NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 22

Heading for a national government?

A series of important political developments and statements point towards an approaching crisis in the country as the need for widespread reconciliation among political actors to drive the country out of multi-dimensional problems has become exigent.

The most important recent political development in the country is parting ways of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) with the coalition government, led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The second important development is a statement by Khawaja Asif, a senior leader of the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), that his party was ready to support a “national” government even led by a PTI prime minister other than Imran Khan, to drive the country out of the crisis aggravated by the fast spreading Covid-19. The third important political development is a reported meeting of estranged senior PTI leader Jehangir Tareen with the PML-N head Nawaz Sharif in London. Tareen refuted the reports of meeting Sharif but something seems to be cooking up.

Insofar as leaving of the BNP-M from the coalition government of the PTI is concerned, it is really a setback to the latter as it has a very thin majority margin in the National Assembly of Pakistan. Although the BNP-M only has a handful of members in the Lower House of Parliament, yet its bidding adieu to the treasury benches would dent the federal government. The stance of the BNP-M for leaving the federal government of the PTI is very solid. According to BNP-M President Akhtar Jan Mengal, the PTI government has not been able to fulfil the basic promises, which it had made with his party while joining the coalition after the July 2018 national elections. The promises include addressing the key issues of Balochistan province as well as recovering missing Baloch political activists. The missing persons are considered to be in the custody of the security agencies. Although many missing Baloch nationalists have been recovered since the PTI came to power, yet many are still missing, according to the BNP-M.

There is no doubt that PM Khan’s focus on Balochistan has left a lot to be desired. Not only PM Khan could not visit the province for a sufficient number of times but he has also not come up with a viable development strategy for it and any out-of-the-box solution to address the grievances and sense of deprivation of the people of Balochistan. In fact, as a national leader being an ethnic Pashtun and a resident of the Punjab as well as being a national sporting hero and a great philanthropist, he was expected to address the issues of Balochistan. But he has not been able to do it so far. There are political problems for PM Khan as the security establishment also has a lot of concerns over activities of Baloch nationalists. Moreover, PM Khan’s party, the PTI, does not have the requisite political strength in the National Assembly to come up with viable legislation and policies on Balochistan, or for that matter, any aspect and sector of governance, particularly federation-provinces relations and issues. When a government team went to meet BNP-M Chief Sardar Mengal, he logically said that he would not return to the government fold and if the PTI government wanted to win the support of Balochs it should fulfil the promises made to them and then entire Balochistan would be with PM Khan. This is really a thought-provoking statement and PM Khan must pay heed to it.

Small political parties representing smaller federating units, specifically Balochistan, must be within the federal government and this always has wholesome effects on the state of the union of the county. However, for it to happen, the major coalition partner, which today is the PTI, must show flexibility. However, the problem with all the major coalition parties, whether it was the PML-N, the PPP or now the PTI, is that they get most of their support from the Punjab province or Sindh and only have parliament members from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces to strengthen the coalition without any real agenda to provide the smaller provinces rights and fulfil their demands. The state of affairs has been harming the federation and democracy in the country.

Coming to the issue of forming a national government in the country to face multiple crises, the foremost question ought to be: whether such an arrangement is possible and secondly, whether it is tenable? At the moment, the main opposition party, the PML-N, supports the idea, but the PPP does not seem to be clearly tilting in favour of it. The problem with the PML-N is twofold. On one hand, the party does not even have a government in a single province and on the other, members of its family-based leadership are either in self-imposed exile (read absconder) or facing substantial corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In the situation, it aptly suits the PML-N to support a national government. In this way, the party would get rid of PTI chief PM Khan, who has been personally very clear to recover ill-gotten national wealth from the Sharif family, particularly from former three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was declared “dishonest” by the country’s Supreme Court for possessing properties beyond his known or declared sources of income. The PML-N thinks once PM Khan is removed even if the national government is led by any other PTI leader, it would deal with the situation. In other words, it is a kind of political support from the PML-N to the PTI to save its own skin. Moreover, the PML-N thinks that once somehow returning to the power corridors even as a coalition partner of the PTI in the Punjab, it could keep its power base intact in the province. It is important to note that after the BNP-M has left the federal government, estranged members of the PTI in the national and the Punjab assembly have also raised their concerns, putting pressure on the party high command either to accommodate them in the cabinets or they may think of joining the opposition.

Moreover, estranged PTI leader and PM Khan’s former close aide, Tareen, may not have met Nawaz Sharif in London as per his own refutation of such reports. However, the reports at such a moment seem to be aimed at creating panic within the ruling coalition and problems for PM Khan. Tareen’s relations with PM Khan started weakening when the latter ordered an enquiry through a commission into the price hike of sugar in the country. As Tareen has several sugar mills in Pakistan, he was also found to be involved in illegal price hike of the commodity. So, the statement of PM Khan after the reports of a Tareen-Sharif meeting that he would bring everyone to justice involved in the sugar scam must have been a clear message to Tareen. Thus, a national government, which is being discussed in the political circles, is not meant to address the problems of the country but aims at respective political aggrandizement of the members of the country’s top political elite. If all shades of political opinion want the country to come out of the crisis, they must fully support the PTI government unconditionally, at least for a couple of years. Continuation of democracy is the only way forward for the country, however, the nature of the political system could be debated.