The three main allies of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government have not yet deserted their senior partner in the ruling coalition, but are busy flirting with the opposition parties in an attempt to keep their future options open.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) are likely to keep their cards close to the chest till the last possible moment to ensure that they are on the winning side on the D-day, background interviews with leaders of the three parties revealed.
“The allies are not abandoning the PTI,” said a senior MQM leader requesting anonymity. “The PTI appears to be imploding from within. If two dozen or so PTI members switch sides – as the indications are – then the support of the allies would be meaningless. We are the allies of the government. If there is no government tomorrow, where would the allies go?”
This explains the dilemma of the government allies, who see that their senior partner faces the challenge from within. At the same time, the opposition leadership has also been aggressively pursuing not just the dissidents within the PTI but also marking the three allies. However, for each government ally, a separate strategy is being pursued and a different agenda remains under discussion.
The challenge in Punjab is how to lure the PML-Q away from the PTI. The PML-Q appeared as an uneasy partner of the government even in its heyday as the Chaudhry family of Gujrat kept asking for a bigger slice of political power and a greater influence in Punjab. With its handful of seats in the Punjab Assembly, the PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is even being presented the top slot of Punjab – thanks to some steady handling and push by the Pakistan People’s Party. However, despite the melting of some ice between the PML-Q and the PML-Nawaz, it is highly unlikely that Elahi would get his dream job. Yet, his party continues to remain in touch with the Opposition to reposition itself as best as it could if the PTI government falls at the center.
The case of the fractured BAP is interesting. The party is going through a phase of extreme infighting between two main factions – the one belonging to Chief Minister Balochistan Abdul Quddus Bizenjo and the other led by the former chief executive of the province Jam Kamal Khan. Then, there are factions within these factions. Many members of the Balochistan Assembly, usually called the house of lords thanks to the heavy presence of the tribal chiefs there, traditionally appear ready to grab the first opportunity and like to go with the tide. Here, despite hectic wheeling and dealing and many backdoor promises, the key players still remain in the wait-and-see mood and likely to decide their loyalties a day or two before the vote if not a few hours.
The case of the MQM is perhaps the most complicated one. The party seniors admit that following the 2018 elections they were nudged and coaxed to join hands with the PTI despite the fact that they lost many seats to it under controversial circumstances. However, before the latest crisis surfaced, the overall experience of being in an alliance with the PTI proved better for the MQM than it was with the PPP and the PML-N in the past, background interviews revealed.
But with the PTI now apparently on the slippery slope, the MQM is keeping its doors open for other possibilities as well as the party is in constant rounds of talks with the key opposition players as well as the government.
“Till now (March 26), we are part of the coalition government,” said another MQM leader. “But what happens tomorrow, it would depend on the circumstances.”
Although officially the MQM remains noncommittal, it is still holding serious talks separately with all the key opposition leaders.
The PPP’s top leadership, including former president Asif Ali Zardari and its chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, have had held rounds of talks with the MQM promising to meet all their demands. Similar assurances are being given by the PML-N and the JUI-F.
But there is a huge trust deficit between the MQM and the PPP.
In the past, we had been partners with the PPP but eventually we suffered and none of the promises were fulfilled, said a senior MQM leader.
For the MQM, it is also the question of selling any alliance with the PPP to its supporters who generally believe that during the last 14 years, the Urban Sindh faced gross discrimination at the hands of the PPP’s Sindh government.
Yet, the MQM does not want to remain high and dry if the PTI government collapses. “In that case, we will be at the receiving end both in Sindh and at the center, therefore, hedging our position is a must.”
The MQM leaders admit that the PPP leaders including senior Zardari have accepted all their demands, but some proper legislation needs to be done.
The MQM has been demanding what it always had demanded: implementation of 40/60 urban-rural quota in the government jobs, the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment on the empowering of the local governments, the provincial finance commission along with the national finance commission in line with the 18th amendment, say in the administration of at least four of the six districts of Karachi, appointment of a non-partisan administrator in Karachi until local election take place etc.
What we want is that along with the PPP, the other parties too should own the problem of urban Sindh and all this be brought into writing, said the MQM official. “We have also taken up these issues with Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman and Shehbaz Sharif as well as with the leadership of the Awami national Party,” he added.
But at the same time the MQM is also constantly in touch with the PTI.
The position of the allies would get clear once the position within the PTI gets clear, the sources say.
For now, the allies are sitting on the fence and watching how the drama unfolds amidst speculations that there could be last minute signals that would help them take a position with some confidence.