Harried PTI moves to appease disgruntled allies

Updated January 16, 2020

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Housing Minister Tariq Basheer Cheema, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and senior PTI leader Jahangir Tareen talk to reporters after a meeting between PTI, PML-Q delegations in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
Housing Minister Tariq Basheer Cheema, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and senior PTI leader Jahangir Tareen talk to reporters after a meeting between PTI, PML-Q delegations in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: The government has started efforts to appease its ‘annoyed’ allies as the departure of coalition partners can cause a serious blow to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) since it holds only a slender majority in the National Assembly.

The ruling PTI leaders on Wednesday held three separate meetings — two in the federal capital and one in Karachi — with Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) and Balochistan National Party (BNP) leaders in Islamabad and with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) in Karachi.

The major partners in the ruling coalition have grievances about helplessness of their ministers in decision making, PTI government’s failure to include them in consultative process and to provide any relief to inflation-hit people.

Worries in official quarters were observed after at least two ministers belonging to the PML-Q and the MQM did not attend the Tuesday meeting of the federal cabinet. Some believed that the three major allies had genuine demands while others are of the opinion that it was the first step towards a possible in-house change.

MQM convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, who was minister for information technology, had recently announced his decision to quit his office and skipped the cabinet meeting, while minister for housing Tariq Bashir Cheema, who belongs to the PML-Q, also did not attend the meeting over some differences with the government.

Party leader insists Imran-led govt will complete term

The ruling party leaders, including Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, met PML-Q leaders at Punjab House. After the meeting, the PTI leaders claimed that they had appeased the PML-Q and were confident that the government would complete its term.

“Misunderstanding [between PTI-and PML-Q] has been removed and we will complete the five years of this government together,” said Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, who was leading the government team recently set up by Prime Minister Imran Khan to address concerns of the allies, at a presser after the meeting.

Mr Khattak said it was not the first meeting between the parties. He claimed that they had met to remove some misconceptions “created by the people”. However, he did not elaborate who had created those misconceptions. “We were allies before and will remain allies in the future,” he added.

Speaking to Dawn after the meeting, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi, however, said his party would remain out of the cabinet till fulfillment of its demands. He said the two sides had agreed to again meet after a week, but he made it clear that there would be no second round of talks. “The PTI has assured us to redress our grievances within a week. In case, the promises made to us in today’s meeting are not met within a week, there will be no next round of talks on the matter [with the PTI],” he said.

He said the PTI had agreed to empower PML-Q ministers — two in Punjab and one at the Centre — besides giving share in administrative powers in three districts, Gujrat, Chakwal and Bahawalpur, and tehsils like Malikwal, Phalia and Daska.

Mr Elahi said Mr Khan was not comfortable with him and therefore he, too, had no interest in becoming part of the cabinet. “We are not interested in it [second ministry] any more. There is no point in becoming a part of the cabinet whose head is not comfortable with me,” the PML-Q leadership declared.

When asked as why Mr Khan was not comfortable with him, Mr Moonis said: “The question should be put to the PM.”

Under an agreement between the PTI and the PML-Q, the latter was to be given two ministries in the federal government and Mr Moonis was to be made a federal minister.

The PTI team comprised Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Jahangir Tareen, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Arbab Shahzad, while the PML-Q side was represented by Mr Cheema, MNAs Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, Chaudhry Salik Hussain and Chaudhry Hussain Elahi.

During the presser, the housing minister thanked Mr Khattak and Jahangir Tareen for what he called “understanding the pain of Q-leaguers”.

“Difference of opinion occurs when you live in the same house,” Mr Cheema said, adding that the PML-Q had some “demands related to development” activities.

While addressing the presser, Mr Tareen denied that the PTI government was facing any troubles. He said he was confident that the MQM-P lawmakers would return to the cabinet as talks with them were also under way. Besides, “several rounds of talks had been held with the BNP-M which have been productive,” he claimed.

It was learnt that non-distribution of development funds, particularly in Punjab, was one of the complaints of PML-Q as Punjab’s annual development programme was worth Rs342 billion, but only Rs70bn had so far been released. That is one reason the chief minister was called to the meeting.

The PTI team also met a BNP-M delegation at Prime Minister Office.

BNP-M chief Akhtar Mengal did not attend the meeting though his party leaders including MNA Khalid Magsi, Ahsan Ullah Reki, Israr Tareen, Senator Manzoor Kakar, Naseeb Ullah Badini, Rubina Irfan and Sana Jamali did participate in the talks.

The government side assured the Baloch leaders that it would address all grievances of the party and would include them in “development-oriented” decision making. The second round of talks between the government and BNP-M would be held soon, sources privy to the development said.

Meanwhile, another PTI delegation, led by Planning Minister Asad Umar, met Mr Siddiqui and other MQM leaders in Karachi.

Muttahida MNA Iqbal Mohammad Ali told Dawn in the parliament house that his party would remain out of the federal cabinet unless its demands were met.

He said “lack of development” activities in Karachi and other parts of Sindh was one of the major concerns of his party, which was a major ally of the PTI-led ruling coalition.

Number game

Currently, the PTI enjoys majority in the National Assembly with 156 seats while along with all its allies it has a total of 186 seats in the lower house of parliament. The MQM has seven, PML-Q has five, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) five, BNP-M has four, Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) has three and Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and Awami Muslim League have one seat each besides four independent lawmakers.

On the other hand the opposition has 156 seats, as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has 84 seats, Pakistan Peoples Party 55, Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal Pakistan 16 and Awami National Party has one seat.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020