Who the opposition must shun

Updated August 02, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

THE PTI politicians’ opinions regarding the opposition alliance offers a study in the possibilities of politics. That Prime Minister Imran Khan’s camp disapproves of the collection of opposition relics would be quite obvious. They are wont to dub the gathering as that of defeated elements not quite suited to any fresh lease in the new Pakistan the PTI has created. But then, the various approaches the PTI ministers and other top guns opt for in their effort to dismantle the opposition alliance is reflective of the freedoms the ruling party harbours within.

There is one minister who apparently believes that singling out or separating Maulana Fazlur Rehman from the vile clutches of the PML-N and PPP is easier than trying to convince the Sharifs and Zardaris of this world that the JUI-F maulana was bad for their health. Consequently, this minister can be heard expressing his commiserations with Maulana Fazl for being compelled to side with the darkest villains.

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Then there’s this other group inside the PTI. This group is equally against the opposition alliance but in its obviously considered opinion, it is Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz who should be shunning the jilted maulana rather than it being the other way around. Thus the targets of their sincere advice are the leaders of the PPP and PML-N. They are being taunted for claiming to be democrats and yet allowing themselves to be a hoodwinked by a self- serving Maulana Fazl.

You can’t blame the PTI wallahs for expecting that some in the opposition will be swayed by their warnings about it being a coming together of wrong allies. In the past, these politicians who now proudly pose as principled practitioners of the art have had the experience of shunning each other — and then doing it all over again. Even following the 2018 election, the one man who was sure he wanted the opposition parties to close rank quickly to protest poll results was Maulana Fazlur Rehman. He was repeatedly frustrated by his old friends who were as yet not sure whether they wanted to throw their weight behind the making of a protest movement against the Imran Khan government.

Such is his position in Pakistani politics that Maulana Fazlur Rehman cannot agitate against those who take time to see his logic.

Maulana Fazl posed as the first original aggrieved party of the general election held in July 2018. He had been given a drubbing in the polls and now argued that even when everything possible and less possible had been taken into account, he himself and his JUI-F lost or were made to concede a few seats too many. And he had reason to feel that he had been vindicated when by-elections in KP not too long after had his party much better and closer to earlier projections about its strength against the PTI.

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Among the possible allies of Maulana Fazl, the PPP was particularly not sure of how it wanted to go about its politics. The nature of the result — the fact that the Zardari party had retained or as cynics say allowed to hold Sindh so conclusively — apparently brought the PPP leaders face to face with the very real possibility of being chosen to help the PTI establish its rule. It took the PPP many months and a few cases by NAB to realise that there was merit in siding with the latest Maulana Fazl project.

As the maulana shuttled to find partners in his fight for survival in KP, one part within the PML-N was rather easily won over. The Nawaz-Maryam plank, the so-called left prong in the PML-N, was in fact the maulana’s natural ally. It nursed few positive thoughts about being permitted to exist in a world that inherently envisaged a total Sharif cleanup in order to establish Imran Khan and his new brand of politics. This PML-N flank needed the approval of the Shahbaz Sharif group within the party before committing to any opposition protest campaign but it must have estimated that an alliance was inevitable. The analyst also predicted that an opposition alliance of the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F would emerge to challenge the government and that any delays would hurt Maulana Fazl and others badly.

As someone who raised his voice against the poll results immediately, Maulana Fazlur Rehman would be justified in reminding the PPP — as well as some PML-N leaders — about the repercussions of delaying their rejection of the 2018 election. The allegations which Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is making now would have made so much sense then. Maybe in private the JUI-F chief does complain to his allies about the price of them not promptly joining him in protesting election rigging. He might feel let down by those with whom he had close personal relations — by virtue of them all being together in many political alliances both in the government and in opposition.

But such is his position in Pakistani politics that Maulana Fazl cannot agitate against those who take time to see his logic. He cannot live without partnerships. He has always been dependent on allies, lending them crucial muscle when they need it most. The rise of the PTI as some kind of a right-wing alternative to the JUI-F, the Jamaat-i-Islami as also the PML-N in KP have provided Maulana Fazl with another huge reason to look for allies. True to the politics of KP which thrives on the presence of so many parties and players, the JUI-F is forever looking for the local-level partnership if a province-wise union is not possible.

Alliances are through which Maulana Fazl has survived all these years. He is theirs to ditch, hugging on until the allies seek to free themselves from his embrace. Which is not to say that he doesn’t have value of his own. As he threatens the government with a march, there are PML-N sympathisers in Lahore who are willing to put their trust in his ability to bring the numbers of committed determined workers onto the streets.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2019