WHILE the question about the ban or no ban on the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) after the May 9 arson attacks on the state buildings and military installations is yet to be answered, the situation has given a justification to several party legislators to jump ship either under pressure from ‘certain quarters’ or to save their politics after being denied the party tickets.

The state buildings and military installations were attacked and torched in several cities of Punjab and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh following the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan from the Islamabad High Court.

The high-profile arrest had sparked protests across the country, especially in Punjab, and resulted in demonstrations and torching of the state buildings, military installations as well as several public and private vehicles.

The Punjab government alone assessed losses of over Rs6bn and claimed to have arrested some 4,000 rioters.

About nine days after the attack, the PTI in Punjab was jolted as several party legislators in Islamabad, Lahore and Multan held press conferences and announced parting ways with the party on the (given) pretext that the party leaders and workers had damaged military installations and state buildings. They condemned the violent protests and vandalism by the party workers. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

Various party leaders this correspondent spoke to are unanimous in saying that the defections have been announced following pressure from the establishment that is all out to disintegrate and crush the party for demanding elections.

Some agree that this is similar to pre-2018 general election scenes when politicians had joined the PTI in droves — some had joined on plain instructions, while others had to face intervention by ‘mehkma zaraat’. They acknowledge this is the first round of pressure and only the weakest or those rejected by the party in nominations for election have defected from the party.

“The PTI does expect more coercion methods to be employed to force more legislators to jump ship and be in the safe hands of the establishment,” a party leader says.

Commending all the party members who resisted and survived the ‘extreme pressure’, PTI Chairman Imran Khan expressed his sympathies to all those who were made to leave the party under pressure.

While Mr Khan expressed his remorse over defection of his government’s federal minister for national health services Aamir Mehmood Kiyani, the PTI’s local leadership in Rawalpindi tells a different story about Mr Kiyani and PTI billion-tree project lynchpin Malik Amin Aslam.

The party’s local leadership says the police have been aggressively picking up the party MNAs, MPAs and even their family members since the attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi but didn’t touch nor nominated Mr Kiyani in any FIR despite the fact that the army headquarters fell in his constituency.

As Mr Kiyani announced quitting the party while terming the attack on public properties and military installations ‘unfortunate, painful, and terrible’, the PTI leadership asks why the announcement was made after the passage of nine days of the `attack’ on the GHQ.

While Amin Aslam announced parting ways with the PTI alleging that it has been taken over by an ‘agenda’ that was exposed during May 9 protests, the PTI leadership asserts he was denied a party ticket in 2018 general elections and this time also he stood no chance of getting the party ticket.

Former adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Amin Aslam was denied ticket in 2018 as his competitor Tahir Sadiq Khan had convinced Imran for tickets for both urban and rural constituencies in Attock with an undertaking that after the win, he would offer urban constituency by-election to Amin Aslam.

However, after winning, Tahir Khan surrendered rural constituency seat, pushing Amin away. For upcoming general election, local leaders say, Tahir Khan wants both seats’ tickets for him and his daughter. The PTI chief had offered the federal minister status to Amin Aslam only when he was denied the opportunity to contest the by-election from Attock’s urban constituency.

The PTI leaders don’t give much weight to the party’s third defection – deputy secretary information Dr Amjad – saying he had never won any election and the PTI wasn’t inclined to give him a party ticket.

As the scanner moves to Multan, the nation saw eight PTI legislators quitting the party for the same reason that they were disturbed over their party’s involvement in ransacking the state buildings and properties and that they expressed solidarity with the Pakistan Army. The eight former MPAs are: Zaheeruddin Khan Alizai, Aun Dogar, Abdul Hayi Dasti, Malik Mujtaba Niaz Gishkori, Alamdar Husain Qureshi, Sajjad Hussain Chheena and Sardar Qaisar Abbas Khan Magsi.

PTI central information secretary Farrukh Habib says Imran Khan had already rejected these candidates and did not consider them for the party ticket as he did in 2018.

“These legislators had sold their conscience for money and were denied a party ticket by Imran Khan,” Mr Habib tweeted. He clarified that Zaheer Alizai had bid adieu to politics and added the PTI chief denied party ticket to his nephew.

Defector Abdul Hayi Dasti, who was recently in the news for recovery of over 100m of rupees and foreign currency from his house, says this is the first phase of defections and there are many more to come.

While he says he and his colleagues have shown solidarity with the army, Mr Dasti alleges the party tickets in south Punjab were managed by PTI South Punjab president Aon Abbasi Bappi after accepting bribe.

“There are many who gave money to Bappi but could not get the party ticket. They are now demanding return of their money,” claims Dasti. He predicts, “Soon former chief minister Usman Buzdar will become an approver and several others who were pushed to join the PTI in 2018 will withdraw their support to the party”.

Explaining further, he says he and his colleagues will be contesting as independent candidates, claiming: “The independents will be the real winning horses in formation of the next elected government in Punjab”.

As the scanner moves to Sindh’s capital Karachi, PTI MPA Dr Imran Ali Shah announced leaving the party, explaining he could not stand that the protesters did not even spare the national institutions and installations.

The party sources say PTI Sindh President Ali Zaidi, who was under house arrest, was moved to the Jacobabad jail after he rebutted reports about defecting from the party.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2023

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