AS the general election draws closer, the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) — the new home of most PTI deserters — is grappling with the perception of being the PML-N’s ‘B-Team’.

IPP’s patron-in-chief Jahangir Khan Tareen (JKT) and president Aleem Khan have notably refrained from targeting the Sharif brothers in recent election rallies in Punjab, hinting at underlying amicable relations.

Besides, the IPP has also not completely ruled out the chances of seat adjustment with the PML-N, apparently to counter their mutual rival: Imran Khan’s PTI.

This has put the IPP in a quandary as most of its predominantly anti-PML-N leaders urge the leadership to intensify their campaign against the Sharifs, believing it crucial for attracting the anti-PML-N votes in Punjab.

Most IPP leaders believe party should seek an identity beyond PML-N’s shadow to succeed in Punjab

“Most of the IPP leaders are electables who were once the PTI men. They want the leadership to build up momentum against the Sharifs in the IPP’s ongoing election campaign to secure votes in Punjab,” an IPP insider told Dawn earlier this week.

On the perception that the PML-N has replaced the IPP as the “king’s party”, the person said: “There is always one party that happens to be a king’s party.”

The person claimed that the powers wanted the IPP to form government in Punjab and the PML-N in the Centre “if things go as per plan”.

IPP’s journey

The IPP’s political journey began in 2021 with the formation of the JKT group within the PTI comprising over 40 lawmakers, primarily to press Imran Khan not to unleash the FIA against the sugar baron Jahangir Tareen.

In April 2022, this group joined hands with the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to oust Mr Khan as prime minister through a no-confidence motion.

However, their subsequent electoral ventures in Punjab, with PML-N’s backing, were unsuccessful against PTI. Two members of the JKT group also remained part of the PDM-led coalition government, defending its decisions.

After the PDM’s government tenure was over, the JKT group stalwarts like Aleem Khan and Awn Chaudhry maintained close ties with the Sharifs, including visits to London and personal interactions in Pakistan.

And despite being part of the IPP, Mr Chaudhry even made an in-person visit to the Sharifs to greet Nawaz’s homecoming last month.

These connections underscore the overlapping interests of IPP and PML-N leadership, particularly their shared concern over their common enemy, Imran Khan.

Besides, both Nawaz Sharif and Jahangir Tareen, who have been disqualified from contesting the polls, are back in the arena with a change in the political scenario. Both parties are currently emphasising the country’s economic revival in their manifestos.

However, the IPP, whose main focus is on south Punjab to secure its share, has yet to invite applications from interested candidates for upcoming polls. It has also yet to form its parliamentary board.

On the contrary, the PML-N has received a sizeable number of applications from aspiring candidates, collecting billions of rupees in fees.

‘Politics of unity’

Defending the party leadership’s style of politics, IPP’s Central Information Secretary Firdous Ashiq Awan refuted claims of being PML-N’s Team B, emphasising Mr Tareen’s commitment to unifying politics over confrontation.

“Mr Tareen always did the politics of unity and not confrontation. He is not in favour of the blame game, as it hurts the country,” Ms Awan told Dawn. “Grace is shown in the criticism of other parties by our leadership who have presented a simple manifesto — putting the country on the road of development and welfare of the people.”

Asked how the IPP would attract the anti-PML-N votes without targeting it, especially in Punjab, Ms Awan said: “The upcoming election is that of electables/personalities. We have electables with strong vote bank and it is a myth that targeting any political party or personality helps increase the vote. We are confident that we will win a good number of seats.”

Moreover, a PTI voter was also an IPP voter, she said, adding that more electables would join the IPP in the coming days as the party was going to field candidates in all provinces.

Asked which among the IPP and the PML-N enjoyed more support from the establishment, Ms Awan said, “The establishment supports Pakistan and the party which is loyal to Pakistan is a favourite of the establishment.”

She also indicated that the IPP would invite applications from the candidates and form the parliamentary board once the Election Commission announced the poll schedule.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2023

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