The game of thrones

ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, President of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) Shehbaz Sharif, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Nawaz, National Party President Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Qaumi Watan Party Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Raja Zafrul Haq, sitting on stage during All Parties Conference (APC) It against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Government. INP PHOTO by Shahid Raju
  • The opposition’s humiliating defeat



Instead of merely blaming the ubiquitous ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) for its failure to dislodge Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in a joint no-trust move, the opposition should look inwards for answers. How within an hour in the Senate session called for the specific purpose, 64 opposition senators after supporting the no-confidence motion were reduced to 50 in the secret ballot; three short of the magic number?

The opposition candidate for chairmanship Hasil Bizenjo responding to a journalist’s question angrily retorted that DG ISI Lt General Faiz Hameed was responsible for the opposition’s failed move. The military spokesman, Major General Asif Ghafoor promptly denied the allegation terming it as completely unfounded and unfortunate.

At the outset Hasil Bizenjo was a poor choice for the job. How could a nationalist from Balochistan be entrusted with the Senate chairman’s job, only a step away from the Presidency?

The opposition is shell shocked at this mother of all debacles. Allegations of selling consciences, horse-trading and intimidation are being bandied about.

In the meanwhile, the blame game within the opposition is in full swing. It will surely reach a crescendo in the upcoming meeting of the APC [All Parties Conference]. And rightly so, the opposition has a lot of introspection to do.

Admittedly, a swing of 14 votes in support of the ruling party in a House with only 100 votes is a big upset. This should give the opposition parties cause for worry.

If a ruthless post-mortem was conducted, quite a few chinks in the armour will be discovered. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a day before the vote, had alleged that large sums were being spent to buy loyalties. But both Raja Zafarul Haq and Hasil Bizenjo denied having any knowledge of funds being distributed.

As results speak for themselves the opposition’s putsch was poorly conceived and ill-planned. No proper thought was given to its possible ramifications and implications.

Upsetting the apple cart at the Upper House could have a domino effect in the eyes of the ruling party and its backers. According to this view, had the opposition succeeded in dislodging Sanjrani, it would have bayed for more blood by trying to dislodge the government in the National Assembly and possibly Punjab where the ruling coalition has a thin majority.

This would have sounded a death knell for the incipient democratic project. In any case this is a very sensitive period for Pakistan.

On one side the prime minister’s post-US visit pressure on Pakistan to deliver on Afghanistan has manifestly increased. On the other, the threat of being blacklisted by FATF [Financial Action Task Force] is looming large. To make matters worse, inflation now officially in double digits, the economy is in dire straits with all its appended consequences.

Naturally in this scenario it was an extreme naivety on part of the opposition to expect that the ruling party would have sat idly by. Perhaps when the move to dislodge Sanjrani was conceived proper thought was not given to its implications.

Reportedly, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal were prime movers of this initiative. Ironically no senator belonging to the opposition was properly consulted while strategising the move.

Surprisingly the leader of the opposition in the Senate, Raja Zafarul Haq was not on board either. While the leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif was unenthusiastic about it.

The opposition is perhaps suffering from the Fazlur Rehman syndrome that is in unholy haste to dislodge the government. He persuaded Zardari–the PPP being the single largest party in the Senate–to support the manoeuvre. Naturally Bilawal had to fall in line.

According to this theory, the PPP bit more than it could chew. In a tit for tat manoeuvre, moves to form a forward bloc in the Sindh Assembly to dislodge the PPP government in Sindh were redoubled.

Even some of the loyalists like the incarnated Sharjeel Memon and Agha Siraj Durrani were contacted. However according to unconfirmed reports, in the end analysis it was the PPP co-chairperson who finally upset the apple cart.

Some sources claim that an ailing property tycoon who has deep ties with Zardari was given the task of reading the riot act to him. The said tycoon is presently very close to Khan advising him on his favourite hobby horse- the grand housing scheme.

According to some media reports, the tycoon met Zardari late night in a NAB office informing him of plans to deprive him of the Sindh government. That is why the PPP decided to back off.

If the theory is correct, it was done in a systematic manner. Why instead of all PPP senators not supporting the no- confidence move only nine did not vote for Sanjrani?

Ironically it was the PPP with whose support Sanjrani was elected chairman of the Upper House. And even now it is mainly the PPP that has saved his skin.

The defeat has grave implications for the opposition. Its so-called unity has been thoroughly exposed. Both Sharif and Bilawal have claimed that serious action will be taken against the turncoats.

The PML-N president’s anger is understandable. Had PML-N senators not, “stabbed the party in the back”; the no-confidence motion would have been carried. But in a secret ballot there is little the PML-N and PPP leadership can do to the recalcitrant senators.

So far as Bilawal is concerned how much was he in the loop about the alleged counter moves of his father and aunt will remain a mystery. Nonetheless post-mortem of the opposition’s debacle is necessary. But blame game and recriminations could damage its already fragile unity.

The opposition must keep in mind that apart from teaching the PTI a lesson it had no real case against Sanjrani. It could have genuine cause for complaint against the National Assembly speaker but none against the Senate chairman.

The only silver lining for the opposition in the drubbing is getting a reality check. It should realise that it is not shoe-in dislodging the PTI government at this stage.

Khan has powerful friends at the right places. Barring a major disaster, the powers that be would see to it that no one upsets the apple cart.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, wary of the joint opposition’s reluctance to take to the roads to dislodge the government, is bent upon playing the religion card. This inherently is a dangerous move.

However, Khan also needs to do some introspection. Merely relying on a civilian-military nexus is not enough. A semblance of consensus building is necessary to run democracy if Pakistan has to remain a democracy.