What do you do when things are expected to happen unexpectedly? A day after the PPP revealed Pakistan’s worst-kept secret that it will fight the by-elections and the Senate polls in the coming weeks and months, many in the PML-N are asking each other such a question. At the close of the central executive committee meeting of the party on Tuesday evening, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said this as simply as it could be said: his party will not leave any electoral contest uncontested. Translation: PPP will not withdraw from the legislatures in the immediate future.
For PML-N and JUI-F, this isn’t OK. If this makes matters more difficult for the opposition PDM alliance that has consistently stated that Imran Khan is on his way out, there is more. There are individuals within the PML-N, and the JUI-F, who remain dissatisfied with the hardline anti-establishment course selected by their party leaders. They are also squeamish about withdrawing from the sessions.
In reality, we feel relieved,” says one such insider, adding: “I think healing will prevail now.
Right. Right, right. Ask Khawaja Asif regarding the prevalence of such cleanliness and he will have to share some words of preference. The senior PML-N chief from Sialkot was detained on Tuesday night by NAB, produced on Wednesday morning before a judge of the accountability court, and bundled off to Lahore on the same day for what seems to be long days of captivity.
The arrest of Khawaja Asif was also surprising, in a planned way. He is not numbered among the hardliners of the party and has repeatedly supported an establishment approach of practical prudence. But for a while now, he has been in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s crosshairs. This is demonstrated by the repeated claims that his name is found in the tirades of the prime minister against the opposition.
Insiders in the Red Zone say Sialkot’s main political foe, Khawaja Asif, has the ear of the prime minister. As a long-time loyalist, Usman Dar, Special Assistant on Youth Affairs, is considered part of the core team of the Prime Minister. In the elections, Khawaja Asif beat him, making the competition much more acidic. Then what led to the detention of Khawaja Asif? Perhaps better, who contributed to the arrest? On Wednesday morning, Khawaja Asif told reporters in court that it was the prime minister who was responsible for his detention and him alone. Is he absolving the blame from the establishment? If so, the growing assumption that the ‘same website’ might not be the same as others may like to think is fed into it.
Not because, in the PDM camp, it supports the hardliners. Maryam Nawaz and Maulana Fazlur Rehman met on Wednesday evening to discuss the current swirl of anticipated unpredictable activities that could place a damper on their best laid plans. The initial plans: local mobilisation of supporters by district rallies leading to a massive long march on Islamabad leading to a dharna leading to mass resignations leading to political instability leading to some suddenly predicted turn of events leading to the collapse of the Imran Khan government leading to a large deal between all parties including the state leading to new fr
As the saying goes, the best laid schemes have an ugly way of going awry.
This is why the PTI people are laughing from ear to ear within the Red Zone. They see the PPP doing what was required of them; they see the PML-N tripping over the politics of Asif Zardari, again; they see Maulana Fazlur Rehman injured on the eve of his biggest fight by internal strife; they see the establishment refusing to engage meaningfully with the PDM; and with each passing day they see their imminent Senate victory getting closer. The political weather forecast for PTI on Wednesday read: “Sunny and breezy with opportunities of bliss.”
Will such bliss last, though? PML-N and JUI-F can, under pressure, resort to unexpected means. In the weeks ahead, the battle may mutate into something new.
Maryam Nawaz gave a defiant speech at a party meeting in Islamabad’s Kashmir House on Wednesday afternoon, under a welcome winter light. The polls in Azad Kashmir are many months away and the PML-N government in Muzaffarabad under Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan is feeling the burden of the Gilgit-Baltistan rout of the party. If the pattern continues, and AJK still votes in the middle for the ruling party, PML-N could be looking at even more pain: GB loss, AJK defeat, and Senate defeat. This might leave PTI with the right to legislate at will as the undisputed heavyweight king of the political ring. Much as 1997’s PML-N. And it might make Imran Khan an overwhelming powerhouse in politics. Just as in 1997 with Nawaz Sharif.
The unpredictable is generally awaited in Pakistan. New Year’s Happy.