Politics in Pakistan has taken an interesting turn. Or has it? There is too much going on, which adds to the confusion. But some say it is too little for it to lead to any significant change. On the one hand, there is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government’s own woes. On the other, there is the Opposition, which started out with a bang last year when it formed a joint front called the Pakistan Democratic Movement, that now seems to be facing troubles due to some recent turn of events.
The two main Opposition parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — are at loggerheads. The PML-N accuses the PPP of being co-opted by the establishment so as to offer a smooth sailing to the PTI government. The PPP rubbishes these allegations. On Monday, the PML-N president, Shehbaz Sharif, hosted a dinner for the Opposition parties in order to iron out the differences. Whether Shehbaz succeeds in this venture remains to be seen. It will be clear in the next few weeks. Sharif is seen to be more of a reconciliatory man in his party when it comes to the establishment. His politics is quite different from that of his brother, Nawaz Sharif, who prefers an aggressive style. Insiders say he does not want a fight with the establishment. He has recently been released from jail and some say his release is because some quarters want him to control his brother’s aggressive statements when it comes to the establishment. Nawaz and Maryam have also come down hard on the PPP leadership ever since the leader of the Opposition fiasco in the Senate. Shehbaz has offered an olive branch to the PPP. Insiders say that the PPP would want to be back in the PDM as its credibility has taken a hit due to what happened in the Senate. The fallout between Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif in the PDM was another factor. There are others who say that many in the PML-N do not want the PPP to make a comeback to the PDM after these recent incidents; they say they cannot trust the PPP any longer. If this trust deficit gets addressed somehow, it could create problems for the government. A united and strong Opposition is something that the government would not want at this moment when it is busy battling infighting within its own ranks.
Jahangir Khan Tareen, once a close friend of the prime minister, Imran Khan, and an important member of the PTI, has formed a group of like-minded parliamentarians belonging to the Punjab assembly and the national assembly within the PTI. The ‘JKT group’, Tareen says, is not a forward bloc. But, in essence, it is acting like one — or at least as a pressure group. This group has more than 30 members, which makes it important for the PTI government to keep it on the right side; otherwise it would not be easy for the government to survive. Tareen, a business tycoon, is accused of a huge sugar scandal that relates to fixing sugar prices by the sugar cartel as well as of money laundering. This pressure group has been able to secure meetings with Imran Khan and the chief minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar. It has been assured that their reservations would be addressed. But the government has also made it clear that Tareen would not be given undue favours. Tareen says he is being targeted unfairly. Some say this group will make its next move in August or September when it becomes clearer which way the political winds would blow. The Opposition and the JKT group, it is believed, are waiting for the upcoming budget. If the budget leads to higher inflation, it could make things difficult for the government.
The government has not been very successful when it comes to meeting the challenges in the economy. However, recent official economic projections are favourable. Pakistan’s new finance minister, Shaukat Tarin, says that economic projections of a 3.94 per cent GDP growth rate provides hope and that it would eventually become 5 per cent next year and 6 per cent the year after. Whether this materializes or not would depend on the success of the renegotiations with the International Monetary Fund. We have had four finance ministers since the PTI government came to power in 2018. From Asad Umar to Hafeez Shaikh to an extremely short stint by Hammad Azhar and now Shaukat Tarin, the government has been trying to improve its economic policies. Some experts say Pakistan’s economy is now headed towards stability, which will eventually lead to growth. When the economy starts to improve, it would bring stability to the PTI government as well. The government and the establishment are also on the same page. The principal threat is the Tareen group. Hopefully the government will be able to complete its tenure, as it should, and these political winds would just be a regular course of nature.
Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore; email@example.com