Pakistan’s fractured politics threaten stability – Analysis – Eurasia Review

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By Sajjad Ashraf*

After months of intense politics, Pakistan’s opposition parties – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – tabled a motion of ‘no confidence’ in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government on March 8, 2022.

The president is required to convene the session of the National Assembly at the latest 14 days after the requisition. According to the rules of procedure, the vote on the motion must take place between March 26 and March 30, 2022. The opposition needs the support of 172 members of the chamber for the motion to pass.

This time, the battered leadership of the opposition came back in force. They have faced a verbal attack that has branded them “thieves, thugs and looters” since Khan entered the political sphere in 2011. In recent months, the opposition has become convinced that it has gathered enough votes to overthrow the government.

The limited impact of Khan’s anti-corruption rhetoric and his inept management of the economy provided easy ammunition for the opposition. The perception that the army withdrew its support for Khan boosted the morale of the opposition and encouraged it to press forward.

Despite the opposition’s resolute campaign, it is the rifts within the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that have caused concern within the ruling party. Businessman-turned-politician Jahangir Khan Tareen forms the most significant roadblock, threatening Khan’s hold on power. Jahangir Khan Tareen was arguably the most important person in the party after Khan, providing finance, resources and some charisma to cobble together the PTI-led coalitions at the federal level and at the Punjab level.

The courts barred Jahangir Khan Tareen from holding any public or party office, but he remained the driving force behind the PTI’s program during his first year in office. The two parted ways due to alleged intrigues within the administration which did not welcome Khan’s heavy reliance on Jahangir Khan Tareen. He is Pakistan’s biggest sugar producer and one of the biggest taxpayers in the tax-starved country.

With a population larger than all the other regions of the country combined, the province of Punjab holds the key to the formation of government at the federal level in Pakistan.

Khan chose one of the more lackluster individuals, Usman Buzdar – an unknown politician from Punjab, who joined the PTI about a month before the 2018 elections as the province’s chief minister. Incompetence and inconsistency are hallmarks of his administration. Although Khan continues to believe in Buzdar, he may be the one to leave if Khan is to survive the “confidence” vote. If the Khan insists that Buzdar stay, the internal party revolt will not subside. In such a state, friendly parties can also leave the ship.

Jahangir Khan Tareen’s group publicly demanded Buzdar’s removal before talks could be started with the PTI leadership. This includes several serving ministers and parliamentarians from Buzdar’s government. In another jolt at the PTI, a party bigwig and former chief minister of Punjab – Aleem Khan, considered a close friend of Imran Khan who has also invested a lot of money in the party – announced his support for Jahangir Khan Tareen.

Widening cracks in the ITP may mark the end of the road. A significant portion of Punjab PTI parliamentarians openly speaking out against the Buzdar threatens the government.

In this fast-paced political theater, smaller parties and many independents are still uncommitted to the way forward. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi – a member of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid e Azam Group), Punjab assembly speaker and PTI alliance partner – is seeking the position of Chief Minister of Punjab in return for support from on either side. But with only 10 seats in a house of 341, that’s high demand. Still, this could be conceded by the opposition if a revolt within the PTI does not materialize.

The current political fight will not end with the ‘confidence’ motion. The economy is so fractured that the short-term populist measures that opposition parties have adopted during their tenure cannot support the structure of the state. They actually caused the current situation. Being an import economy, most prices are tied to the appreciation of the dollar.

Khan was a deadlier foe in opposition than he has been in government – largely due to inept governance and corruption within the system rather than intent. Even most of his detractors admit that he means well. If he is overthrown now, with his tenacity and energy proven, his chances of returning to power will remain high.

*About the author: Sajjad Ashraf was an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy from 2009 to 2017. He served in the Pakistani Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and has served as an ambassador to several countries.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum

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