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Chaudhry Nisar’s exit into wilderness

Updated June 26, 2018

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THE break between the Sharifs and the Chaudhry from Chakri is finally official with the announcement of PML-N ticket holders in his constituencies. A predictable end, it has been months, if not years, in the making. There is no doubt, however, that the rift grew wider as did Nawaz Sharif’s distance to power. If the differences started to become clear with the disqualification, the end was made official with the ticket distribution.

This is usually the routine for political separations — they tend to happen once leaders are out of power.

In Nisar’s case, the final break came not over the end of the PML-N’s tenure but the latter’s (or rather Nawaz Sharif’s) refusal to give the party ticket to the former. The initial list of PML-N candidates had not mentioned any candidates for the constituencies Nisar Ali Khan had filed his papers from, leading to many a conjecture. Some felt that Shahbaz Sharif (who continues to maintain a better relationship with Khan than his brother) had prevailed while others felt that there had been a rapprochement between the party and the leader. But it turned out that Nisar and the party were not just on a break; it was over.

Admittedly, this is not unique to the PML-N; parties in Pakistan tend to revolve around individuals. As a result, any difference of strategy, principle or opinion ends up as an ugly clash of egos and a bitter separation. From the time of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the present generation, there appears to have been little change. Anyone not willing to prostrate before the reigning monarch has had to exit, ungracefully.

Where such departures are routine, so also is the damage that they cause on both sides.

But where such exits are routine, so also is the damage that they cause on both sides.

For the detractors of the PML-N, Nisar’s exit has once again proved the authoritarian streak in the party which has not let any senior leader survive. All the ‘first among equals’ who made the transition from the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad to the PML-N have parted ways with Nawaz Sharif, whose closest circle is now made up of those seen as the second tier in the ’90s — and some who even returned after a trip to the Q League’s circles. This will be highlighted not just by Nisar in the coming days but also the critics of the party.

Second, the departure will not make the electoral contest easy for either the party or Nisar. For decades, ‘N’ voters in Pindi/Taxila have viewed Nisar and the party as one and the same thing. But in a month’s time, they will have to choose one or the other. Or worse still, the division of votes will cause a third party to claim victory.

This is now a possibility in a district once seen as a PML-N stronghold, second only to Lahore. However, Rawalpindi lost this distinction in 2013 when thanks to Sarwar Khan and Sheikh Rashid (another former Leaguer), it voted for the PTI on three seats. Now with Nisar contesting two seats as an independent candidate against relatively unknown Noonies, the PML-N is left with only one heavyweight in the area — Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

In other words, individual departures can — at times — hurt parties by weakening them in specific districts. And such departures can cumulatively weaken a party over time. The PPP, for example, has been losing politicians in Punjab for years, so much so that even by Benazir Bhutto’s time, it was hard for the party to find an effective provincial head. By now, of course, the party’s known names in the province can be counted on the fingers of one hand with room to spare.

It is not just in Punjab that the PPP suffered such losses. A deteriorating relationship between Benazir Bhutto and Aftab Sherpao cost the party a shrewd leader in KP also.

In the ’90s, Sherpao chalked up many victories for the PPP, outmanoeuvring both the ANP and PML-N in the province. For instance, he is credited with the collapse of the Pir Sabir government and at another occasion bringing the ANP-PML-N alliance to an end.

His differences with Benazir Bhutto had begun before the 2002 election, after which he was one of the Patriots who joined hands with Pervez Musharraf. Regardless of whose fault it was and how it happened, the truth is that the PPP lost a capable hand. Had Sherpao been around, the PPP could have been a stronger force in the province, says Zalan Khan, who takes a keen interest in politics and runs a website, Qissa Khwani, which focuses on KP history and politics. But perhaps, in the late ’90s, it was hard for Bhutto or others in the PPP to have known that in a decade’s time the party would be floundering in KP, one of the reasons for which would be the absence of an effective provincial leader.

But undoubtedly, the damage to the politicians is greater. Having lost their national-level platform, few have proved to be more than a constituency-level politician in the long term. Farooq Leghari is another such example. From someone who had served as president of the country, he was later reduced to sitting on the back benches of parliament. Mustafa Khar and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi too shared a similar fate. Javed Hashmi became a caricature of his past self with his frequent party hops.

There are few examples such as Shah Mehmood Qureshi or Jahangir Tareen, who have been able to ensconce themselves in an upcoming party. The majority have had to struggle in the wilderness. No wonder then, the defections of party loyalists (as opposed to the ‘electables’) were far less in the post-2008 period. And this is perhaps why Nisar too has resisted the temptation to jump ship formally. Apart from the immediate concern of winning the election, he must also be aware that no other party will be able to offer him the space and respect the PML-N did.

But have political parties also learnt to ap-preciate dissenting loyalists? The jury is still out on that.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2018