Crouching opposition, hidden state

Published June 18, 2019
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

IN the midst of an exciting cricket match in rainy England, Lahore hosted its own bit of excitement. Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari met for the second time in under a month, with both their ailing fathers behind bars.

Their first meeting had taken place over dates and Rooh Afza when Asif Ali Zardari was still free to play host. But by Sunday, he too had been imprisoned. Can the heirs apparent, with their youth and fire, prove to be a headache for those in power? Perhaps not anymore than they already are. After all, there is considerable truth in the PTI allegation that the coming together of the two is nothing more than an ‘abu bachao’ movement.

Both the PML-N and PPP have ratcheted up pressure only when they lost hope of staying one step ahead of their legal problems. Indeed, the shrillness in BBZ’s voice has increased in proportion with the progress in the fake accounts case while Maryam Nawaz found her lost voice only when the courts rejected her father’s appeal for a bail/ extension in the six weeks he was given for medical treatment.

But even though the two parties and scions have blown the bugle of war, there is not much reason for panic in the ranks opposing them.

Even though the opposition has blown the bugle of war, there is not much reason for panic in the government.

Consider what BBZ said in his hard-hitting speech hours after his aunt was placed under arrest. Claiming that his family was used to prison and hardship, he moved on to attack the government for ‘economic terrorism’ and the ‘economic murder’ of ordinary people. He thundered that his party could — whenever it wanted — remove the government in parliament. Then came the underwhelming qualification. They wouldn’t do so because the PPP wanted parliament to complete its term!

So apart from the obvious piece of illogic — replacing a government with another through voting in parliament is neither undemocratic nor unconstitutional — it’s hard to understand why the PPP will not take steps to remove a government which it claims is guilty of murder and terrorism. (The PML-N may not resort to such theatrics, but it also says that it wants to give this government time to ‘expose’ itself — without answering why it wants the public to suffer at the hands of a government they think is incompetent.)

The truth is that the PPP is not really in a position to remove the government because the party and PML-N will not agree on a coalition government and a prime ministerial candidate; neither will they be allowed to do so.

In other words, BBZ’s rhetoric is no different from the promises spouted by Imran Khan when in opposition. They are just words — fire and brimstone — with little practical value.

Maryam Nawaz is in a similar boat. She may have found her voice, but it is a different one from the one she had before the elections. The PTI is her only target; not the institutions she once took on recklessly. The battle that she and her father once stepped into, to give respect to the vote, has now been restricted to traditional politics — targeting the political rival in power.

Like BBZ, her last speech in Narowal was simply about Khan and his incompetence. Her tweets too are equally focused. In fact, she is now censuring the government for reducing the defence budget and criticised Imran Khan for his statement in Iran where he said that groups used Pakistan to carry out attacks in Iran.

And in her case, (more so than BBZ) she is still far from having been accepted as the heir apparent. It may be an eventuality, but one left for a vague future date. Perhaps it is for this reason that none of Nawaz Sharif’s party heavyweights figured in Sunday’s meeting. Instead, she was flanked by Rana Sanaullah, Mohammed Zubair, Pervaiz Rashid, Marriyum Aurangzeb, and Ayaz Sadiq. From the party president to the secretary general to the senior vice president — all were missing. Perhaps this was only a get-together for (mostly) Lahori Noonies.

Are the rest not on board? Especially Shahbaz Sharif, who is the party head? Only time will tell. Or did she decide the date and meeting without consulting the rest, who were busy elsewhere?

(In addition, the two young leaders have reportedly decided to oppose the budget in parliament but neither had the senior parliamentary leadership with them.)

No wonder the government can rest easy — especially since (despite the meetups) consider­able distrust between the two parties remains. Let us not forget that even Musharraf’s regime and the Charter of Democracy could not bring the two parties together for very long. Peace was simply an interlude between their talks with Musharraf.

It has barely been a year since the last Senate elections and then the PPP’s decision to not support Shahbaz Sharif in the election in parliament. In other words, so far there is no indication that the two sides are interested in anything other than photo ops. Their leaderships evade questions about joint protests or jalsas; the multiparty ­conference is yet to be called; and they cannot even come together to get rid of the Senate chairman. For months, journalists have been claiming that the PPP wanted to bring about a change in the Senate but so far nothing has happened.

More than that, last Friday proved the lack of intent on the part of the two parties. The legal community had called a strike to show support for Justice Qazi Faez Isa. But both parties were missing in action. Raza Rabbani, according to one report, turned up and was at pains to explain that he was there in his capacity as a lawyer and not as a PPP member; why did he feel the need to clarify this?

It is perhaps safe to say that the two parties are focused on the immediate battle first: the legal troubles facing them and the spectre of imprisonment. They are not here for Armageddon or changing the destiny of Pakistani politics; this can wait and neither is this a bad thing, except for those diehard revolutionaries, who believed BBZ and Maryam Nawaz Sharif would take on any big, bad wolves!

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019



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