ISLAMABAD: The gentle rain last week and the snowfall in Murree has turned the weather of Islamabad persistently chilly, but the political temperatures here are rising and the environment remains thick with conspiracy theories, speculations and rumours about the future of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government.
Following the major blow to PTI in the first phase of the local bodies’ elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa — considered as its fortress — the panic vibes have begun to overshadow the confidence within the ruling party’s camp, though Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to maintain a brave face and kept his composure when he visited the National Assembly the day Finance Supplementary Bill 2021 was tabled before the house on Thursday (Dec. 30) evening.
Responding to the media persons’ scathing questions, Khan laughed away the news of Nawaz Sharif’s return plan, while emphatically denying dissolution of assemblies or holding of early elections. He made it loud and clear that the government would complete its mandated term, but some of the observant senior journalists claim that his body language was not consonant with his words.
The PTI defeat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa had not only exposed the fissures in the ruling party, it also brought to fore the complete mismanagement and failure of Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and his team in handling the elections.
A couple of days after the elections, the Prime Minister conceded defeat and admitted that those in-charge of running the campaign messed it up. The party leadership identified serious lapses, blunders and cases of open nepotism in ticket distribution. So, in a way the Premier admitted that the PTI remains marred with groupings and infighting as the provincial leadership, including Chief Minister, failed to deliver and unite the party’s rank-and-files.
Political analysts say that PTI candidates would have been completely wiped out had the opposition parties contested these elections on the united platform of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). But then there are others, who say that a united PTI could have taken the PDM single-handedly.
A senior PTI leader from Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa, commenting on the defeat in local bodies elections, said that the poor management and grouping in the party were the main reasons for the defeat. Four senior party leaders had established their fiefdoms in their respective strongholds and took decisions on their own in total defiance of the party-line. The leaders not aligned with Chief Minister Mahmood Khan include former chief minister of the province and sitting Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, Governor KP Shah Farman, former provincial minister Atif Khan and Shahram Khan Tarakai.
The situation is even worse in Punjab where Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, in a bid to keep himself afloat, had become a shuttlecock between the powerful groups, including the one led by Speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the central leader of the government’s key ally in the province and at the centre.
Others influencing Buzdar include the group of Governor Punjab Mohammad Sarwar, leading the Arain clan, former senior minister Punjab Aleem Khan, Aun Chaudhry and to some extent the Jahangir Khan Tareen Group — making it difficult for the Chief Minister to function properly and establish his writ in the province.
It was due to this grouping in its ranks that the PTI could not perform well in about 10 by-elections held on the national and provincial assembly seats in Punjab. After the defeat in every by-polls in Punjab, the PTI’s central leadership was made to believe that the PML-N won mostly those seats which it bagged during the 2018 elections. But the bitter truth is that the party’s popularity in Punjab has eroded considerably. But the provincial and the central leadership of the party appears to remain in the self-denial mood.
For the first time, the defeat of the party in local bodies’ elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa sent shockwaves to the heart of the party’s central leadership and Imran Khan was forced to take serious notice of the sitaution. He not only suspended the party’s provincial chapter but ordered an in-depth inquiry into the matter.
Even now the PTI leaders would not have taken the party’s defeat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa seriously had they been comfortable in the centre, where things appear to be slipping out of their hands.
The corridors of power remain abuzz with rumours that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership is trying to strike a deal with the establishment through the alleged backdoor channels.
Political observers say that apparently there are no fissures between the PTI and the establishment, but the relations between the two are not the same as once used to be before Imran Khan’s self-made crisis over the appointment of Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). However, security officials say that the issue was now like water under the bridge and the two sides are back to business as usual with the military leadership playing its role of supporting the government as per constitution – the same way it extended support to the past two elected governments.
However, a senior PTI Parliamentarian, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the differences between the government and ‘establishment’ had started much before, and the DG ISI episode proved its first climax.
He further said that probably almost a year after the PTI assumed power, Prime Minister Imran Khan was advised to change Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar on his failure to handle the affairs of the largest province in an efficient manner. But Imran Khan refused to change the team in Punjab.
Later, such an advice also came for Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, but again he declined to fall in line, the PTI parliamentarian said.
The differences between establishment and Imran Khan continued to grow, but the former could not take any concrete step against him owing to its own vulnerable position as it was under scathing criticism from Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), particularly its main component party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
The opposition parties’ alliance, instead of targeting the PTI and Prime Minister Imran Khan, aimed their guns at the ‘establishment’. Therefore, the establishment was left with no choice but to stay aligned with the PTI.
A head of one of the PDM component parties said that it was their mistake. They should have targeted Imran Khan and the ultimate pressure would have gone to the ‘selectors’ in this case too.
The PML-N Supreme Leader Nawaz Sharif turned it into his personal feud with ‘establishment’, even though some of own loyalists did not endorse his extreme stance.
It was in this backdrop that Imran Khan had locked horns with the military establishment on the appointment of the DG ISI and declined to accept the nomination of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum straight away. He asked the Ministry of Defence to follow the set procedure of sending a summary comprising three names. And according to some insiders, aftershocks of this unnecessary controversy continue to revibrate in Islamabad.
So, in this scheme of things when reports of Nawaz Sharif’s return appeared in the media, it sent a panic wave in the ranks of PTI, which was quite visible in Thursday’s (Dec. 30) session of National Assembly where the frustration was oozing out of each treasury member when he rose to lash out at the opposition.
Political analysts say the real issues troubling the PTI Government remains its failure to deliver on the public welfare count. And not the government is being forced to implement the highly unpopular and tough conditions of the IMF, which will further erode its popularity in the masses
Despite falling short on majority of its promises, the PTI government has taken a number of positive steps, including the launch of Ehsas programme and issuance of medical cards for all in the KP and Punjab provinces, but its poor handling of the economy, the rupee depreciation and inflation has damaged its standing.
No wonder, there is anxiety in the government camp, but political observers say that all is not lost for the PTI and the skipper can get back into the game if he manages to improve the performance of his team on a war-footing and get rid players who are dragging his government down.
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