After a month of thundering how they would all heave the PTI government out of Islamabad, a gaggle of big and small opposition parties that met last Wednesday in Islamabad could only muster an agreement to huff and puff without bringing the House down. The truth is that nothing more was expected of them.
Everyone has known of tactical and strategic splits within the PMLN, with Nawaz and Maryam Sharif urging the party to charge the citadels of the Miltablishment and Shahbaz Sharif stolidly in favour of appeasing it. This was embarrassingly evident in the run-up to the All Parties Conference: Shahbaz proposing a Charter of Cooperation on the Economy with the PTI government and Maryam dismissing it as a veritable joke! In the APC, neither pressed his/her point and let the discussion meander to its logical non-end.
The PPP was always circumspect. The Co-Chair, Asif Zardari, had done a deal with the Miltablishment before the elections whereby, in exchange for being given a free hand to win and run Sindh, he had delivered a government in Balochistan to the Miltablishment and thrown in the Senate Chairmanship for good measure. How could he now jeopardize his party’s provincial gain by burning his personal boats, especially since he still had a couple of cards up his sleeve while he waited and watched for some sign of relief from his erstwhile “partners”? Better, he reasoned, to encourage young Bilawal to spit fire and venom against the PTI government while he personally maintained a studied non-committal gravitas.
Maulana Fazalur Rahman’s case is different. He believes passionately that his JUI was robbed of precious electoral seats, including his own, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa because of a Miltablishment conspiracy to cut him down to size. Therefore, he has everything to gain if there is a new election or if he is accommodated in parliament following some change of government in Islamabad. That is why he has been playing on the front foot, as it were, demanding en masse resignations from parliament and a “million-man” march on Islamabad to dislodge the PTI from power. He must be disappointed that all he has got from this exercise is the promise of a JUI man as Deputy Speaker of the Senate, following the proposed ouster of the current Chairman and Deputy next month.
The rest were largely small fry who didn’t much matter. The two parties that could have helped fuel street agitation or resistance in their own spheres of influence, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Baloch National Party, didn’t bother to attend. The JI is wary of wielding its street clout in favour of two parties (PPP and PMLN) that its electorate immensely dislikes. The BNP was wooed over with sweet nothings at the last minute by no less than the PM himself. Mr Akhtar Mengal, its leader, probably reckons that the Miltablishment and PTI alliance is unshakeable, for the time being at least, and there is no point being at the receiving end all over again.
Now we have the future charter before us. The opposition parties will mull over how to persuade the Senate Speaker to quit voluntarily (because he’s a decent man), failing which they may serve a formal notice to him to quit or face a no-confidence move. If the Senate falls into their hands, they can create many logjams for the PTI government even if they can’t oust it. Beyond that, there was a meek call for a Black Day next month and a litany of demands, demands and damned demands, all of which the PTI government can blithely ignore as it has done in the past.
We can draw one conclusion for sure from this charade. Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif and many of their party stalwarts are not yet ready to face long imprisonments. All are still hoping for some sign of personal relief from the Miltablishment. If it comes, well and good; if it doesn’t, the option of burning their boats is still there at a better time, that is when Imran Khan has completely lost his sheen and the masses are thoroughly fed up and ready to rise and revolt against the PTI.
Does this mean that the status quo is solidly entrenched for five years? Not at all.
No one, least of all the Miltablishment, is under the delusion that Imran Khan has the experience or ability to deliver on the multi-faceted national crisis at hand. But its options are decidedly dismal. After having spent the better part of the last five years destabilizing and demonizing the two mainstream parties, how can “they” ask any one of them to form a new government even if the chosen one is ready to bow and scrape before them? A “national government” is an option whose time hasn’t come because Imran Khan’s voters may be sullen but the economy hasn’t yet bitten them severely enough in the behind for them to scream for his scalp.
Meanwhile, there are pressing issues to attend to, like matters of postings, transfers and extensions.