Why the PPP should not quit the coalition in Punjab – by Ahmed Iqbalabadi

I am a strong believer that political parties should get ample opportunities to run governments than just sitting on the opposition benches. When it comes to the likes of PPP, which inarguably is the largest political party of Pakistan, it is all the more important get into power. If one analyzes the history of the PPP ever since it was founded by late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on liberal-socialist lines in 1967 (43 years almost), we see the PPP in power from December 1971 till July 1977 (period of 5 years and 6 months), December 1988 to August 1990 (period of 1 year and 8 months), October 1993 to November 1996 (3 years and a few days) and now from March 2008 to date (2 years and 2 months). It is ironic for a political party of its stature for the PPP to hold power in entirety for a period of just 10 years and 4 months. If one looks at this figure as a statistic, then PPP is not a successful party. It is a party which has been in power for less than 25% of its existence. It is also worth mentioning that the PPP has only held power in provinces when it has had a government of its own in the center. Punjab, the largest province of the country has the largest share of all available resources in the country. Be it the finances or the legislature and now to a large extent the media, whoever has controlled Punjab, has controlled Pakistan.

Other than its first tenure under the charismatic ZAB, PPP has not had a chief minister of its own in the province which is 33 years now. When the PPP came into power in 1988, the coalition under the Islami Jamhoori Ittihad was created with the sole motive of not allowing a clean sweep in the country by the PPP. An extremely partisan and non-conforming government was set up in Punjab under Mian Nawaz Sharif which just did not allow the PPP to function in the province. Those who remember the Midnight Jackal Operation, would remember statement of Malik Mukhtar Awan (a sitting Federal Minister) who was brought to Islamabad to attend the Parliament Session from Peshawar for it was expected that he would be arrested outside Islamabad Airport as the area came under the Punjab Government. When BB would visit Lahore, the CM would not be present to accord her due protocol.

In the second PPP government under BB, PPP had sufficient seats to try forming its government with Independents and PML (Junejo), however, at that time Hamid Nasir Chattha prevailed as the king-maker in Punjab and got Manzoor Wattoo and then Sardar Arif Nakai installed as CM. At that time, 18 members of Chattha got the better of a 98 strong PPP. The impact of the being away from power in the province for a period of 1977 to 1996 was that the PPP was routed in the 1997 general elections in the province. PPP didn’t get a single national assembly seat and just got a measly 17 seats in Punjab.

The impact of being away from power at the Federal level for 6 years of oppressive PML-N and Military rule led to a major defection of PPP legislators post the 2002 elections. Other than Khalid Lund, the PPP Patriots comprised of MNA’s from Punjab. Same was the case in Punjab as well. A number of MPA’s joined the PML-Q to be part of the provincial government.

This must have always been in mind for Asif Zardari for he carefully chose to implement his policy of reconciliation post the 2008 elections. PPP formed the government at the Federal level, got opposing ANP and MQM become allies and form strong governments in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Sindh while also forming the government in Balochistan, having a CM of its own. PML-N was allowed to form a government in Punjab by the dint of having the largest number of seats in the province. The PPP didn’t create any hurdles nor did it try to get PML-Q MPAs to form its own government. As per an agreed formula, the PPP got a number of cabinet positions in the province while also offering the same formula to the PML-N at the federal level.  However, it is worth noting that ever since the PML-N opted out of the federal government, it has been trying to dilute the powers of the PPP ministers in the Punjab cabinet by appointing various PML-N workers as Chairman of Chief Minister’s Task Force for every ministry. The PPP continues to stick to the cabinet not in love for the PML-N but for its own sake as well as the overall reconciliation policy adopted by the party in the center.

It is also worth noting the balancing impact the PPP has by being part of the government in Punjab. It is without doubt the PML-N leans a lot towards right wing, religious organizations who in turn support the various militant and fanatical groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Sipah Sahaba Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat, Jamiat Ahlehadis etc. Be it Rana Sanullah seeking the support of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan for a by-election in Jhang or Shahbaz Sharif’s famous foot-in-the-mouth statement asking the “Taliban to spare Punjab“, if allowed to rule on its own, PML-N maybe a recipe for disaster in the province. The recent massacre of Ahmadi Muslims in Lahore and then the demand of the Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat to demand the removal of Ahmadis from key posts under chairmanship of PML-N Senator Sajid Mir should be another eye opener for all of us.

Apart from running the province and ensuring that its ministers sit in the cabinet, the upcoming local government elections must also be kept in mind. If allowed to run the administration on its own, then the PPP can be easily routed in the elections – even in areas where the PPP has a clear support base.

If I were the PPP Chairman, I would advise all my workers and ministers in Punjab to be patient and look at the positives – PML-N cannot run amok in the provincial administration like before; before taking any decision the Chief Minister will have to think how porous the world would be now that the PPP remains in the cabinet and more importantly, in due course, the PPP would have a serious chance to take over the province after a general election. For the PPP workers, its time to gear up and throw a strong challenge to the PML-N and its right wing support base.



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