Finally, PDM ventures into rugged terrain. For the opposition coalition these past few months, it has been reasonably smooth sailing. By deciding to link hands and then creating a declaration that formalised their existence on the same proverbial page, they had resolved the original barrier of dispersed defiance. Then with tension, if any, limited to institutional and bureaucratic irritants of a minor sort, one jalsa after another. The Lahore jalsa of December 13 poses a massive logistical and mobilizational obstacle and yet it does not pose a huge problem for an experienced political body like PML-N to solve them.
The PDM will need to begin its real heavy lifting after the Lahore Jalsa.
With the weight of its inner tensions, most of this lifting can require bench-pressing. The interests of PML-N and JUI-F are implicitly but surely pitted against those of PPP and ANP by these disputes. Within the coalition, these pulls and pushes will decide whether in the next few weeks the PDM will do or not.
The discussion within the alliance revolves around one key subject, according to PDM sources: the approach to the establishment. There is unanimity of opinion on doing whatever it takes to bring about a change of government, but discrepancies surface as the discussion turns to whether to directly confront the state, which assumes an end to individual attacks on the chief of the army and DG ISI, or to keep punching away in the expectation that the core of gravity of this regime can get unhinged and free up space for the opposite
The Hardline Block of the Alliance is the Troika of Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maryam Nawaz. Senior PML-N leaders agree that a very close and well-coordinated relationship has been formed in recent months between Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. In fact, during the FATF talks, when the maulana called him in London to complain that he was not contacted by the PML-N team in the parliament, Nawaz Sharif had given a dressing down to his own parliamentarians. PML-N delegates were chastened properly and no one now takes the maulana for granted.
The PPP and ANP continue to keep the establishment on a comparatively softer line. Subtle as it can be, this fault line poses a latent threat to the coalition and creates subtle sub-surface stress within the PDM. There is a sensitive stage in the talks over resignations. The extent of resignations accompanied by their effect is at the centre of these discussions. Insiders of the PDM state they are considering the following possibilities:
1) resign from the National Assembly and not from the Provincial Assemblies; 2) resign from all the Assemblies; and 3) resign from the National Assembly and the Assembly of Punjab, thus allowing the Sindh Government to keep the PPP.
Then there is the matter of the long, much-hyped march. Inside the PDM, there are a range of prominent voices who warn that a long march leading to a prolonged dharna is not a good choice in the bitter January cold of Islamabad.
There has also been some talk over not carrying out a long march at all and replacing it with a relentless stream of ‘agitational’ action that eventually leads to mass resignations.
During PDM’s Multan Jalsa and its mishandling by the Punjab government, the importance of such agitation was pushed home. A ruckus played well on the media by the vote to disallow the jalsa, padlock the venue and crack down on opposition workers. It actually created headlines for days, offering a great opportunity for the PDM, and particularly its Multan leadership, to whip up its base through a display of defiance. In terms of their local politics in the region, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his sons hit a political jackpot. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and SAPM on Political Affairs Amir Dogar were not entertained, to say the least, by the two PTI MNA’s from Multan.
They protested to the prime minister that they were not even briefed before the Punjab government took the decision to crackdown in their constituencies, according to Red Zone insiders. In the cabinet meeting, one of them shared this grievance, saying that this mishandling by the Punjab government had helped his political rivals in the region at his expense.
This is one of the reasons why the prime minister declared that his government would not keep the opposition from doing its Lahore jalsa. Bitten once, timid twice.
Although they remain organisational matters, at best. The political framing of the PDM is based on the logic of jacking up the expense of the establishment to sustain the PTI administration. The twin challenge of incompetence and inflation by PTI has, for its part, softened the ground for street pressure that adds to the rate. Resignations would aim to drag this expense past the acceptable threshold if they are indeed made.
For all practical purposes, once the house remains unstable and the electoral structure is hollowed out from the inside as a result of the entire opposition’s exit, the regime would have no alternative but to stand back and consider all its alternatives. At least, within the opposition coalition, this is the reasoning.
There is creeping fear within the Red Zone, outside the official bravado, that the intransigence of PTI is beginning to yield declining returns. The grudging acceptance that the government is doing a bad job of handling its own lawmakers is also fuelling this issue.
The Prime Minister appointed Amir Dogar as SAPM on Political Affairs last month to ‘manage’ the Punjab electables and take care of their day-to-day problems. The argument was one that was sound. But the findings so far aren’t promising. One insider says the issue is that Dogar does not bear the political weight needed by Punjab’s political and administrative leadership for him to get work done. The prime minister may have granted Dogar the word, but he has not given him access to the office of the PM that will give him the weight he needs to work through the official machinery of Punjab.
Unhappy electables in Punjab for a government under siege can pose a very dangerous problem.