PTI feeling the heat from opposition overtures to Tareen

Published February 20, 2022
This combo photo shows Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) and Jahangir Tareen. — DawnNewsTV/Radio Pakistan
This combo photo shows Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) and Jahangir Tareen. — DawnNewsTV/Radio Pakistan

LAHORE: The Imran Khan government appears to be jittery about Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) disgruntled leader Jehangir Khan Tareen’s purported meetings with the opposition amid their efforts to oust the premier.

On the other hand, the nine-party Pakistan Democratic Mo­v­ement (PDM) alliance, as well as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have agreed to bring a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan but are not currently considering a similar move regarding Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, National Asse­mbly Speaker Asad Qaiser or Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

Though some government functionaries are playing down Mr Tareen’s supposedly clandestine meeting with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif, a source privy to the development says the government is indeed wary of ongoing activities in the opposition’s camp, especially the flurry around Mr Tareen.

“The activities of Mr Tareen, members of his group and the government’s allies are being closely monitored by government agencies and reported to the top man,” the source said.

Minister plays down meeting reports, hopes disgruntled leader won’t ditch PTI

In the case of Jehangir Tareen, particularly, he said the government faced a dilemma. “If the government grills him again through the Federal Investigation Agency in the sugar scam to pressure him, it may backfire in the form of a revolt by around 10 MNAs and 30 MPAs which Tareen claims to have the backing of. If the government acts as an onlooker, the opposition may end up working things out with him.”

Mr Tareen’s purported meetings with PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Shehbaz Sharif have not been acknowledged or denied by either side.

However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry played down Mr Tareen’s meetings with the opposition and hoped his fellow party leader won’t ditch the PTI.

Tareen will ‘remain with PTI’

In a media talk in Pind Dadan Khan on Saturday, when asked whether Jehangir Tareen was supporting the PDM in its planned no-confidence motion, he said: “I have a respectable relationship with Tareen sahib. As far as I know him... I don’t think he will take any decision that damages the party. He will remain with the party (PTI).”

When asked whether PM Khan or any ministers have plans to meet Mr Tareen to allay his concerns, Mr Chaudhry said: “I don’t know about his meetings with opposition leaders, but we have good relations with him and do not feel the need for a special meeting with him.”

The minister believed the lawmakers backing Mr Tareen were seasoned politicians and would not part ways with the party for something that has an uncertain future.

When asked if the Tareen group and the government’s allies were being monitored by agencies, Mr Chaudhry denied this impression, saying: “No such thing is happening as such monitoring is illegal.”

But sources in the Tareen camp said the former PTI secretary general was keeping his cards close to his chest.

“One thing is for sure: none of the group members is willing to say goodbye to Mr Tareen and that is his strength for negotiating in the fast-changing political landscape,” they said, indicating that “things do not look good for the premier in the current scenario”.

Hot commodity

Sources said top leaders of both PPP and PML-N were keen to have Mr Tareen join them but since a PML-N ticket is considered a hot commodity in Punjab, the party is confident it will be the ultimate destination of those parting ways with the government.

A PPP leader is of the opinion that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip and, therefore, the Tareen group may join the party of the Bhuttos seeing it as a strong candidate forming the next government.

About solely focusing on ousting the prime minister, a source in the PDM said: “The main opposition parties — PML-N, PPP and JUI-F — have agreed, in principle, to table a no-trust move against PM Khan, and not others.”

The opposition was “exclusively” working on this plan and once it achieved the “magic number” it would execute it, he added.

More than enough support

Moreover, PML-N Punjab president Rana Sanaullah on Saturday again claimed that the opposition had achieved the support of “more government MNAs” than required to send Imran Khan home. He had earlier claimed to have the backing of over 20 treasury lawmakers.

Talking to reporters in Lahore, Mr Sanaullah said the government’s own members were frustrated with it (over soaring inflation and poor governance) and not interested in contesting the next election on PTI tickets. He claimed that the opposition was not looking towards any “umpire”, a reference to the establishment, saying all institutions should work within their constitutional ambit.

Castigating PM Imran Khan over what he said was his crude choice of words during a speech in Mandi Bahauddin, the PML-N leader asked if the address befitted a prime minister.

Similarly, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said the premier’s speech displayed his nervousness about his foreseen departure. “We want to give good news to the people of Pakistan that soon they will get rid of the selected premier through a no-confidence move,” she told a presser here, adding that the ‘umpire’ needed to be neutral.

“The umpire should give an ‘out’ if he (Imran Khan) is out. Our preparation to bring a no-trust move against Imran Khan is complete. I want to tell Imran that power is slipping out of his hands,” Ms Aurangzeb said, adding that his “rented spokespersons” won’t stand by him when he would be sent packing.

PTI allies

The PTI’s coalition partners — PML-Q, MQM and BAP — are also treading carefully.

The MQM-P has already met the Chaudhrys of PML-Q and agreed to move ahead with mutual consultation in case the opposition brings its no-confidence motion.

The PML-Q lawmakers have authorised Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to make all future decisions (about the opposition’s offer to join it).

PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif, PDM president Maulana Fazl and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari have met the Chaudhrys and tried to persuade them to say goodbye to the government for the people’s sake.

The government on its part has become emboldened after federal Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q told the prime minister that his family stood firmly with him.

Shehbaz Sharif also met the MQM leaders who sought time to respond to his offer. His meeting with the Chaudhrys after 14 years also generated a debate in the media.

However, the opposition has yet to call on the Balochistan Awami Party which recently claimed that it was told by ‘certain quarters’ to take a decision on its own.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2022

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