THE old is being dismantled and the new is being born out of its debris. And this is not the first time that it is happening. Making and breaking political parties is favorite pastime of those who rule the country — and they are at it once again.

Not a day passes without a new face leaving the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) after denouncing the May 9 attacks by its supporters on military sites and installations.

Jahangir Khan Tareen, a former Imran Khan confidant who left PTI a couple of years ago, as well as a seemingly over-ambitious Fawad Chaudhry — who was a key member of Imran Khan’s inner circle — are both trying to grab hold of some of these deserters to build what many see as another ‘king’s party’.

The PML-N and PPP are also trying to woo those who are leaving PTI.

There is more than a whiff of familiarity in all this for those who have seen Pakistan’s politics, even from a distance, over the last two decades or so.

In 2000-2002, Gen Pervez Musharraf engineered so many desertions, first from PML-N and then PPP, that he later merged all defectors into Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), which then beca­me the ruling party of the country.

Something similar was allegedly done between 2012 and 2018, shepherding a lot of politicians associated with PPP, in particular, and other parties in general to PTI — which also came to rule the country subsequently.

It is obvious that the politicians associated with PTI “are being subjected to the same ‘pressures’ that the military has used to engineer defections and resignations in the past,” says Hassan Javid, a former teacher of politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

But, in a recent series of tweets, he also points out that being a “party that was built on defections”, PTI “was always going to be vulnerable” to such engineering.

“Defections are not new or uncommon to Pakistani politics. Nor is political party engineering…,” he wrote.

Dismantling PTI, too, is “part of the establishment’s effort to assert its power and it is part of a long and unfortunate tradition of political engineering that ultimately erodes democracy,” he says.

This erosion of democracy, he argues, is done through “media narratives, the pursuit of selective accountability, outright blackmail, and violence”.

As a major part of this exercise, defections and resignations from one party to the other are “engineered through a combination of patronage, perks, coercion, and violence,” he says.

Whether a carrot is used or a stick — and to what extent — will vary from case to case, he says.

The main objective of this political engineering, he says, has always been that the powers that be could shape electoral outcomes by inducing powerful, electorally viable politicians to defect from one party to another.

His assertion is based on electoral data he has collected and analysed. It shows that 60 per cent of all politicians who switched parties before a general election between 1990 and 2008 were able to secure one of the top three slots in electoral results.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre, mentions the argument that PTI’s many supporters are making these days — that Imran Khan’s newfound opposition to the military’s intervention in politics has created a seminal moment in Pakistani political history, putting the army on the back foot in ways it hasn’t been in years.

But, then, he adds, that “at the end of the day the military is showing just how much of a political kingmaker it continues to be.”

But such political engineering has not always been successful in the past. He acknowledges that while the political prowess of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was eliminated so effectively that the party “has become a shadow of its former self”, but the two big established dynastic parties – PPP and PML-N – have held their own even with some splits in PML-N’s ranks in recent years.

In his opinion, the degree of success in making and breaking parties ultimately depends on how malleable the key politicians are, and how harsh the tactics are to get them to bend.

As far as PTI is concerned, he claims, “there are indications of threats to harm family members, including children, of PTI leaders, and so one can understand why they are giving in to the pressure so quickly”.

Will these desertions finish off PTI? Mr Kugelman is not sure.

Muhammad Badar Alam, a journalist and analyst based in Lahore, also says that the military’s attempts to downsize popular political leaders and political parties with large support base have only partially and temporarily succeeded.

“Look at how the PPP bounced back first after it was brutally suppressed under Ziaul Haq’s martial law regime, and then, after a decade of Musharraf’s military rule. PML-N, too, has been able to recover its electoral base in Punjab immediately after Musharraf’s ouster from power,” he says.

This change in their political fortunes, according to him, owed entirely to the fact that they were seen as being wronged.

“Political witch-hunts in the name of accountability, anti-politics and anti-politician propaganda staged-managed through news media and engineered dissentions, defections and disqualifications always have an unintended consequence: that they are being victimized, that they are being forced out of politics against the will of the people,” he says.

“A political party will be well and truly eliminated only if people of Pakistan decide not to vote for it without any prompting and propaganda by any external element – be it the military or the judges or the journalists,” he says.

The same goes for Imran Khan. “He will be ousted from politics for good only if the people of Pakistan decide that they will not vote for him again,” says Mr Alam.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2023



World Cup squad
24 Sep, 2023

World Cup squad

THE stress was on continuity — trusting and backing players who had been with the team — as Pakistan’s squad...
Mirwaiz freed
Updated 24 Sep, 2023

Mirwaiz freed

It is safe to assume that the release of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq could not have been possible without the green light from New Delhi.
Beyond lip service
24 Sep, 2023

Beyond lip service

UN SECRETARY GENERAL António Guterres did not mince words at the recently held Climate Ambition Summit: “Humanity...
IMF chief’s advice
Updated 23 Sep, 2023

IMF chief’s advice

Pakistan's prolonged fiscal deficit, surpassing 7pc, stems from the government's reluctance to widen the tax base.
No closure
Updated 23 Sep, 2023

No closure

WHAT is a Pakistani life worth in the eyes of the state? Clearly not enough, if one were to draw a comparison with...
Missing footballers
23 Sep, 2023

Missing footballers

IN the nation’s living memory, Balochistan’s burns have never run dry. The province has grappled with historical...