The 11-parties alliance, named Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has started a countrywide power show by holding massive gatherings, protests and anti-government rallies. The defiant crowds and roaring opposition; the spirited sloganeering and frenzied mobs; the mammoth rallies and charged speakers; the music and honking, the dancing and chanting, the vehicular mayhem snaking across jam-packed highways remind us of rocky days ahead.
Starting from an All Parties Conference convened by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the opposition parties finally agreed to mount a direct challenge to the government accusing it of rank incompetence and also to give a message to the establishment which it believed to be behind the current political dispensation.
The first ever PDM gathering in Gujranwala set the tone for the opposition campaign as the “self-exiled” leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Nawaz Sharif, in a speech, which never went on air through the traditional media but has gone viral in social media, held the top hierarchy of the establishment responsible for toppling his government.
This was perhaps unexpected for some PDM leaders, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. This is proved by the fact that Nawaz Sharif did not deliver a speech in the second PDM gathering at Karachi. Maulana Fazlur Rahman also delivered a comparatively mild speech, while the focus of Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto was Prime Minister Imran Khan and the rising inflation. They criticized the PTI for coming to power with the blessing of the establishment through systemized rigging. However, they did not make any demand for holding midterm elections.
Apparently, the PDM leadership is increasing pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan so that he may come to the negotiating table and give them some relaxation in the references and pending inquiries lying before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). There is little doubt that the NAB has always played as a tool to suppress the opposition since its birth in 1999. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) after coming to power in 2008 used it against the PML-N after the latter developed differences with it over the political control of the Punjab. The PML-N also used it against the opposition. Despite being a victim of ruthless accountability during General Musharraf’s era, the PML-N did not amend the draconian clauses of the accountability law. But now when both parties are not in power, they want the NAB to be scrapped.
The movement against the PTI government is off to a solid start. For Maryam Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, this is an encouraging sign. Their party machinery has had its first run and it is warming up. The local networks, the logistical details, the financial and organisational requirements and the multi-level mobilisation of rank and file — all this is off the ground. This applies more to the PML-N, which has been sulking behind closed doors for two years. No less happy is the PPP whose party machinery in the Punjab has been rusting for years.
The PDM’s first jalsa at Gujranwala was a success, while the second one in Karachi was even bigger in size. It seems the initiative is now with the opposition and the government is on the back foot. If the Gujranwala and Karachi jalsas are an indicator of what lies ahead, the government will have to do some hard thinking to cover its flanks.
In the opposition, Imran Khan’s massive rallies built up momentum and gave anxious moments to the Nawaz Sharif government. By the time the PTI and Tahirul Qadri’s people reached the capital for a dharna, the situation had gone out of control of the PML-N administration. The PDM campaign can have a similar effect on the PTI government. As things stand today, the PTI government is in a vulnerable position. It is struggling to govern and it is hanging by a thread in terms of parliamentary numbers. Add to it the problem of back-breaking inflation, which provides ready ammunition to the opposition to rev up its campaign.
What can the PTI government do in these circumstances? The increasing pressure of the PDM campaign will take further toll on its already plummeting popularity. Wheat and sugar prices are constantly rising as are the rates of gas and electricity. The government is really in a bind.
The only way out for the government is to adjust its sails according to changed circumstances. An immediate need is to get inflation under control. The situation demands the government to show a spirit of accommodation and offer the opposition an olive branch in the larger national interest. Starting a dialogue process can go a long way to lower the political temperature in the country. At a time when Pakistan is facing many serious issues, like Indian aggression in Kashmir, Financial Action Task Force and diplomatic challenges in the region, the PTI should take the opposition on board to forge a united national front.