Dawn News

Deal or no deal?

THE Multan dream is dead. If ever there was a dream, that is.

Khawaja Asif, he of the country drawl and the searing wit, came out swinging against his party’s gadfly turned bête noire, the Khan who wouldn’t go away.

An ace actor who could give Lollywood’s finest a run for their money, Khawaja pranced and preened like a heavyweight about to deliver a first-round knock out.

Against Khan all he landed were phantom punches.

Against the dreamers dreaming of a centre-right and right-wing electoral understanding in Punjab — here’s looking at you, Munawar Hasan — Khawaja delivered a knock-out blow.

Punjab will be a dogfight and may the best man win.

Khawaja’s allegations against Shaukat Khanum — sheaves of paper and reams  of sordid accusations — wouldn’t have so much as stirred an old man on a charpoy on a sleepy Ramazan afternoon.

This is Pakistan. Stack up a few million dollars of dubious allegations versus the surfeit of photos of grateful families and satisfied patients of SKMH and there’s no contest.

No one really cares because no one will ever know if there was some bungling with some funds. The hospital works and delivers and does so in a visible way — in this land of failed institutions that fact outweighs all the mud a political opponent can fling.

Upset as the little Khanistas are, though, it’s hard to feel too sympathetic towards them. After all, the PTI is secretly assembling a lot of dirt of its own to fling.

Come election time, you’ll hear again about Nawaz and his pathetic attempts to woo pretty foreign journalists, about the Sharifs’ preferences in wives and other alleged consorts, and all the other dirty tricks that make elections in Punjab colourful and not for the faint-hearted.

Wounded and victimised as they always sound, there are no shrinking violets in the PTI.

And now that Khawaja Asif has entered the fray, you may soon hear about his alleged — isn’t everything always only alleged out here? — chain of epicurean delights in the Middle East.

Let the games begin.

But all of that is silliness, tasteless and gauche as it may be. More important is what it means for the possibility of an electoral understanding in Punjab between the PML-N, the PTI and the religious parties.

The intra-party camps break down along the lines of electoral maths and personal antipathies.

For the Saad Rafiques of the PML-N and the Shah Mehmood Qureshis of the PTI, a two-way fight — PML-N vs PTI — or a three-way fight — in the few constituencies where the religious vote can be a swing factor — is bad electoral strategy.

Why fight for the same slice of the electorate and risk a third party sneaking through to victory in a first-past-the-post system?

The tighter the contest in any given constituency, the more pragmatism suggests not dividing the centre-right and right-wing vote bank. Cut a deal, the more vulnerable politicians argue, their arguments fuelled by fear and experience.

Arguing against them are the embittered — friends-turned-foes who want to grind each other into the electoral dust — and the hardliners.

Folks like Javed Hashmi and Shafqat Mahmood of the PTI want to win, and win big. Why cut a deal and rob the PTI of a chance to make history when the old order is tottering?

Ultimately, though, the decision will come down to Sharif the elder, with input from Sharif the younger, and Khan himself.

Deal or no deal? Which one will it be?

For the Sharifs, Punjab is their fiefdom. Loath to share it with anyone, even an informal seat adjustment formula in the province would signal the Sharifs’ hold over Punjab has loosened. And in politics, the perception of weakness can quickly turn into irreversible reality.

Concerned as the Sharifs may be about the rise of the PTI, they have scrambled and recovered some ground since the PTI’s Lahore rally last October sent shockwaves through the province.

Laptops have been handed out, development work sped up, outreach to party workers and voters ramped up — enough, the Sharifs believe, to have protected their turf within their turf, central Punjab.

So, as far as the Sharifs are concerned, it’s no deal.

Turn to Khan. No puritan is he, as he proved by embracing the status-quo options he used to rail against.

But to welcome old faces into the PTI fold is one thing; to go to the electorate hand in hand with the PML-N quite another.

