• PM sends Imran Ismail to appease former Punjab minister
• Ex-minister says diehard workers pushed aside, PM surrounded by ‘parachuters’
LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: As the opposition accelerates its efforts to topple the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government through a purported no-confidence motion, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday faced a huge setback when his close friend Aleem Khan announced joining hands with disgruntled party leader Jahangir Tareen, and a panic-stricken PM dispatched Sindh Governor Imran Ismail to Lahore to pacify the former Punjab minister.
While presiding over the PTI’s Core Committee meeting on Monday, the PM decided to appease all disgruntled leaders of his party when Aleem Khan re-emerged after lying low for a while, with the support of over three dozen Punjab MPAs, including 10 ministers, and joined hands with Mr Tareen.
For the first time in the PTI’s three-and-a-half-year rule, the former Punjab senior minister assailed the Imran Khan government in the Centre and the Usman Buzdar-led Punjab government for “completely failing to fulfil its mandate and bring about the promised change”.
Aleem Khan met the Tareen group members at the latter’s residence in his absence where they discussed the political scenario, agreeing the Punjab government should be toppled to begin with. Mr Tareen is currently in London for medical treatment and is expected to return to Pakistan soon.
“The PTI’s diehard workers were pushed aside as soon as the Imran Khan government came to power and parachuters surrounded the prime minister,” Aleem told the media after meeting the disgruntled MPAs and provincial ministers.
“Many PTI workers are still looking for answers why the loyalists, including Jahangir Tareen, were pushed away,” he posed a question to PM Khan. “We (the disgruntled members) would not have regretted being sidelined if the government was working in the right direction and offering relief to the masses.”
“I have become politically active (against my own party) as my supporters in the Punjab Assembly and the disgruntled members have decided to play our role to save the party and protect people from the PTI government’s misdoings,” Aleem responded to a question. “I have met 40 MPAs, including ministers, in the past four days and decided that all the loyalists should join hands and launch a struggle to save the party.”
When asked whether this joint group will support the proposed no-confidence motion of the opposition, the former minister remained non-committal and said the two (Aleem and Tareen) groups will consult each other and decide whom to support.
To a question that there was an impression the government may have his NAB case re-opened if things slipped out of its hands, Aleem said he would face the courts.
The PML-Q, which has assumed a newfound significance in the new political situation, believes the Aleem-Tareen alliance would not last for long as the two had differences between them. Instead, party sources claimed Aleem Khan was directly in touch with the PML-N and could ditch Tareen. “Imran Khan will not be blackmailed by Aleem Khan and Jahanghir Tareen,” a source maintained.
Meanwhile, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi of the PML-Q suggested the prime minister take a “bold decision” in the emerging political situation.
After meeting Aleem Khan at his residence, the Sindh governor faced the media by himself and acknowledged that all the reservations and recommendations of his “friend” Aleem were genuine and in the best interest of the PTI’s Punjab government.
“We held a 90-minute meeting and discussed his issues and reservations with the Punjab government, which are all genuine and in the best interest of the government,” he said, adding he would now convey these reservations to the PM. He left for Islamabad soon after.
Hoping that PM Khan will acknowledge Aleem’s recommendations, Mr Ismail said, “The final decision will be taken by the prime minister.” Answering a question, he said: “All the issues will be settled within 24 hours and we will all be back on one page.”
Many in the PTI, however, were surprised why the PM chose to send the Sindh governor to meet Aleem instead of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar. Others, however, confided to Dawn that even the MPAs in the Sarwar group backed Aleem.
Imran Ismail’s swiftness — travelling between Islamabad and Lahore within a day — speaks for itself about PM Khan’s apprehensions, especially when the opposition’s long march and no-confidence motion are looming large and it claims to have the support of some PTI members and allies. However, the PM has expressed confidence that the opposition’s no-confidence move will fail and that he will complete his five-year term in office.
Analysts believe the next 24 hours are significant, while the ruling party claims it will win back its disgruntled members.
“The prime minister was of the view that the party should contact Aleem Khan and address his grievances,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn, explaining the rationale behind sending the Sindh governor to meet the newest entrant to the disgruntled members club.
Both Aleem Khan and Jahangir Tareen were once PM Khan’s closest aides when the PTI formed the government in 2018. It was believed the two provided massive monetary assistance to the ruling party.
Later in the evening, Mr Ismail said in a TV show that he will arrange a meeting between Aleem Khan and the prime minister soon.
On the other hand, commenting on the tense political situation, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid claimed the purported no-confidence motion either against the National Assembly speaker or the premier will be defeated. “It is a game of numbers, and the opposition will have to get the support of 172 MNAs,” he stressed.
After the opposition fails in its move, it will blame the “third umpire”. “Even their faces show they will lose.”
Rejecting the opposition’s claims of having the required numbers, the minister asked them how they will run the country amid a looming world war and a wave of global recession. “You want to create turmoil at this crucial juncture just because you do not like Imran Khan.” he commented.
He said despite the soaring petroleum prices in the international market, the government had reduced the rates of petrol and diesel by Rs10 per litre and electricity by Rs5 per unit. Rashid also reiterated that no hurdle will be created in the way of the PPP’s long march on Islamabad and they will be provided security.
Iftikhar A. Khan also contributed to this report from Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2022