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Cracks in the ranks

IT can’t get more bizarre: a government at war with

itself and at war with all other political forces.
The latest spat between the two top party leaders has
opened wide the cracks within the ruling PTI. It has
unleashed a vicious Twitter war among the cabinet
ministers declaring their allegiance to one group or the
other. It is a free for all.
Meanwhile, a mulish prime minister refuses to come out of his
container mode and show some statesmanship to make the
system work. The politics of confrontation have paralysed
parliament and blocked the legislative process. The chaos and
disarray have affected governance. More worrisome is that the
drift could lead to an economic meltdown. Yet there is no
realisation of the gravity of the situation. The great new hope is
withering away fast.
Read more: PML-N cries foul as Jahangir Tareen briefs
cabinet meeting on agriculture
Although the turf war between Shah Mehmood Qureshi and
Jahangir Tareen is not new, the latest war of words has far more
serious connotations for the party that is now in power. It has
laid bare the divide within the ranks. Both political
heavyweights belong to south Punjab, the PTI’s main political
stronghold in the province. Their rivalry intensified during the
elections when they tried to undermine each other.
Though Tareen, after being disqualified by the Supreme Court,
was already out of the electoral race, Qureshi blamed the former
PTI secretary general for his defeat on a provincial assembly
seat that thwarted his bid for the coveted post of chief minister
of the country’s biggest and most powerful province.
PTI infighting has worsened the predicament
of a government facing serious challenges on
every front.
After remaining in oblivion for a while following the elections,
Tareen has recently taken centre stage again in his party. He not
only sat in on federal cabinet meetings but also presided over
some departmental meetings. He has been conspicuous by his
presence in public meetings at the side of Imran Khan. It is
obvious that his return to the front row and active involvement
in the affairs of the government could only have happened with
the approval of the prime minister.
A past master of political wheeling and dealing, Tareen was
responsible for getting the independently elected members of
the Punjab Assembly to join the PTI thus allowing the party to
form the government in the province. He has certainly been
Khan’s most trusted confidant and his disqualification was a
huge loss to the party. Tareen had been openly expressing his
frustration over the state of affairs in the government before his
restoration to prominence by the PTI leadership.
One of the reasons for his being brought back seems to be the
governance crisis in Punjab with the selection of an extremely
ineffective chief minister. Tareen’s increasing involvement in
Punjab seems to be the main reason for Qureshi’s resentment.
While his political acumen and craftiness are extremely useful
to the party leadership, Tareen also has a reputation of being
divisive. It is not surprising that while many ministers jumped
into the fray in Tareen’s defence, others kept quiet.
For many in the party, Qureshi’s public denunciation of his old
foe was also an implicit attack on the prime minister. The first
shot was fired by the savvy foreign minister who covets too
much political ambition even for Imran Khan’s comfort. The
foreign ministry was his last choice. In the absence of the prime
minister from parliament, he has been acting as leader of the
One may admit that he has conducted himself much more
prudently. Unlike Khan’s hard-line positions, Qureshi has been
much more conciliatory towards the opposition inside and
outside parliament. He has not been shy of openly expressing
his differing views. Last week, he publicly distanced
himselffrom Khan’s decision to change the name of the Benazir
Income Support Programme (BISP).
Qureshi has shown far more maturity while dealing with
political matters than handling foreign policy issues. That has
certainly helped him raise his political profile. But his latest
outburst and slight to the prime minister may weaken his
position among the loyalists. It was a snub to him when Tareen
was invited to the cabinet meeting the very next day. This party
infighting, however, is not going to go away.
It is not just about the Qureshi-Tareen feud; there are other
reasons too for the disarray in the party. There is growing
frustration over the government’s lack of clear direction. One
may argue that such polemics among cabinet ministers and
Qureshi’s opposition to the prime minister’s decision about
BISP is a sign of democracy in the party, but this kind of open
battle seriously affects the government’s working.
This infighting has worsened the predicament of the
government which is facing serious challenges on every front.
The economy is in free fall and there is hardly any sign of the
government’s ability to stem the rot. The steep rise in inflationis
directly affecting the common man. The latest State Bank report
indicates a grim prospect for the economy. With economic
growth likely to remain below 4pc, declining tax revenues and
the rising balance of payments gap makes for a depressing
The government’s claim of creating millions of new jobs sounds
highly improbable. In fact, the lower economic growth rate
means more unemployment. The multibillion-rupee social
security programme launched by the government may not be
able to deliver given the shrinking economy. A major problem
with Khan is that instead of concentrating on these challenges,
his entire attention is on the confrontation with the opposition.
It was extremely senseless to talk about changing the name of
Khan refuses to talk to the opposition even on issues where the
government needs its support and cooperation. The vacant seats
in the Election Commission of Pakistan could not be filled
because the prime minister would not undertake any
consultation with the opposition, which is a constitutional
requirement. That also makes it difficult to pass any legislation.
His one-dimensional approach to the anti-corruption campaign
has also paralysed the bureaucracy. The government may still
enjoy public goodwill, but it would not take much time for it to
The writer is an author and journalist.
The lost leader
Mahir Ali April 03, 2019

BELL bottoms were in vogue, and many young men tended to wear their hair long,
at the beginning of Pakistan’s first experiment with popular — and arguably
populist — democracy.

