Cannibalising the PMLQ

Just as the nation was trying to concentrate its mind on the financial crisis and the Balochistan earthquake, party politics has descended to its murkiest, with “forward bloc” rumours springing thick and fast in Islamabad and Lahore. In a nutshell, the former incumbent and now defeated PMLQ is at risk from splintering under the pressure of a boiling sub-surface rivalry between the federally ruling PPP and the Punjab-ruling PMLN. The PMLQ has sprung a forward bloc which is being bounced around by the two big parties, with no one emerging from the exercise covered with any glory.

The latest rumour from Islamabad, despite denials, is that Pakistan President and PPP Chief, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, is about to take the “rebels” of the PMLQ, Mr Riaz Fatiyana, Mr Ahmed Yar Hiraj and Ms Kashmala Tariq — some add Zubaida Jalal, Hamdan Bugti and Aslam Bodla — under his wing and give them ministries as reward for their perfidy. One is inclined not to credit the rumours but the fact is that there is a vocal forward bloc in the PMLQ and that it has put the nation on notice about its “availability” time and again. Their conscience tells them they can no longer remain in their old party. But that is not enough; the media attributes to them other ambitions too.

The intent of the PPP leadership can be understood as determination to consolidate the party’s majority in the parliament, especially as the coalition partner JUI is flexing muscle in the context of the developing situation in the Tribal Areas. The muscle, it should be understood, is flexed more if the majority is thin; it is more quiescent if the majority is strong and stable. But Mr Zardari is playing safe while making the promise of portfolios. The forward bloc will have to gather 24 like-minded rebels in the National Assembly to bring “an in-house change” of party leadership. His “signalling”, if it is indeed being done, can accelerate the process of splitting in the PMLQ.

Is the forward bloc obsessed with principles? From its past overtures to the PMLN it appears that it is not. Its members simply wish to be attached to a party that is in power. However, with the PMLN they have a special additional association. Many have been members of it in the past, but Mr Nawaz Sharif is not in a mood to “reconsider” his rejection of them. What is more, the PMLQ leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has tried to patch up with his old boss but with little success. It is heard that some Nawaz League hawks who desire the PPP’s fall from power have actually hobnobbed with him, only to be rejected by Mian Sahib who will have no truck with “ghaddar” members.

But flexibility is endless. The PMLQ has been Janus-faced in Punjab. If the elder Chaudhry has knocked on the door of Mian Sahib, the younger Chaudhry and former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is rumoured to be keeping his door ajar for the overtures of the PPP Punjab governor, Mr Salmaan Taseer. The idea is to challenge the PMLN in Punjab if it becomes a part of the campaign to overthrow the PPP’s dominance at the centre.

Punjab politicians are inclined to “walk” to cross the floor more readily than politicians from other parts. But Mr Nawaz Sharif has his reserves of contempt for such politicians-on-skids because he experienced a mass desertion in his party in the 1990s and will not now relent without subjecting the Chaudhrys to the humiliating conditionality of “apologising” whose wording he would probably like to decide himself. But one can’t help noticing the temptation of “forgive and forget” among the PMLN hawks who give higher priority to the task of pulling the PPP down.

The PMLQ high command is acting to postpone the cannibalisation of its party by the two big ones. It has already “readjusted” policy to spare itself the stigma of being subservient to the policies of General Pervez Musharraf. It sings a different tune now about terrorism in the Tribal Areas and has joined the parliamentary majority that puts “talks” above “operations”. It knows it can’t easily break the PPP mindset about it being a “killer party” and also knows it can’t easily placate Mr Nawaz Sharif. Its instinct is to stay alive till the next elections create space for further shuffling of interests. (Daily Times)