Much as Khan loves to bash Zardari, his real contest is with the Sharifs. Power is Punjab and Punjab is power — at least for anyone who wants to rule Pakistan.

Seen from the constituency-level up, an understanding with the PML-N could guarantee many seats where an electoral fight would not.

But there is a flaw in that approach. For one, every constituency has two big electoral groupings — the dharras that have grown in strength since the 80s — and they can’t be on the same electoral card, formally or informally.

So if the PML-N and PTI link up, one or the other local dharra will bolt into the opposition camp, the PPP, the PML-Q, the religious parties, wherever there is an opening. A PTI-PML-N deal wouldn’t automatically eliminate serious electoral competition at the constituency level.

Second, constituency victories are a combination of what’s referred to as the electoral wind or wave — which is shaped nationally — and the local dharra.

Link up with the PML-N, however covertly, and it’ll take the wind out of the PTI sail, whose appeal is based on a rejection of the status-quo powers.

So no deal for the PTI either?

There lurks always one player who can change much.

Say Nawaz cuts a deal with the army. Suddenly, Khan would be on the wrong side of a game-changing electoral understanding. At that point, survival would dictate the opposite for the PTI: cut a deal or be shut out of power.

Which way are Gen K and DG Islam leaning?

They’re not saying and your guess is as good as mine.

The writer is a member of staff. cyril.a@gmail.com Twitter: @cyalm

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Comments (12) Closed

Wajid Zain
Aug 05, 2012 02:59pm
Thought Almeida may tell us if there is a deal or not. He did not. Agree that Imran bashing here is punches that did not land.
Aug 05, 2012 10:00am
Nothing new, same rhetoric that how to defeat the PPP. Please let the people to decide in a fair & free way to select their reprentatives. " The real leader is one who helps other people " Live with love-Let democracy work
Aug 05, 2012 12:33pm
Cyril, you are a gem of a writer :)
Aug 05, 2012 10:55am
Honestly, the editor could have worded the article with less of shake spears vocabulary, it seems that every fourth word of the article is chosen using the most difficult word from thesaurus. I have to open the dictionary one too many times. Using extravagant words and throwing all the difficult words around just makes it "arduous" reading the article.
Muhammad Faryad
Aug 05, 2012 01:38pm
Zardari is probably smiling. He is going to win, not because of his governance, but because of fighting between PML-N, PML-Q, and now PTI. Good work Mr. President.
Aug 05, 2012 01:29pm
PPP and PML-N are one and te same thing..Also PPP and PML-N have once again gone in allaince so everybody knows it will be PPP+PML-N vs PTI in next elections
Aug 05, 2012 02:53am
PPP is being groomed for another 5 years of lazy hazy days of governing by the Sharif Khans.
Aug 05, 2012 07:46am
Totally Agreed. Even if they need to cut a less than perfect deal, there has to be an understanding to oust the prevailing evil.
Aug 05, 2012 03:54pm
a wonderful exposition of politics at play, how IK proceeds forward will decide his future this election and elections after that. thanks CA S M Shah
Aug 06, 2012 01:03pm
IK n PTI should be smart. Cut a deal behind closed doors, who's to say they already have not, share power in the provinces, yet keep the centre for policy designs. Both PML-N n PTI stand to benefit with a deal of sorts. PPP should be kept out of power, so should the religious parties. PML-N is just as corrupt as the PPP, but atleast they tried to improve their province of Punjab, whereas the PPP just improved their accounts. PTI is the only option for Pakistan at the moment, and we the people should embrace this option for a change. We the people are sick of the two horse race and need PTI to change the status quo for real now.
Cyrus Howell
Aug 06, 2012 01:13am
They must not fail to have a good electrical strategy.
Aug 08, 2012 09:20am
Cyril - Good writing. However, for the first time I have realized that you are in anti-PTI camp. You see more bad in PTI apparently than others, which is fine but that is slightly inconsistent with the objectivity you usually stand out for.