In the dying days of 1971, following the fall of Dhaka, the military high command had
summoned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto home from New York, where he had been dramatically
representing the nation at the United Nations as its interim foreign minister, and installed
him as president and chief martial law administrator.

It was a new start for a seemingly very different Pakistan from the one that had existed
before. Notwithstanding the bloodbath that had sealed the nation’s fate as an entity with
two distant and disparate wings, it was possible to hope that the enthusiasm that had
driven the grass-roots rebellion of 1968-69 would at last bear fruit.
Less than six years later, though, the same forces that had thwarted the initial prospect of
democracy with ruthless killings decided that the experiment was out of control and must
be halted. In due course it was determined that it wasn’t enough to dethrone the country’s
first popularly elected prime minister. Any prospect of his return to power had to be
written off in absolute terms.

Forty years ago tonight, ZAB’s life was decisively

snuffed out of him.
Thus it was that 40 years ago tonight Bhutto was carted off from his death cell in
Rawalpindi to the gallows, and life was decisively and irrevocably snuffed out of him.
His wife and elder daughter were denied the opportunity to attend his burial.

Many among those of us who lived through those times may not clearly recall the trauma
— exacerbated by the rejoicing in some quarters — but it lingers on, at least

For the Bhuttos there were many more tragedies to follow. Its ill-fortune is sometimes
compared to a Shakespearean tragedy, but even the Bard might have restrained himself
from choosing such a bleak end for so many members of a single family. And one can
only wonder how ZAB himself might have reappraised his political career had he even an
inkling of what lay ahead for three quarters of his progeny.

He could not, of course, possibly have known any of this as a young man insinuating
himself into the portals of power under Iskander Mirza, then shifting his loyalty to
Pakistan’s first military dictator, Ayub Khan, and egging him on towards a pointless war
with India.

Soon afterwards he reinvented himself as the leading figure in the resistance against the
Ayub dictatorship, in the process attracting a considerable proportion of progressive
forces, young and old, towards the Pakistan People’s Party he formed in 1967.

Within a decade, most of the left-wing party stalwarts had been sidelined, expelled, in
some cases imprisoned, or drifted away from the PPP, replaced in many cases by the kind
of feudals who sense which way the wind is blowing before they pledge their allegiance,
and whose loyalty is inevitably ephemeral. By 1977, even the mild-mannered Dr
Mubashir Hasan, in whose Lahore house the PPP had been founded, had dissociated
himself from the ruling clique.

Sycophancy had undoubtedly played a key role in ZAB’s elevation from a clearly clever
and charming nonentity to a prominent political figure. Despite that experience, he tended
to prefer sycophants to those who might critique his wayward tendencies or wackier
policies. It turned out to be a fatal flaw in the case of the seemingly dim-witted man he
elevated to the post of armed forces chief.

There can be little doubt that the manner in which the PPP approached the 1977 election
was profoundly problematic. And the irony is that it would, in most estimates, have easily
acquired a safe parliamentary majority without resorting to the kind of shenanigans it did.
The government’s response to the protests that followed was appallingly misguided, as
were its concessions to the Islamists who tended to dominate the hastily cobbled-together
Pakistan National Alliance.

Nonetheless, an agreement of sorts was eventually hammered out with the opposition.
Before it could be announced, Ziaul Haq made his move. In the end, the Federal Security
Force, the personal militia that Bhutto had injudiciously set up, proved worse than useless
— it helped pave his path to the gallows.

The early years of the Bhutto regime were replete with opportunities that were repeatedly
squandered, not least the chance to confine the army forces to the barracks. Long before
ZAB experimented with martial law in key cities in 1977, he opened up a free-fire range
for the military in Balochistan. In a sense, his rule (and, broadly speaking, Pakistan in
general) never quite recovered from that monumental folly.

The PPP, still feudal to its core, occasionally dredged up the “roti, kapra aur makan”
slogan. But it survives chiefly as a testament to an era when it seemed remotely possible.
And as a reminder of a tragically lost leader.