Pakistan Reader# 531, 22 January 2023
1. Local Government Elections in Sindh
On 15 January 2023, in Sindh, the second phase of the local government elections was held in Karachi and Hyderabad. According to a Dawn report, “17,862 candidates took part in the elections, out of which 9,057 were in Karachi, 6,228 in Hyderabad and 2,577 in Thatta district.”
On the eve of the elections, the MQM-P announced a boycott after its failure to get them postponed. The MQM factions were demanding delimitation first before the elections. According to a Dawn report, the MQM “did not participate in the polls citing incorrect delimitation of constituencies, fake voter lists, and less count of the city’s population in the 2017 national census.” MQM even attempted to reach out to other parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) to finalise the delimitation before the elections. The JI wanted the elections and was protesting in early January that the elections be organised as scheduled. The PPP, which runs the provincial government, also wanted to postpone the elections, citing post-floods problem in organizing it. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) refused the demands and ordered the elections to be organized on 15 January.
According to the preliminary results from the elections for 230 plus union committees, none of the parties have a simple majority. However, the PPP has emerged as the single largest party with 96 seats, followed by the JI (83) and the PTI (43). There have been discussions between the PPP and JI, to reach a consensus for the Mayor's election; there has been no agreement so far. There has been an agreement between the PML-N and the PPP; the former, which has emerged a winner in eight committees, has agreed to back the PPP.
What does it mean?
The MQM should have taken part in the elections. Its boycott should have helped all other political parties – especially the PTI and the JI. Especially with the MQM factions agreeing to unite, there was a better opportunity for them to prove their importance. It would have also been a test case to find out, how much the re-merger of the MQM factions is a factor. Boycott is a loss for the MQM, and goes against the reason for the factions coming together.
The Jamaat-i-Islami has always had a presence in Karachi and has been a factor in the local election. If the MQM represented the Mohajir community, the JI had its own constituency. The PTI, during recent years, has been increasing its presence in Karachi, primarily due to the Pashtun votes. It is also believed, a section within the middle class in Karachi cutting across ethnic lines is looking at the PTI as an option.
The election for the Mayor’s position would be the next target for the parties. Of the three big parties – PPP, JI and PTI, the first is less likely to work with the last. The JI is likely to emerge as a king-maker; whether it would work with the PPP or the PTI depends on who would support the party to gain the Mayor seat. That would be a tough pill for both the PPP and the PTI. Though the PML-N has agreed to support the PPP, the former’s numbers will not help the latter.
2. The PML-Q divide
After staying together for decades, the Chaudhrys of Gujarat – Shujaat Hussain, the party President of the PML-Q, and Parvez Elahi, who was the chief minister of Punjab province until recently seem to be heading towards a political divorce.
On 16 January, PML-Q President Shujaat Hussain issued a notice to Parvez Elahi, and suspended his party membership, for the latter making a statement earlier hinting the merger of the party with Imran Khan’s PTI. According to a Dawn report, the notice was also sent to Moonis Elahi and Senator Kamil Ali Agha; the notice read: “If any of them wanted to join another party then they should relinquish their positions and resign, otherwise the PML-Q would have no other option but to approach the Election Commission of Pakistan to de-seat them.”
What does it mean?
The point of no return for the Chaudhrys, and a further decline of the PML-Q. During the last year, the Chadhrys got divided into two camps. Shujaat Hussain was not keen to go along with Imran Khan, and is open to work with the PPP and the PML-N. There have been reports of Hussain meeting Zardari
Parvez Elahi, on the other hand, wants to go with Imran Khan; it is believed, Imran Khan has agreed to make Elahi the chief of the PTI’s Punjab operations. Perhaps, Elahi sees no future for the PML-Q in Punjab and wants to shift to the PTI. Shujaat Hussain perhaps thinks the era of PML-Q acting as a king-maker is not over, and can still play the role and call the shots, even if the party wins less seats. In the current provincial assembly in Punjab, the party has only ten seats, yet, it managed to get the chief minister seat for itself.
If Hussain and Elahi stand divided, it will also divide the second rung leadership of the party. Unlike the PML-N, the party does not have a mass appeal in the province, except in the Chaudhry pockets.
3. TTP: Clarity in policy?
On 21 January, Pakistan’s foreign minister was quoted to have stated that the government and military have reached an understanding on not having any talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Dawn quoted Bilawal Bhutto saying: “The new leadership in Pakistan, both political and military, has been absolutely clear. There will be no talks with terrorist organisations that don’t respect our laws and constitution.”
He was also quoted saying that the TTP resurgence was due to the previous government’s appeasement approach towards the Pakistani Taliban.
During this week, the attacks on security forces continued. On 21 January, a policeman was killed in KP’s Charsadda district in a gun attack on a checkpost, claimed by the TTP. On 19 January, three police constables were killed, in another attack on a checkpost in KP’s Khyber district.
What does it mean?
Ever since the TTP announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire last year, there have been regular attacks across Pakistan, especially in the KP province. Even before, there were regular attacks owned by the TTP. The TTP seems to be coherent – whether ceasefire or otherwise, it has been perpetrating violence. Only the State in Pakistan seems to be unclear -whether to dialogue or pursue a military approach with the TTP.
While the PTI government and Imran Khan were keen on pursuing a dialogue approach with the TTP, the present government’s position seems to be different. As could be observed from the above statement by Bilawal, and a few other similar statements from the PDM, the present government seem to have made up its mind.
However, the real issue in Pakistan is what the Establishment wants. What Imran Khan or Shahbaz Sharif want is not that relevant in terms of what policies and strategies Pakistan want to pursue vis-à-vis the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. In this context, blaming Imran Khan alone for Pakistan’s dual approach towards the Taliban may not be correct. The Establishment also should take the blame.