The political temperature in the country is once again rising and the opposition parties are threatening to launch a protest movement at the end of February and during March aiming at dislodging the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led coalition government. However, the most relevant question is whether bringing down the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan could address the multiple issues facing the state of Pakistan and its society? In order to get the answer to the question one has to analyze the narrative of the opposition parties and the record of their respective government’s performance.
According to the opposition plan, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would hold a protest march on February 27 against the government and its policies. On the other hand, an umbrella organization of opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), headed by Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman, has announced that it would launch a full-fledged “long march” to bring down the government on March 23. It remains to be seen how many people the opposition parties could be able to bring to the streets. Keeping in view the previous efforts by the PDM since its inception in November 2020, it could not be successful in staging big shows that could pressurize the government. This is despite the fact that the PDM comprised at least nine opposition parties. This time round the PDM is also without the support of the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP), which withdrew from the movement many months back due to differences over its modus operandi. The JUI-F along with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) may be able to pull big crowds but staging a big march to pressurize the government to resign is quite unlikely.
The foremost reason for the failure of the opposition parties to launch a successful anti-government movement has mainly been their own government’s performance in the past. Due to this the masses are not supporting their struggle. Because they know that the movement of the opposition parties is aimed at the attainment of political power and perks and privileges associated with that power. For instance, the JUI-F, which could never win more than a few of the National Assembly seats out of 272 and could never be in a position to form a government on its own, but its head, Maulana Fazl, has enjoyed the position of chief of the ceremonial Kashmir Committee for over a decade, with the status of a federal minister getting a hefty pay package and other perks. In the PTI government, he does not have that position and, therefore, he has been hell-bent upon taking it back but it is only possible when the PTI government is sent packing.
The PPP has distanced itself from the PDM because the party has its government in Sindh province. The party knows that its electoral strength is not good in the largest province, Punjab, and politically significant Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Therefore, if the PPP joins the PDM it could only pave the way for the PML-N-JUI-F coalition government, possibly joined by the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and even Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), presently part of the ruling alliance. So why the PPP would help the PDM bring down the government is anybody’s guess.
On its part, the PML-N is divided within itself. The party patron and former three-time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has been absconding in London and challenging the country’s powerful security establishment considering it is backing PM Imran Khan. It is a fact that Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the country’s apex court on charges of money-laundering and possessing properties beyond his known sources of income. Moreover, the performance of his three governments from 1990-93, 1997-99 and 2013-2018 left a lot to be desired. It was in Nawaz Sharif’s second government that the country was on the verge of economic default while the PML-N’s last government, when it ended in 2018, left the country with huge external and internal debt. Living in London and with no hope to become prime minister again, Nawaz Sharif is only interested in cursing the security establishment for his failures. Ironically, it is the same security establishment that brought him to politics in the 1980s, when Punjab Governor Lt. Gen. Ghulam Jilani of the then dictator and self-appointed President, General Zia-ul-Haq, had picked Nawaz Sharif and made him part of his cabinet. Nawaz Sharif is well-known to have vowed on the grave of the late Gen Zia to take forward his mission, although no one concretely knows what that mission was. On the other hand, the PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of Pakistan, Mian Shehbaz Sharif, is facing serious corruption charges and abuse of power as chief minister of Punjab province, a post he held several times. The cases of Shehhaz Sharif pending before the National Accountability Bureau have entered a decisive stage, provided the body’s prosecutors plead them properly as they have not done so far.
All other opposition parties, apart from the PPP and PML-N, including the JUI-F, ANP, PkMAP and Jamaat-e-Islami, which is out of the PDM, have headed or remained part of provincial governments in KP and also remained part of federal governments as junior coalition partners in the past, but their performance in governance has been poor. So the opposition parties’ narrative that the present PTI government has made the lives of average Pakistanis worse is apparently quite logical and meaningful. However, if PM Imran Khan and his government have poor performance then the record of governance of all parties presently in the opposition when in power in the past had remained pathetic. So the opposition narrative is unsellable to the common people.
Moreover, the economic challenges which the PTI government has been facing at least 50 percent were the legacy of PPP, PML-N governments of the past and their coalition partners. In this situation, if the PTI government is dislodged and is replaced by people comprising the opposition parties, to be headed either by the PML-N or PPP, then what difference would it make when it will be facing a very tough opposition from the PTI? Nothing. The situation in terms of political stability and a strong government which could deliver may worsen.
The situation in Pakistan has mainly been due to the parliamentary political system which has worked as a game of musical chairs for political parties. The parliamentary political system could not produce a strong, honest, intelligent and thus viable executive, which could address multiple issues of the state and society. The system has polarized the country politically and socially and lacerated it economically. The panacea is a truly representative presidential system.