Saad Rasool |
Ostensibly, an All-Parties Conference was held, earlier this week, under the auspices of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. Participants of this congregation – led by Maulana, who is fighting for his political survival – are trying to find some way to declare this meeting a success. And the more they try the more ridiculous their narrative sounds.
To begin with, let us dispense with the misnomer that this was an ‘All Parties Conference’. In fact, it was far from it! Traditionally, an All Parties Conference includes ALL of the parties, other than the one leading the government. In this case, that should mean every party, other than PTI. However, as is now apparent, none of the coalition parties, supporting PTI, joined in. Worse yet, some of the parties that oppose the PTI-led government, including Jamat-e-Islami for example, also did not participate in this congregation.
All that, along with the embarrassment that his own narrative (of ‘Meesak-e-Maeeshat’) finds no resonance within the power centers of his own party.
In the circumstances, this meeting of some of the opposition leaders may be called ‘Some Parties Conference’. Or better yet, ‘Few Parties Conference’ (FPC). But by no stretch of the imagination can it be deemed an ‘All Parties Conference’. Calling it that will be a rebuke to the century-old tradition of APCs in the subcontinent, which stretches back to the APC held in Delhi in 1929, under the stewardship of Agha Khan.
Be that as it may, it is important to analyze who participated in this Few Parties Conference, and why the participants were unable to form consensus around an agenda that successfully dislodges the PTI-led government.
To better structure this query, let us divide the participants according to their respective demands and interests.
Read more: Battle for survival
Starting with Maulana himself, the grievance is simple: for the first time in more than two decades, Maulana has been left out of the Parliament entirely, and his voice no longer forms any part of the governance narrative. Furthermore, PTI defeated him at his home constituency during the last election. And, just as importantly, Maulana’s politics has been delivered a devastating blow by the incorporation of FATA in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while dismissing Maulana’s views on the matter.
As a result, the inconsolable Maulana wants to wave some magic wand to undo the past year. He wants to see Imran Khan’ government fall. As of yesterday. But not just that, he wants Khan to suffer. To be embarrassed. To be paraded on a donkey (in DI Khan, preferably). And then thrown out with ignominy. Unfortunately for him, other participants of the FPC were not on the same page.
PML-N’s role in FPC
Joining the Maulana in this hatred for Imran Khan and his government, was Maryam Safdar. Coming into the FPC, Maryam Safdar had three objectives: 1) to figure out some way of getting the opposition parties to take an unrelenting stance against the PTI government; 2) to press for some public mobilization that procures a release of Nawaz Sharif; and 3) to establish herself as the commanding voice in PML(N), as opposed to her uncle Shehbaz Sharif. And for these, she is willing to fight with whoever comes in her way – the establishment, the opposition, even Shehbaz Sharif.
If Shehbaz Sharif could have his way, the opposition would lend silent support to the government, in exchange for concessions in the ongoing accountability drive.
In all honesty, while she failed in developing consensus for the first two objectives, she has succeeded in establishing herself as the central and most potent voice for PML(N). The heir apparent to Nawaz Sharif. And a politician that prefers confrontation as her primary political strategy.
The other contender for leadership of PML(N), Mr. Shehbaz Sharif, was far more mild than bother Mayram and Maulana. At the FPC, he wanted to give the government a ‘tough time’, but did not seem keen on dislodging the government through politics of agitation. All the while, surely, he had one eye on the fact that he continues to face charges of corruption, which are likely to result in the filing of a reference in the coming days. But for a bail order, from a sympathetic LHC bench, he would probably still be incarcerated. His heir apparent, Hamza Shehbaz, is behind bars. And his other son, Suleman Shehbaz, has fled the country.
All that, along with the embarrassment that his own narrative (of ‘Meesak-e-Maeeshat’) finds no resonance within the power centers of his own party. Regardless, he is in the Parliament, which is more than his brother can say. And the current system of government, with production orders and all, is still an acceptable arrangement. In the circumstances, he was in no position to lend Maulana any support in the call for street agitation. If Shehbaz Sharif could have his way, the opposition would lend silent support to the government, in exchange for concessions in the ongoing accountability drive.
Joining Shehbaz in this view of non-agitational politics, was Bilawal Zardari. For the PPP Chairman, Asif Zardari’s arrest is a problem. But not nearly as big a deal as losing his hold over Sindh government might be. He is young, and there will be time to form a government down the line. For now, the more immediate issue for Bilawal is to somehow avoid the impending accountability related arrests, which are about to sweep through Sindh. The fall of Omni Group was a debilitating blow. But Bilawal needs to find some way of saving what he has in Sindh. And that would not be possible if he answers Maulana’s call for mass resignation and street mobilization.
Making matters worse, Bilawal must also know that the issues concerning Sindh are far deeper than just financial accountability. After all, characters like Uzair Baloch and the Liyari Gang are still in custody. If things take a turn for the worse, PPP leadership may be facing anti-terrorism and espionage cases, from which there will be no redemption. As a result, Bilawal was in no position to support the demands of Maulana and Maryam, thus killing any possibility of this FPC creating major woes for the government.
In the coming days and months, Imran Khan’s government will face tremendous challenges concerning economy and governance.
Consequently, the FPC has not resulted in any major breakthrough for the opposition political parties. Their desire to (immediately) dislodge the PTI government shall remain just that – a desire. There will be no resignations from the assemblies. No mass rally of note. No lock-down of Islamabad. No public movement to procure a release of Nawaz Sharif of Asif Zardari. No real agitation in the wake of the budget. And no plan for materializing mid-term elections.
Truth be told, the participants of this FPC may have been better off if they had not called this congregation at all. Because the threat of some unified platform, through the APC, was far more ominous for the government than an FPC that did not result in any actionable consensus.
In the coming days and months, Imran Khan’s government will face tremendous challenges concerning economy and governance. They will need to find a way to increase the fraction of documented economy, while ensuring that they facilitate ease of doing business. These are monumental tasks. Big enough to undo the government itself.
However, while the government will have to tackle these looming threats, the one threat it is not likely to face is that of a potent opposition.