TROUBLE seems to be brewing within the ruling coalition. First the political allies of the government began to grumble. Then PTI members started voicing their own grievances. Soon an MQM minister, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, resigned from the federal cabinet. A few days later, PML-Q minister Tariq Bashir Cheema opted out of a federal cabinet meeting. Before long, the PTI’s own minister Fawad Chaudhry fired off a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan complaining about the manner in which the Punjab government was being run by Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. Suddenly, it seemed the ruling coalition was on the verge of splintering. Initially, the government did not take matters seriously, but once the fissures started appearing in public, Mr Khan launched a damage-control exercise. PTI delegations led by Federal Minister Asad Umar and Mr Khan’s close aide Jahangir Tareen started calling on allies from the PML-Q, MQM, GDA and the BNP-M to hear their grievances and find an amicable solution. Recently, a PTI delegation held talks with the MQM in Karachi but was unable to convince Mr Siddiqui to take back his resignation. Not only do these hurried moves signal panic within PTI ranks, they have also revived concerns that the consensus around Mr Khan’s government may be loosening. These concerns have increased with ministers such as Mr Chaudhry becoming very vocal in their criticism of the government. It is only with the support of its allies that the PTI has been able to form governments at the centre and in Punjab. The numbers game in Islamabad and Lahore paints a precarious picture for the PTI, and if its allies abandon their support, both PTI setups could face an existential crisis.
So what has triggered this sudden crisis? Tension between political allies is a fairly common phenomenon but in Pakistan ruling parties have had enough resources to negotiate their way through such times. The surprising aspect this time, however, is why three key government allies — the MQM, PML-Q and the GDA — have chosen to air their grievances almost simultaneously. The timing of this crisis has triggered speculation that the allies’ unhappiness may be coordinated to exert maximum pressure on the PTI. This pressure is felt most by the Punjab government. Calls for Mr Buzdar’s ouster have been steadily growing but the prime minister has refused to replace him. Will Mr Khan be forced to make compromises in order to find a way out of this crisis? That will depend on who blinks first.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2020