Despite the political drama unfolding in Punjab, for a while it seemed that Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had assumed complete control of the province through the good offices of his ‘loyal’ allies, the Parvez Elahi-faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q).

In fact, right up to the point that Mr Khan formally announced his plan to dissolve assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a bid to force early elections, it was thought that both coalition partners were, pretty much, on the same page. This, PTI circles figured, would be enough to destabilise the embattled PML-N-led coalition in the Centre.

But in light of recent events, where the scales seem to have swung in the favour of the more cautious Chaudhrys, there is a growing disquiet among the ranks of PTI loyalists, who are apprehensive of Mr Elahi ‘taking the wheel’ — as it were — on the question of when, how, and if at all, to dissolve the provincial legislatures.

The PTI has been insistent that Chief Minister Parvez Elahi will take a vote of confidence from the Punjab Assembly ahead of the Jan 11 hearing in the Lahore High Court of a petition against the provincial governor’s order to remove him and his cabinet.

The party also plans to see the Punjab Assembly dissolved as soon as the court removes the bar it imposed, i.e. that the legislature should remain intact at least until its next hearing.

The PTI has managed to get the Punjab Assembly session rescheduled from Jan 11 to Jan 9 in a bid to stage a vote of confidence for the chief minister. However, there is still confusion as no one knows what will be on the agenda of this session.

A PTI MPA Dawn spoke to claimed that a vote of confidence is not on agenda for Jan 9 so far.

This is ostensibly because Mr Elahi seems to have prevailed upon the PTI chief not to rush into dissolution. He has now gone on the record as saying there is no need to take a vote of confidence as per the governor’s orders, because he deems that order to be in contravention of the law and Constitution.

Governor Balighur Rehman, however, is adamant that his directions regarding the vote of confidence are binding on the chief minister and that in case he fails to do so, Mr Elahi would lose the CM office.

It is exactly this sort of development that is making PTI loyalists jittery, as it is being interpreted as defiance of Imran Khan’s directives.

Parvez, Moonis dichotomy

While Mr Elahi, who has been propagating for the continuation of the PTI/PML-Q government, says he can confront Mr Khan on decisions he feels are wrong and the PTI chief doesn’t mind because his advice usually proves to be sagacious.

However, Mr Khan has reportedly gone as far as to warn the Chaudhrys that he could ask all party MPAs to resign if any hurdles were created in the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly.

Even on Friday, he did seemed not too pleased with his coalition partner, claiming that the establishment does not seem neutral on the issue.

This could be a thinly veiled reference to the deference thus far demonstrated by CM Elahi for the incoming and outgoing military brass. We know that Mr Khan was hardly thrilled when Elahi defended former Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa after the PTI chief unloaded on him during his address where he announced the date for dissolution of assemblies.

In addition, it is no secret that Mr Elahi has visited Rawalpindi for some high-level meetings on a number of occasions, and it is his historic propensity towards the establishment — the undivided PML-Q was not considered Musharraf’s ‘King’s Party’ for naught – is raising hackles among Imran Khan’s party leaders.

“We are silent over the uncalled for, harsh statements by Mr Elahi because we have instructions to stay calm. The day I will be allowed to confront the chief minister, I will do it vociferously,” a PTI MPA who preferred to remain anonymous told Dawn angrily.

The legislator said their party’s top priority was the dissolution of the the Punjab and KP assemblies and would rather accomplish this goal than get mired in a confrontation with their own coalition partner.

Still, in the MPA’s view, Mr Elahi had gone too far in defending his “benefactor” retired Gen Bajwa, without regard for the sentiments of the PTI chief.

There seems to be a sense of disillusionment among the party with their ally from Gujrat, who they feel is in the driving seat in Punjab thanks to PTI and Mr Khan’s efforts.

Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s son Moonis, however, is on another tangent altogether — playing the role of a bridge between the two opposing schools of thought. In his view, the vote of confidence is not an issue.

“We can take the vote of confidence soon and, depending on circumstances, even before Jan 11, as being demanded by the PTI,” he said. “And then Imran Khan can dissolve the assembly, if he wants to.”

The younger Elahi, who has continuously been in contact with the former premier, has been maintaining a smooth relationship with the PTI chairman and explaining his party’s concerns to Mr Khan in person.

He was the first to convey to Mr Khan that the establishment wanted the provincial government to complete tenure as any disruptions could damage “efforts towards the economic re-building” of the country.

He explained that the PTI should not go for dissolving assemblies until and unless it would be sure to get early elections as staying out of government for a longer period will have dire consequences for party leaders and workers, more than what they experienced ahead of the march on Islamabad on May 25 last year.

Back channel with Shujaat?

Meanwhile, the Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain faction of the PML-Q has been constantly trying to woo his cousin to join hands with them, on behalf of the PML-N and PPP. However, the usually straight-shooting Fawad Chaudhry has been quite restrained his statements about the Elahi group’s contacts with their former party head and their friends in the federal government.

Publically, Parvez Elahi and Moonis Elahi have not passed up any opportunity to chide Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s faction as well as the PDM set-up in the centre. However, this is still politics, and appearances can be deceiving.

While rumours are rife that some PTI MPAs are still favouring the chief minister’s decision to complete their remaining time in government, various PTI MPAs are candidly saying that they are behind their skipper wholeheartedly and want to see the Punjab and KP assemblies dissolved as per “Imran Khan’s plan”.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2023

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