Does PTI qualify to be third force?
November 25, 2011
The political parties of Pakistan did a commendable job by restoring the 1973 Constitution to its original shape with consensus. They also took care to fulfill the promise the authors of the law of the land had made, while drafting and later making it part of the Constitution, that the provincial autonomy would be granted within 10 years. Through the 18th Amendment, actually each and every social group having political standing in Pakistan gained and the consensus, reached between them in early 1970’s after the break-up of Pakistan, was simply confirmed through this mammoth exercise.
For conservative forces, 18th Amendment was the end of politics. Islamists succeeded in retaining the religious identity of the state; the provincialists not only prevented the move to carve out new provinces, as suggested by the MQM, but also got deleted the concurrent list other than restoring the powers of the premier. The PML-N owes the credit to let all happen though it hurt the interests of Punjab — as is evident in the case of 7th NFC Award, whereby it agreed on slashing the share of Punjab in the Federal Divisible Pool by agreeing on a formula that also considered factors other than population.
The political parties also agreed on reversing the local government system that devolved power to the district level in the provinces, which the Musharraf government had introduced and had been supported by the PML-Q for five years. The ending of the system and delaying the local body polls resulted in the rebirth of regionalism in the country making expression through demands like the restoration of the provincial status for the division of Punjab and Khyber Pukhtoonkhawah.
The PML-Q, so far isolated and suppressed, sprang up to action and supported the move for demarcation of provinces. In Punjab, it supported the demand of a province in the southern parts. In KP, it backed the demand for Hazara province. The PPP, which had since long secretly backed the move for Seraiki province, now came to the open and later entered into an alliance with the PML-Q. Both agree to the need for dividing Punjab but gave a cold shoulder to the calls for restoring the provincial status of Bahawalpur. The PPP too has not come into the open on the question of Hazara province due to its alliance with the Pushtoon nationalist party, the ANP, on whose insistence it agreed to the renaming of the NWFP.
The PML-N, the archrival of the PML-Q, is on warpath with the PPP. It supports the division of Punjab but also calls for devising a formula to demarcate the provincial boundaries. To this extent, it is closer to the stance of the PML-Q and MQM, which also want the redrawing of the provincial boundaries on administrative grounds so as to ensure good governance. The PPP is the only party which has stuck to the ethnic principle and has only targeted Punjab.
While the debate on the question of passing the benefits of devolution of power on to the provinces pitched the two largest political parties of the country against each other, the MQM unable to see the possibility of dividing Sindh on the criterion suggested both by the PPP and the PML-N, insisted on the revival of district governments that had put under its control the financial hub and the country’s largest city, Karachi. While the PML-Q had abandoned the idea in case of Punjab, and elsewhere in the country, it tried to bargain with the PPP for the revival of system in Sindh. So far, it is far away from making any breakthrough given the ferocious resistance by Sindhi nationalists. The concessions given by the PPP in this regard have introduced rifts with the party’s provincial chapter.
Here comes the PTI to the limelight; the party has met little electoral success since fifteen years of its formation. It was among the political parties boycotting the 2008 general elections. So Imran Khan, who had been bagging a seat in National Assembly from Mianwali so far, was not part of the move to amend the Constitution. Remaining out of politics of political reconciliation, a strategy to strengthen democracy at home and mustering support for the armed forces to take action against the religious militancy, he had been dubbed as Taliban Khan due to his viewpoint on the war against terror and Pakistan’s frontline role in it. During these times he has been closer to the Jamaat-e-Islami leadership and the Pushtoon nationalists who had been part of the move to boycott the last elections.
The PTI’s October 30 show in Lahore has stirred the political imagination of the realist school in Pakistan which was once ready to fight against the whole world for the cause and glory of Islam but now wants peace with honor given the changed strategic realities. Once such hope was attached to Sharifs but they could not sustain high ground due to PPP’s politics of reconciliation. Three years down the 2008 election, the PML-N has only distanced away from the legacy of Takht-e-Lahore.
The PTI is truly a liberal face of the JI. At home, its leader Imran Khan treats corruption as a sin. On the foreign front, he is sympathetic to the Taliban fighting the war of liberation against America and its allies. Economy is not his worry at all. When once asked by a TV anchor about his team of economists, he said the nation should not worry as he could do this job single-handedly. That he speaks the language of the former Ameer of Jamat-e-Islami is not that a big secret.
Imran Khan is attracting every side of the political divide. His success at Minar-e-Pakistan has dented the image of the Lions of Punjab. He hopes to dash Karachi and the alliance between the PPP and the MQM has caused rifts within the provincial chapter of the party and the Sindhi and Pushtoon nationalists have ganged up against the both.
The PTI has apparently won the credential of third force in Pakistan, thanks to the right-leaning liberal intelligentsia of the country, without any clear objectives. In Punjab and Sindh, it is going to target the urban youth. Some big landlords and retired bureaucrats have joined it to arrange for the votes of the rural regions in these provinces. Its anti-American stance can also help it make inroads in the Pushtoon belt bordering Afghanistan.
There is credible evidence that the whole drama is just to introduce confusion in political discourse and slow down, if not block, the move to decentralize power within provinces. What smacks a conspiracy regarding the phenomenal rise of the PTI is the absence of any concrete agenda of change which the PTI intends to bring as well as its rhetorical stance on the domestic and foreign policy issues. Though it has a clear stance on the question of the division of Punjab and has even supported Bahawalpur province, the party is confused in the matter of the division of KP. It is another proof of ethnic orientations of Imran Khan besides his stance regarding Taliban movement.
It is, of course, problematic whether PTI can marginalize the PPP in Sindh and Punjab though the same can’t be said about the PML-N whose leadership is apparently losing popularity in the Central Punjab due to its liberal approach on ties with India and its distancing away from jihadi groups operating in Punjab. The party leadership, which had launched campaign against Asif Ali Zardari, is increasingly directing its guns at the PTI in its rallies against corruption and mismanagement of the national resources.