue outbreak), rising Islamist militancy (ironically being tackled by the Punjab government by trying to actually cuddle-up with certain vicious sectarian outfits).
• Its failure to check Punjab’s economic slide and political clout.
(2) The emergence of Imran Khan’s PTI as the province’s third political force (after PML-N and the PPP); an emergence that can dent PML-N’s conservative vote-bank more than it can PPP’s long-standing left-leaning and rural/semi-rural vote bank. It’s also an emergence (of the PTI) that PML-N claims is being ‘engineered’ by certain sections of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to subdue the ‘dangerous (anti-Military) Nawaz Sharif in the Punjab.’
(3) The PML-N hawks’ overreaction to the taunts it has had to face (from the media) that the Sharif brothers have been outmaneuvered over and over again by President Zaradri and,