FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 04

Opposition on the warpath

The opposition parties have come up with a new challenge to the government. After months of dithering and overcoming their differences, the country’s opposition parties held a marathon meeting to hammer out a plan of action to oust the PTI government from power.

Forming a new alliance under the rubric of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the country’s major opposition parties announced the launch of a three-phased anti-government movement under an action plan starting from next month with nationwide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies in December and a “decisive long march” on Islamabad in January 2021.

Interestingly, the eight-hour-long multi-party conference was also addressed by deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari through video link. The opposition leaders demanded the resignation of PM Imran Khan and vowed that they would use all political and democratic options, including no-confidence motions and en mass resignations from parliament, to seek “the selected prime minister’s resignation and an end to the role of the establishment in politics”.

The opposition conference adopted a 26-point declaration in the form of a resolution containing a slew of demands, including the “end of establishment’s interference in politics, new free and fair elections after formulation of election reforms with no role of the armed forces and intelligence agencies, release of political prisoners, withdrawal of cases against journalists, implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, speeding up of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and across-the-board accountability under a new accountability law”.

The question being asked in political circles is: How credible is the challenge to the sitting government thrown by the combined opposition? Will the various opposition parties stay together or the show of unity would prove a one-day wonder? As things stand, the opposition elements have only one common agenda: that of toppling the present government. Otherwise, they have different policies and motives and clashing interests. They don’t see eye to eye on many issues.

It is reported that the option of resigning from parliament to mount pressure on the government was included in the declaration on the demand of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who was of the view that they should immediately resign from parliament, but the PPP and the PML-N opposed the idea. Some of the leaders, including Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, were of the view that Nawaz Sharif should return to the country and the opposition lawmakers should hand over their resignations to him. PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif suggested that they should hand over their resignations to Maulana Fazl. However, no final decision could be made and it was decided to include the option in the declaration.

There are also simmering differences within the PMLN itself. It is no secret that Shahbaz Sharif does not agree with Nawaz Sharif’s hard line approach, while the post of provincial head of the party is also a bone of contention between the two brothers.

It is clear that if the PPP and the PMLN have come together it is because at the moment they see Imran Khan as their common tormentor and have no option but to join hands to fight him together. Who does not know that until a few years ago, the PPP and the PMLN were bitter political rivals, who let go of no opportunity to tear each other down. Both accused each other of looting the national exchequer and betraying the nation. But since the PTI government came to power, both of them are in the cross hairs of accountability and so have made a common cause against Imran Khan.

The most controversial part of the opposition’s multi-party conclave was a frontal attack on the so-called establishment. Nawaz Sharif, in his video link address, once again repeated his old refrain about “khalai makhlooq” and said that his fight was not against Imran Khan but against those who had brought him to power, a direct reference to the army.

Clearly, Nawaz Sharif has not learned from history. He was disqualified by the Apex Court but he kept shadowboxing against the army. According to some observers of the national scene, by unnecessarily dragging the army into national politics, Nawaz Sharif was carrying on a proxy war on behalf of India. His address at the opposition moot, reiterating his old stance on the issue, also proved that he has given up his option of returning to Pakistan and like Altaf Hussain he will continue his political activities from London. There are also rumours that he will seek political asylum in Britain.

The meeting faithfully echoed Nawaz Sharif’s remarks on the establishment. As Maulana Fazlur Rehman put it, “This meeting has declared that the present selected government has been provided strength by the establishment which had imposed it on the people through rigging in the elections. The meeting has expressed grave concerns over the increasing role of the establishment in politics and considered it a threat to the country’s national security and institutions.”

For Imran Khan and his team, the opposition moot was just the sound and fury, signifying nothing. Prime Minister Imran Khan dismissed Nawaz Sharif’s fulmination, saying that “once again a fugitive sitting in London is maligning the state institutions”. In his view, New Delhi wanted to vilify Pakistan’s state institutions ahead of the UN General Assembly session which opened on Sept 15 and Nawaz Sharif was playing to India’s tune. According to him, India wanted to divert the global spotlight from its reign of terror in Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), which has been under lockdown for more than a year now. His point of view is proved by the fact that the Indian media has intensified its propaganda war against Pakistan since Nawaz Sharif’s rant against the state institutions.

The opposition has thrown down the gauntlet but it remains to be seen how successfully it mobilises mass support for its movement against the government. Many political analysts are of the view that the opposition is too fragmented and disoriented to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Imran Khan.