United opposition, divided interests
The opposition parties have united to oust the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, cracks have started appearing in their alliance and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after disgraced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hard-hitting speech against national institutions.
As expected, the Pakistan Democratic Movement of 11 opposition parties held impressive power shows in Gujranwala and Karachi, the strongholds of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) respectively. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s attack on the military leadership shows his utter frustration after he has exhausted all means and foreign resources for relief in corruption cases against him and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz. He and his daughter kept silent for a year and have started targeting the institutions as a last resort. They want to create rifts in national institutions for their personal gains. However, the strategy will not work. It will not only crate rifts in the opposition alliance, but also the PML-N.
In fact, many legislators of the party expressed their annoyance at Nawaz Sharif’s narrative in the last PML-N meeting, because they know they cannot continue their politics with it. They understand that Nawaz Sharif is talking against the institutions because he is in London and his slur only aims to get personal gains at the cost of his party. They cannot sacrifice themselves for it. Nawaz Sharif may also be talking against the national institutions because he thinks if his party cannot save his personal interests, it should not benefit others, especially his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif and his son, Hamza Shahbaz, who are in jail, but still have an outside chance to lead the party and play a role in national politics. Nawaz Sharif aims to harm his party so that it could not benefit his brother and his son, who is the rival of his daughter in dynastic politics.
Nawaz Sharif’s narrative will also benefit the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), led by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat. The PPP has lost its foothold in the Punjab after former President Asif Zardari’s reconciliatory policy with the PML-N, which forced party politicians to leave the PPP and join other parties. It hopes to revive its fortunes after Nawaz Sharif’s slur. However, the PML-Q may expect huge dividends, because it offers a better platform than the PPP, if politicians leave the PML-N, because they will quit one Muslim League and join another, without being called “Lotas” (turncoats).
The PPP, the second largest party in the opposition alliance, tacitly rejected Nawaz Sharif’s stance. In fact, it has already distanced itself from him. The party did not allow Nawaz Sharif to deliver a speech in its Karachi rally, while PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also skipped the opposition’s Quetta gathering and preferred electioneering in Gilgit-Baltistan. The PPP will not resign from assemblies, if the opposition decides to resign en bloc, because it has hefty stakes in the system. The PPP will never side with the PML-N till the end because everybody knows the party has no future, especially if the Sharif family continues to call the shots in the party.
On the other hand, most PML-N legislators will not resign from assemblies if the party leadership asks them to step down. Even if they resign, they will not accept it before the Speakers of provincial assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate Chairman. Only leading PML-N politicians will resign. By-polls will be held in their constituencies and space would further shrink for the party in the next election. The PML-N can save its future if it is led by other than the Sharif family, which has no future in national politics because of serious corruption and money laundering cases against them.
The situation paints a dark picture for the Sharif family. Nawaz Sharif believes he can pressurise national institutions to stage a comeback in Pakistan, with the help of some foreign powers, like his return to the country in the Musharraf era. However, the situation is different now. When he and Benazir Bhutto were outside the country, there was a huge political vacuum in the country, because leaders of the two political parties were abroad and the country was left with only the PM-Q and religious parties. The PM-Q and religious parties filed to fill the vacuum, created by the PPP and the PML-N, because there was a two-party system in the country until then. However, the situation has changed now. The PPP leadership is in the country and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has also become a big force, especially in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Seeing his role eliminated in the system, Nawaz Sharif has started a war with the establishment, which he cannot win. In fact, no one can win it. Even the most popular prime minister of the country, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, could not win it. Nawaz Sharif wants to create a situation, where the establishment has to wrap up the system. JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman will attempt to use his followers to create chaos in the country, because he too has no future in Pakistan politics.
On the other hand, international forces have accelerated their hybrid warfare against Pakistan. According to former Interior Minister Rehman Malik, billions of dollars have been pumped into Pakistan to target national leaders. The Taliban and Daesh have been tasked with creating anarchy in the country. They can also attack opposition gatherings. In the situation, the opposition should reconsider its protest movement for larger national interests.