FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 12

What is cooking?

There is certainly something cooking in the country’s political cauldron but what will come out of it nobody knows. There are many straws in the wind which show that there is something wrong with the state of things as they are.

National politics seems to be entering a new phase as allies of the incumbent government are getting more restive with each passing day and have now taken to publicly airing their grievances. The dawn of the year 2020 has brought a new set of challenges for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. Cracks in the governing coalition have appeared. The PTI is facing the challenge to address the concerns of its allies – the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).

The MQM, a government ally, publicly expressed its dissatisfaction over the current state followed by one of its ministers in the PTI government, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, resigning from the cabinet. The Grand Democratic Alliance was the next to go public with its “disillusionment”, followed by the PML-Q, BNP-Mengal and Balochistan Awami Party.

All of them have the same complaint: The PTI did not keep the promises made to them. These include not releasing funds to carry out development work in their respective constituencies and not accommodating party members in lucrative positions.

With a thin majority in the parliament, the PTI government needs the support of its allies to stay in power. The allies know that they can push the government to the maximum to get what they want. To make it more difficult for the government, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made a lucrative offer to the MQM a little while ago. Reportedly, the PML-N also recently offered Pervaiz Elahi to take over the reins of the Punjab. The offer was made after the 2018 elections too, but the PML Q declined.

Interestingly, for a large political group in the Punjab Pervaiz Elahi is the chief minister in waiting. An important round of talks with a PTI delegation, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s close aide, Jehangir Tareen, was held weeks back in the course of which the PML-Q leaders, led by Moonis Elahi and Tariq Bashir Cheema, are said to have warned that the party might review its alliance with the PTI if their legitimate demands were not met.

In the Punjab, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is being openly criticized for lackluster governance. According to knowledgeable quarters, the PML-Q, an important ally of the ruling PTI in the Punjab, wants a larger administrative share in the districts where it has a strong political base. Lately, it has started flexing its muscles to secure its share in Punjab’s “top bureaucracy” which is apparently not under the control of Chief Minister Buzdar whose weak performance is the talk of the town now. As is well known, following a major reshuffle in the Punjab last November, more administrative power has been given to the chief secretary and the police chief, who report directly to the PM secretariat, leaving Usman Buzdar high and dry.

So much criticism has been heaped on Buzdar in recent weeks, especially in the wake of the wheat flour crisis in the province, that the PTI government spokespersons at the Centre and the Punjab — Firdous Ashiq Awan and Fayyazul Hasan Chohan — had to come out with clarifications that there was no plan to replace the chief minister.

A lobby in the PTI has also joined the drive from different quarters to replace CM Buzdar. Prominent in this has been Federal Science Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who recently openly criticised Buzdar for his inability to govern. Fawad Chaudhry also wrote a letter to the premier raising questions over the performance of Buzdar, saying the “Punjab government is giving a bad name to the PTI due to its poor performance.”

In his letter to the PM, Chaudhry wrote that each province is legally bound to establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial authority to the elected representatives of the local governments. But the provinces have been continuously violating the Article 140A of the Constitution, with the grossest violation being the inequitable distribution of funds. He also complained that the Punjab government is being run in the same way as during the last Shahbaz Sharif’s regime. Favouritism is galore.

In the opinion of some analysts, the negative reactions shown by PTI’s allied parties have deeper roots. In this connection, they quote the words of PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who revealed a few months ago that Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the JUI-F caravan had decided to abort its mission to topple the government based on an “understanding”.  Significantly, soon afterwards the PTI government moved to woo the MQM-P, Balochistan National Party-Mengal, PML-Q and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA).

Some political analysts interpret the tantrums of PTI’s allies in terms of the “understanding” that was reached between Pervaiz Elahi and Fazlur Rehman during the Azadi March days. The PML-Q is also annoyed by the provincial government’s interference in the ministries given to it by the PTI. The political situation is extremely volatile with nobody sure what is going to happen next.