Parliament watch Can Imran and Bilawal stand together on the same container

Source: Published in Current Affairs on Friday, July 1, 2016

Both Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Imran Khan have announced plans to launch anti-government campaigns after Eid. However, it is not clear if the two parties will launch a joint campaign or separate ones.

Can we hope to see Bilawal and Imran on one container, as Aitzaz Ahsan has predicted? Senator Ahsan is of the view that the Panama Paper leak offers enough incentive for the two parties to stand together.

Sometimes, it does seem as if the parties are moving in tandem. Just last week, the PPP and PTI both filed references with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members.

The two parties, which dominate the nine-party opposition bloc on the Panama leaks, have sought the disqualification of the prime minister for having not declared his family’s apartments in the documents submitted to the ECP.

Both parties are of the view that after the parliamentary committee on Panama Papers failed to agree on terms of references for the suggested probe, they are left with no option but to explore legal means against the mighty Sharifs.

The two parties might also hit the streets if the government continues to stonewall their efforts for free and fair investigations into the Panama Papers leak.

However, senior party leaders from PPP and the PTI give different answers when asked if the two parties will protest together on one container. All they seem to agree on is that the Panama Papers will be exploited for maximum political mileage against the government.

The PPP may be the main opposition party based on its numerical strength in both houses of the parliament, but until recently it was seen as a “friendly opposition”. It stood next to the PML-N against the PAT-PTI dharna in 2014, and ensured that Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s efforts to bring down the government failed.

However, the last couple of months and the Panama leaks have given the PPP a chance to salvage its reputation. It even seems as if the PPP, and not the PTI, is leading the onslaught against the Sharif brothers. Both inside the parliament and outside, PPP leaders have been seen and heard blasting the government, accusing it of money-laundering and setting up offshore companies.

A senior PPP lawmaker said the party was divided on the issue of joining the PTI. “A majority of party leaders from Punjab are quite excited about joining hands with the PTI to pressurise the ruling PML-N, but the senior leadership from Sindh is in favour of an extended legal battle against the Sharifs.”

“The more the Panama leaks issue drags out, the more PML-N’s reputation will be tarnished.”

“This will help the PPP in the next election,” said another PPP MNA. He also explained that as the party was not ready for an early election, it would not push Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.

For a PPP senator from KP, it was not easy for the party leadership to stand alongside Mr Khan, “because of his pro-Taliban mindset.” To explain what he meant, the senator referred to the recent budget passed by the PTI led government in KP, which allocated Rs300 million to Maulana Samiul Haq’s madressah.

On the other hand, the PTI also appears unsure of its protest plan.

The party leadership continues to mull over its options – whether to go for a solo flight or wait till it has the other opposition parties on board.

According to a senior PTI office bearer, “After our 2014 dharna [where the party had alienated most of the political parties in the parliament], we will try our best to keep the nine-party opposition bloc intact.”

But the PTI leader clarified that “Mr Khan is fully determined to take the government head on.” He said for years Khan had accused the Sharifs of looting the country and sending the money abroad; hence, now that ‘evidence’ of this had become public, the PTI chief could not let the issue be.

But the leader did not provide much details when asked how the PTI would take ‘a hard line’ and keep the other parties ‘on board’; all he would say was that “the PTI wasn’t in a hurry” and would try to convince the opposition parties to opt for joint struggle against the government.

However, when the time for action comes, the PTI may not find it very easy to keep everyone by its side. Many independent observers feel that while the PPP is keen to exploit Panamagate, it will keep a distance from the PTI.

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Written by Khawar Ghumman

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