THE Jan 31 ‘deadline’ that the Pakistan Democratic Movement had set for the prime minister to resign has come and gone, and the PTI government is looking more confident than ever. Recent meetings between Prime Minister Imran Khan, army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed — the latest on Monday was the fourth in a mere 40 days — have reinforced the impression of institutional harmony and, thereby, smooth sailing for the current dispensation.

The PDM’s vessel on the other hand, while not exactly leaking, seems to be somewhat rudderless and adrift. PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted: “The selected PM has failed to resign by the deadline set by the PDM for this illegitimate regime and missed the opportunity to step aside in a respectable manner….” He added that a long march plan and no-confidence motion would “hopefully” be discussed in the PDM meeting reportedly scheduled for tomorrow in Islamabad.

At this point, the PDM campaign was supposed to have been snowballing towards the desired ‘denouement’. Its fire and brimstone rollout in September rattled the PTI government, but then it made a series of miscalculations. And Islamabad dug in its heels, betting on the PDM partners’ divergent political circumstances and agendas to weaken the alliance’s initial unity. So it has proven. The first real signs of cracks beneath the façade came in December on the issue of mass resignations from the national and provincial assemblies, and whether to do so before or after the Senate elections.

That step for the PML-N and the JUI-F was never as politically significant as for the PPP that governs Sindh and whose stakes are therefore much higher. The result is that the PPP’s stance is very different from what it was earlier; it recently came out with the proposal of bringing a no-confidence vote against the prime minister. Having been burned by their failure to oust Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani through a no-confidence motion in July 2019, the PML-N considers the idea too risky.

The confusion has enabled the PTI government to paint the PDM as a spent force that promised too much and failed to deliver because of its inherent contradictions. Certainly, the alliance, that started with the MPC document spelling out targets, priorities and sequence of events, fell short on working out the ‘how’ of achieving specific outcomes. Critically, they also misread the relationship between the establishment and the PTI. The dominos did not fall the way the PDM leaders assumed they would.

Nevertheless, it would be premature to write off the alliance, even if it is manifesting a discernible lack of vigour. The combined opposition is still strong, and the PTI’s misgovernance in various sectors remains its Achilles heel. In a few weeks, the Senate elections outcome should offer a clearer indication of whether the PDM can remain united to fight another day.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2021

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