RAWALPINDI: The uncertainty surrounding the fate of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the context of Panamagate has given Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) a unique opportunity to rope in some local stalwarts in the garrison city.

Considered the arch-rival of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the PTI is seeking to fully capitalise on the rumoured rifts within the ruling party by opening its doors to defectors.

In the wake of the 2014 dharna outside Parliament House, PTI’s Rawalpindi chapter was in disarray as different factions, run by a group of PTI MPAs and a handful of PML-Q leaders, had emerged.

PTI leaders approaching ‘clean’ ruling party activists in a bid to revitalise party’s Rawalpindi chapter

The PTI chairman tried to improve local party organisation and has entrusted Zahid Kazmi with running the party as its district president in Rawalpindi.

“We had no other option but to include PML-N stalwarts in the PTI fold as we prepare to enter an election year. The PTI has worked to finalise a list of key PML-N activists who got more than 8,000 votes in the local bodies elections or the general elections,” said a senior PTI leader.

“The Panama Papers scandal and the expected disqualification of the prime minister is the best opportunity for the PTI to welcome PML-N dissidents into the party,” he said.

PTI leaders have been heard claiming that defections would begin in a few days since old party hands were having trouble accepting the party’s stance in the Panama Papers case.

Political observers also feel that the reported differences between Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other senior PML-N leaders could trickle down to the local level.

In this vein, local PTI leaders have started meeting with key PML-N activists in a bid to form a group of dissidents who would be willing to change sides.

PTI leader Zahid Kazmi met with PML-N local leader and former Rawalpindi Cantonment Board vice president Raja Jehandad Khan, as well as other RCB members Haji Zafar Iqbal and Malik Sajid, to try and convince them to join the PTI fold.

Raja Jehandad Khan is known for his affiliation with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. However, he was removed as the head of the civic body after a year, reportedly at the behest of PML-N MNA Malik Abrar and Senator Chaudhry Tanveer Khan.

Talking to Dawn, Raja Jehandad admitted being contacted by the PTI, but refused to comment further. “It is premature to say anything; such contacts between the politicians are a routine matter,” he said.

He said that he wanted to improve things, as some elements were earning a bad name for the party through intrigue.

In Rawalpindi, Chaudhry Nisar was elected MNA from NA-52, which was previously known as the stomping grounds of Chaudhry Tanveer. For the 2018 elections, the senator wanted his son to run from NA-56, while seasoned leader Hanif Abbasi is also a candidate for the same seat.

A senior PML-N leader told Dawn that almost all prominent local leaders of the ruling party, except for Chaudhry Tanveer and Hanif Abbasi, had close linkages with Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and were comfortable with him.

Downplaying the possibility of any changes at the central level, the ruling party leader claimed that the party affairs in Rawalpindi would remain with Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan even if there was a shakeup in the coming days.

However, he admitted that there were rifts in the party at the local level, adding that the local leadership had started working to mend their ways.

PTI District President Zahid Kazmi told Dawn that the party was working to bring in politicians from the ruling PML-N who had a good repute in among the public and no record of corruption.

“We have held meetings with them and they will announce their support for Imran Khan in the coming days,” he said, adding that three members of the cantonment board from NA-54 and a local leader from Murree would soon join their party.

He said Imran Khan would contest the next election from the cantonment areas and “neat and clean people” from other parties could join him. He said the PTI’s doors were open for everyone and it was Imran Khan’s people-friendly attitude that drew leaders to him.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2017



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