Pakistan Reader# 276, 20 January 2022
D. Suba Chandran
During the recent weeks, there were a series of statements and developments, hinting something is happening within Pakistan’s politics. With general elections slated to take place next year, there is an expectation, there is a new equation being written.
Is there a new political equation?
It all started in December 2021, with elections for local government institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rahman emerged victorious in the local elections, winning more seats for Mayor and Chairman seats in the local government. While JUI-F always had a strong support in the KP, during the last two elections (2018 and 2013), the province witnessed the emergence of Imran Khan’s PTI.
During 2018 elections, the PTI did well in KP – both for provincial and national assembly seats. Of the 99 elected seats for the provincial assembly, the PTI won 66. The Awami National Party (ANP), PPP and PML-N which all had their sway in the KP until the last decade, could only win six, four and five seats respectively for the provincial assembly. Such was the performance of the PTI in 2018.
So, the JUI has reason to be elated, after its performance in the local government elections in December 2021. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, made an interesting observation, after the elections results. He said: “We had serious complaints against the establishment in the past. Everyone knows this fact. But this time we have witnessed no interference from the establishment in the local bodies’ elections of KP. We appreciate this [strategy]. Since there’s no interference, you have seen the results. This [results of KPK general bodies’ elections] is the true reflection of the people’s opinion. It’s not like the one which we had seen in the 2018 general elections when an artificial impression was presented as public opinion.”
The above statement questions the same page story that the PTI parrots, in terms of its equation with the Establishment. Did the PTI lose the local elections, because of a new equation emerging between the party and the Establishment?
Or did it lose, because its performance was weak, and also due to internal divide within the party? Many within the PTI are unhappy with the performance of the provincial and federal government towards the interests of KP. Pervez Khattak, one of the senior leaders of the PTI, and currently the defence minister was reported to have complained to Imran Khan that the government has neglected the province, highlighting the shortage in electricity and gas in the province, and even warned that if the situation continued, people would not vote for the PTI.
Though Fazlur Rahman would want to believe in a new equation between the PTI and the Establishment, the election results in December 2021 in KP has certainly shook the party. Imran Khan made a few changes immediately after the election, blaming the party decision making process. However, one of the big questions that emerged post KP elections is: if the PTI’s base is eroding even within the KP, can it be augmented elsewhere – especially in Punjab (where the PML-N remains strong) and in Sindh (where the PPP holds sway even today)?
Have the bells started ringing for Imran Khan? This was one of the focus questions in media analysis in Pakistan during the new year eve.
The second major development, was the return of the PDM politics, but with a difference. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) started with fanfare grew in strength in late 2020, only to dissipate in 2021. The PPP, PML-N, JUI-F and a few regional parties came together, to organise a series of “jalsas” across Pakistan during late 2020. However, the alliance lost its advantage, when it got divided over whether to resign from the federal and provincial assemblies. While Fazlur Rahman advocated the above, PPP was apprehensive of the move. The PDM was upset of Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto over this. Finally, the PPP had to leave the PDM.
Besides the PPP, the PDM also had a problem with its other major component – the PML-N. The Sharifs were a divided family, with a section supporting Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Nawaz Sharif, and another section supporting Shahbaz Sharif. The seniors of the party, and most of Punjab, and more importantly the Establishment also seem to be against the idea of Maryam Nawaz taking over the PML-N. For this section, Shahnaz Sharif is more acceptable. The internal divide within the PML-N means, the PDM have to slow down further. And that is what happened in late 2021.
In 2022, there seems to be a renewed push within the PDM. A section in Pakistan seems to believe, that Imran’s time is up. This section believes, the Establishment is frustrated with the government’s performance – economic and external, and is willing to pull the strings now. The question over going back to the IMF, and the macro-economic performance or the lack of it, has made many question Imran’s approach towards economic governance. To be fair to Imran Khan, it is not that the economy did remarkably well under the previous regimes – PML-N and PPP. There are structural issues at the macro level, that has resulted in increasing the external debt for Pakistan. So, economic governance cannot be the reason for the Establishment to get upset with Imran Khan.
The larger question is: are there other reasons for the Establishment to be unhappy with Imran Khan? Many would refer to controversy over the appointment of the DG-ISI. But, was it big enough for the Establishment to look for other alternatives? A section within Pakistan seems to believe so.
Or perhaps, the opposition parties are getting ready for the next elections. If there could be an “in-house” change in between (meaning the removal of Imran Khan as the PM, and someone else appointed because of changes within the Parliament), the PDM would welcome it, and even go for it. Both are big ifs.
Both ifs, would underline the role of Establishment in the internal politics. So whether it is an in-house change or otherwise, the cause (of who would effect the change) would remain the same.