Originally Published 2011-05-07 00:00:00 Published on May 07, 2011
After more than two years of lull in the political arena, Pakistan is witnessing some visible and dramatic changes which can influence the political scenario in the next few months.
Pakistan's politics: Back to the 1990s?
After more than two years of lull in the political arena, Pakistan is witnessing some visible and dramatic changes which can influence the political scenario in the next few months. The ruling party, Pakistan People's Party, riddled by corruption, incompetence and desertions, is making serious attempts to shore up its position by working out a coalition agreement with PML-Q, a strong Punjab-based party which it had defeated in the 2008 elections. It would be important to mention here that before this alliance actually came into fruition, it was Imran Khan's increasing proximity to the army which was called a 'game-changer' for Pakistan's politics.

On May 2, thirteen members of the PML-Q were inducted into the PPP-led coalition government, with six of its legislators getting cabinet berths and seven as ministers of state. The confluence of two ideologically divergent parties has been called as a 'national reconciliation'.

The primary reason for the ruling party to seek allies among its traditional rivals was to ensure that it had the requisite majority in Parliament to push through legislations, especially the budget. This had become all the more necessary after its two crucial l partners, Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F), parted ways midway, leaving PPP floundering. The PML-Q on its part has been losing ground and was desperately looking for ways to keep its flock together. PML-Q, which led the ruling alliance in Pakistan from 2002 to 2007, was created by General Pervez Musharraf and his team by splitting Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the prominent party in Punjab.

Both PPP and PML-Q hope that their alliance could considerably weaken the PML-N, which is virtually invincible in the Punjab province. PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi's main target is to marginalise PML-N in its citadel, Lahore. Elahi was the Punjab Chief Minister before PML-N routed him in the 2008 elections.

The Chaudhrys of Gujrat, known for their financial and political clout , have quietly accepted a raw deal since this alliance is a means of survival, and the last hope of reviving their sagging political fortunes. The PML-Q did not get the portfolios it was promised and ended up with insignificant ones, with the exception of Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat who got the Ministry of Housing and Works. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, eyeing the deputy Prime Minister's slot, had to make do with the Ministry of Defence Production. Many in the PML-Q rue that they have been royally let down by PPP and that their own party leaders had opted for a bad bargain out of sheer desperation. Some of them have opted to remain in the opposition and are engaged in striking a deal with other parties.

The PPP-PML-Q alliance is a politics of opportunism at best and many observers believe that PPP has gained from this alliance much more than the other partner. Far more interesting is the history of rivalry between these new partners.

The Chaudhrys of Gujarat and Bhuttos have been bitter political rivals. Pervaiz Elahi was accused of being involved in Benazir Bhutto's murder and the PML-Q was dubbed as 'Qatil league', by PPP. It is also known that Pervaiz's uncle and Chaudhry Shujaat's father Zahoor Elahi was allegedly murdered by Murtaza Bhutto. And Zahoor Elahi supposedly gifted Zia-Ul-Haq the pen with which he signed the execution orders of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Besides, the Chaudhrys have always been viewed as appendages of the army and quintessential survivors, while until a few years ago, PPP was always recognised as the only legitimate opposition to Pakistan Army, until Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, was overthrown by the army. In the current scenario, there is a clear reversal of roles, Nawaz Sharif who was introduced into politics by General Zia-Ul-Haq and was always perceived as a man of the establishment has taken a stridently anti-army line, with one of his senior leaders Chaudhry Nisar even questioning the visit of ISI Chief, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. to the United States.

Interestingly however, as PPP and PML-Q were tying the knots, Shahbaz Sharif met up with General Ashfaq Kayani. This meeting has added a new dimension to the continuously changing and unpredictable political landscape of Pakistan, and raises a few questions.

Another twist in the tail is the emergence of Tehrik-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan as a possible Third Front leader. Like in the 90s when the Army patched together a political coalition of PML-N with Jamat-e-Islami as Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to oust Benazir Bhutto's PPP, there is an attempt to bring together Imran Khan, JI and other religious party as a possible alliance before the next round of elections in Pakistan.

These developments make the future course of Pakistan politics difficult to predict, but the similarities with the past are uncanny.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation
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