It seems that the major players of high politics in Pakistan have gone back to their drawing boards to reconfigure their strategy for the next rounds. The interplay of their moves and manoeuvres will shape and reshape what happens next.
This week, soon after the Supreme Court rejected the extension of the bail granted to PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif, the party announced reorganisation within its ranks, ending its silence and strengthening the resistance narrative of the party.
While Shehbaz Sharif’s loyalists were retained and accommodated to keep party united, Nawaz Sharif and his heir apparent Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s loyalists were catapulted into the driving seat – with Maryam right at the top. The likes of Tariq Fatemi, Talal Chaudhry, Pervaiz Rasheed, Khurram Dastagir, Muhammad Zubair and Ayaz Sadiq have been kicked up along with Ahsan Iqbal as the party’s secretary general. Ishaq Dar, who has headed the party’s international affairs division earlier, was brought back to the same position. Rana Sanaullah, a battle-hardened and veteran political worker, has been made the party president of the Punjab.
It is said that the “reconciliation” wing led by Shehbaz Sharif has been thoroughly thrashed and this is why he was removed from the position of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Rana Tanvir Hussain, an old party loyalist but a dove, has been suggested so that the PPP may not bring in their own choice, sources say.
Firebrand Khawaja Asif, a veteran parliamentarian in his own right, has been nominated as the parliamentary leader of the party and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, much under fire these days, has been made the senior vice president of the party. He is virtually number two after Shehbaz Sharif.
“The main goal of this reshuffle is to convey a message to the miltablishment that if you don’t accommodate our grievances, then we are here in your face. We will bring in the faces that don’t bring a smile to your face,” said a party leader requesting anonymity.
The decision to send Nawaz Sharif back to Kot Lakhpat jail in a large procession was the party’s new strategy aimed at sending a strong signal to both Prime Minister Imran Khan and the miltablishment that the ‘silence session’ of the party has ended and a noisy session is about to begin. It was also aimed at pacifying growing frustration within the party, where many people were beginning to look towards feisty Bilawal Bhutto Zardari because they were fed up with the policies of Shehbaz Sharif and silence of Maryam Nawaz Sharif. The fact that the new vice president, who is more equal than other vice presidents, led the procession says it all.
Does it mean that the party is about to launch a combative street agitation against the miltablishment reminiscent of the GT Road Long March? The answer is a clear ‘no.’
“It only means that party won’t take it lying down. We are not going to challenge the establishment and end up on any container tomorrow. Our next moves will be calculated, calibrated and controlled,” said a top party leader. “Don’t expect any anti-establishment rhetoric or any inflammable speeches from Maryam either. She will break her silence, get in the groove but won’t rock the boat,” said a party strategist.
The state of affairs under 9 months of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s rule has made the top PML-N leadership hopeful and created the impression within their ranks that it is not the matter of if but when Khan’s goose is cooked.
“We don’t need to challenge establishment too hard. They are in a state of mourning because even they can’t believe the trouble they have landed the country into. They knew Imran is incompetent but didn’t know how incompetent he truly was. They will have to get rid of him one way or the other. They will have to realise their blunder. We just have to wait for the right time and the right opportunity knocking on our doors. We are hanging tight. Hence, we are breaking our silence now and gearing towards reorganisation,” said a party strategist.
The real mess seems to be in the ruling party. On Wednesday, when Imran Khan presided over a session of the parliamentary party and his coalition partners, he had to face criticism on key appointments in the bloated cabinet. The parliamentarians questioned his inductions and asked him tough questions on bypassing elected members of the parliament.
“He was so angry after the parliamentary party meeting that he just stopped by the parliament briefly and did not speak. He is a jittery and a very lonely man these days. It worries everyone, including powers that be,” said a PTI leader requesting anonymity.
Due to the recent reshuffle at the State Bank and the FBR, the budget – earlier scheduled to be announced in the last ten days of May – has now been postponed to next month. Meanwhile, grumbling in bureaucratic circles continues over the recent appointments. The government is still planning to go ahead with the tax amnesty scheme through an ordinance to get a financial injection of Rs175 billion, but its fate remains unclear. Last but not the least, the FATF blacklisting is not too far.
Asad Umar’s sacking has hurt the core of the party and damaged whatever reputation Imran Khan had. The perception that he was a “user and abuser” is getting credence in the party. Fearing and feeling this backlash, Imran Khan invited Asad Umar on Tuesday and offered him many ministerial and parliamentary positions, but made no commitments. “Imran will keep trying to control the damage. You never know when he gets lucky,” said a party insider. To make matters worse, the increasing involvement and visibility of disqualified-for-life Jehangir Tareen in the party, government and even media events is drawing more criticism.
In his last media interaction on the local government act of the Punjab, Jehangir Tareen was seated next to Imran Khan. On Wednesday, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the rising star of the PPP attacked Imran Khan for these optics. “I congratulate Jehangir Tareen on his installation as deputy prime minister of Pakistan,” he said.
The PPP, for now, is trying to find its rhythm as they are being dragged around. Asif Zardari has been given another bail but more and more references are being filed against him.
As the summer heats up, prices of daily use items have hit the roof. Which straw will break the camel’s back? We will have to find out.