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Pakistan Reader# 502, 9 January 2023

Imran’s Punjab (and PML-Q) problem



D. Suba Chandran

Imran Khan is facing a new problem in Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest province. This time from his own coalition partner – the PML-Q, and members of his party – PTI, in Punjab. Ever since he asked for the resignation of Usman Buzdar in April 2022, Imran has been firefighting in Punjab. 

The latest problem for Imran in Punjab is twofold. First, the difference between him and the PTI’s coalition partner in Punjab – the PML-Q. Second, the differences between him and his own party members from Punjab. 

With the PML-Q, Imran’s problems are immediate and long-term. The immediate problem is – he wants the chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi to dissolve the Punjab provincial assembly. Though there were statements earlier from the PML-Q leadership that they would resign the moment Imran ask them, the position now is nuanced. The PML-Q leadership is not keen on either dissolving the provincial assembly, or resigning. While Imran wants his party members and the PML-Q members to resign, the PML-Q wants to continue and finish the term. The second big difference between the two is over the equation with the Establishment. Despite the influence of the Chaudhrys, the PML-Q depends on the Establishment for their political future. The party does not want to antagonise the Establishment, while Imran Khan has been on the warpath. The third difference between Imran and PML-Q leadership is over how they see Punjab politics. The PML-Q sees politics in Punjab as an end in itself; it would like to have a stable province. On the other hand, Imran wants to use Punjab as a strategy in Islamabad and wants to destabilise Punjab politics, to create political space in Islamabad. The fourth difference is over the next election and how Imran wants to work with the PML-Q; there have been a few statements hinting that the PTI would work with the PML-Q together and even join hands under one banner. The PML-Q would want to retain its own independence and is not keen on merging with the PTI.

The second problem for Imran Khan in Punjab is from his own party members, and also those who were with him earlier. Despite the rhetoric that they are with their leaders, the party members of the PTI from Punjab are not keen on resigning at this juncture. This is a tough pill for Imran Khan, forcing him to rethink his mad push to resign from the Punjab provincial assembly. Besides the reluctance from his own members, there is also a story that some of the former PTI members in Punjab are planning to float a new party. Though leaders like Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan have told otherwise, there is a perception that another political engineering is taking place, especially in South Punjab. This would cut into PTI’s electoral calculations in Punjab.

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