IT has become fairly clear after Saturday’s meeting of the PDM that the opposition is now going to be operating from two separate platforms. With the PPP and ANP no more part of the alliance, as was made amply clear by both Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maryam Nawaz in the media briefing, and Shehbaz Sharif rallying them for unified action inside parliament, a hotchpotch arrangement appears to be taking shape.
The PDM will initiate a public movement after the budget, but the PPP will not be part of these rallies, while Mr Sharif as the leader of the opposition will mobilise parliamentary opposition to the budget and the PPP will participate in it. While this dichotomy may illustrate the absence of any tangible options for the PDM at this moment, it also reflects the difference of approach within the PML-N leadership. In a TV interview earlier last week, Mr Sharif had said categorically that he wanted all stakeholders to work together to resolve Pakistan’s deep-rooted problems. He had said he would try his best to convince Nawaz Sharif to adopt this course of action. However, on Saturday, Maryam Nawaz said equally clearly that she believed only an aggressive approach towards rivals could pave the way for greater reconciliation. Therein lies the dilemma for the PML-N.
Read: The PML-N’s change of tack
The party has experienced its fair share of highs and lows of power and adversity in the last few decades. It had suffered its first major blow when a bloc was carved out of it during the Musharraf years and named the PML-Q. However since then, the PML-N has shown remarkable resilience under pressure. It is to its credit that it has retained its rank and file these last few years despite facing the brunt of political, legal and other pressures. At the same time, it has consolidated its base and has shown in the recent by-elections that it still packs a powerful electoral punch.
The problem today is that the leadership of the party appears unclear in its approach. Fight or talk? The answer is hazy and often ambiguous. To add to this dilemma, the differences in the approach of the two Sharif brothers have become more pronounced and are spilling over into the public domain. Despite the hard-line stance of Nawaz Sharif against the establishment, the party as a whole has never burnished its anti-establishment credentials.
A large number of influential people in the party do not want a confrontation with the establishment and may be supporting the younger Sharif brother in his attempt to steer the party back towards greater accommodation in order to create space for itself in the next elections. Matters are now coming to a head and the leadership will have to decide which strategy it wants to adopt. For now, Shehbaz Sharif’s narrative appears to be gaining traction both inside his party and outside.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2021