AS the PTI government struggles to resolve the issue revolving around the appointment of the DG ISI, the opposition parties appear to be sensing an opportunity worth exploiting. The PDM leadership has announced that it will be launching a public protest campaign starting with public rallies and jalsas aimed at tapping into the discontent triggered by rocketing inflation and its impact on the common citizen.
The PDM has also held a well-attended rally in Faisalabad that featured blistering speeches by both Maryam Nawaz and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. This was followed by a successful jalsa by the PPP in which Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari upped the ante and said the days of the Imran Khan government were numbered.
The opposition parties believe that the perfect storm created by the combination of a perceived rupture between Prime Minister Imran Khan and the establishment, combined with the effects of back-breaking inflation can produce the momentum needed to send the PTI government home and reshuffle the political cards of the present set-up.
This may be an uphill task. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is sounding confident after presiding over a meeting of the PDM, but he may want to remember that the last PDM campaign to de-seat Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government ended up in failure. It is true that since then inflation has climbed higher than imagined, and the cosy relationship between the PTI government and the establishment may have soured to an extent, but there are few indicators that the opposition parties are in a position to trigger an avalanche of public protests that could weaken the government.
What the opposition can do — and there are reports that it is aiming for this — is to take advantage of the cleavage between PTI and the establishment, perhaps even widen it, and then attempt to leverage this rupture to amplify the popular discontent over inflation and misgovernance.
The opposition parties have an opening to exploit that they did not a few weeks back. But these parties are afflicted by their own internal divisions and struggles which may dilute the impact that they would want to have on the political situation evolving in the wake of these new emerging fault lines. The PPP still remains outside the PDM and there is nothing to suggest that it may walk itself back into the alliance. The PML-N remains conflicted between the hardliners and the pragmatists and even if the party wanted to exploit the emerging differences between the PTI and the establishment, it is not clear whether the hardliners within the party, represented by the Maryam Nawaz camp, would be the interlocutors, or those representing the Shehbaz Sharif camp.
These complexities are coming into play as the PTI government struggles to retain its footing on a slippery political surface. It is a challenge that will not get easier.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2021