A week into 2021, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) opposition parties are starting to work out why their fight against the government of the PTI is sputtering like a car with a blown gasket. History discussions with alliance individuals whose level of enthusiasm is tapering off with each passing day show these ten factors that allowed them to lead up a garden path themselves.
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- The commonality of its intra-alliance interests was over-estimated by PDM. When the PPP held the All Parties Conference (APC) in September, the essence of the pulls and pushes between the parties present might have been expected by very few. One PML-N insider now accepts that the early negotiations and discussions between different parties had not taken into account the likelihood of Mian Nawaz Sharif taking the stern anti-establishment stand he had taken. Within the coalition, the lowest common denominator was the expulsion of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Anything more than that has moved away from agreement.
2. The essence of the relationship between PTI and the state was miscalculated by PDM. Once the essence of his attacks on the state had been personalised by Nawaz Sharif, the argument peddled by his party leaders was that this unusual nature of critique would have a ‘shock and awe’ effect. Any consternation was generated by the original salvos, but this did not lead to the anticipated effect, a withdrawal by the establishment to protect itself from such overt critique. One PML-N representative believes that there were some initial communications from the establishment surrounding Sharif’s personalised attacks. There was no substantive follow-up, though, and the communications dried up afterwards.
3. As a primary target, the PML-N targeted the establishment and found it impossible for other parties to keep up with the strength of the attack. A PPP leader says that Sharif’s public appointment of the army chief and ISI head was, in his party’s assessment, counter-productive and potentially inadvisable. The more realistic members of the PML-N express these thoughts and they suggest the party will now, at least for the time being, have to backtrack from this path.
4. In his approach, PDM lacked finesse. One parliamentarian who was active in internal discussions admits that there were different loose ends in their policy that stayed loose until the end. There was a lot of attention on the campaign being operationalized by protests, but not enough information on how this ‘public pressure’ would translate into concrete results aimed at derailing the government of Imran Khan. Sharif kept the policy cards tight to his side, and although the second tier leadership of the party had lots of frequent and thorough meetings, much of this concerned with tactical strategies rather than grand strategy.
5. Due to inflation and rising cost of living, PDM misinterpreted the popular Pakistani’s desire to join the anti-government movement. The PDM narrative was unable to completely manipulate them in order to bring people into protests other than their own staff, though these stresses existed for sure. The momentum needed has not built up,” acknowledges a senior Punjab opposition leader.”
The PDM narrative has vacillated between anti-establishment and inflation, according to a parliamentarian who is considered a hardliner in his faction. He argued that whilst these two were basically tied to an inept government whose mismanagement of governance has contributed to stagnation, etc., it belies the simplistic linearity of a good political narrative.