Sunday, February 27, 2011


Addressing a press conference in Lahore after a meeting of party members over the fate of the Punjab coalition government, Nawaz Sharif announced a parting of the ways with the PPP and elaborated at length why PML-N decided to embrace dissident members of its splinter party PML-Q, which he had hitherto rebuffed and refused to shake hands with. He said the members who did not violate PML-N policy and had been ‘duped’ into joining the king’s party would be welcomed back into the parent party’s fold. Much as he tries to gloss over it, the fact remains that he is once again opening the doors to horse-trading and the politics of defection a la the decade of the 1990s.

The fate of the PML-Q Unification Bloc and, by implication PML-N, is in the hands of the Election Commission, which will decide whether or not the defection clause applies to this situation where a sizeable group has violated a party’s discipline. The PPP has announced its decision to sit on the opposition benches in Punjab, while not renouncing the politics of reconciliation. In fact, the joint team of PPP and PML-N reviewing the progress on the 10-point agenda termed it satisfactory and decided to continue cooperating on the issues on which consensus had been achieved. This is contrary to the impression Nawaz Sharif tried to give regarding the PPP’s failure to implement the agenda in the given timeframe of 45 days. This changing of gears by the PML-N is going to have short-term as well as long-term implications for the country.

It is not clear what are the calculations of the PML-N, because it will not be easy to unseat the federal government. If the mid-term elections do not happen anytime soon, it will add to the animosity between the two parties from hereon. For now, Punjab has already become a political battlefield. The change of Opposition leader after the PPP’s joining the opposition benches in Punjab will be the first test of the new relationship between the two parties that have now become rivals instead of partners.

It is reported that Chaudhry Zaheer of the PML-Q will resign from the Leader of the Opposition post to make way for a PPP member to assume this position, given its strength. The coming days will reveal whether this transition is smooth or not, and how the new relationship will unfold. However, the signs that a new political racket is going to start are unmistakable.

In the circumstances that Pakistan faces today, this is a regrettable development. It is going to have a direct impact on the political scene, where the two biggest parties that were working hand in hand to the detriment of extra-constitutional forces, will now be consuming their energies undermining each other. This will also affect other areas of national importance. Political wrangling will have an adverse impact on an already teetering economy and the war on terror. If the old tradition of criticism for the sake of criticism were revived, any reform undertaken by the government would be met with resistance by the opposition regardless of its merit. Already, the PPP has met failure in getting approval for the proposed wealth tax and Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) from parliament due to a storm created by the opposition parties, including the PML-N, and even some coalition allies.

Also, the highly unpopular war on terror initiated by General Musharraf was given legitimacy by the across-the-board support of all the political parties. It is debatable how the divergence between the PML-N and the PPP is going to impact this war. This indecent burial of the Charter of Democracy is not something unexpected from the PML-N, but may prove detrimental to an already fragile democracy.