Reincarnation of PNA by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Political parties in Pakistan are mostly fiefdoms rather than institutions. Lack of organization, structure and intellectual depth gives rise to reliance on political rhetoric rather than substance. It becomes breeding ground for short-term political opportunism rather than long-term strategic planning. This state of affairs is exacerbated because Pakistan does not have a long democratic tradition. The first democratic government that completed its tenure after secession of Bangladesh was of Prime Minister Bhutto. In the elections of 1977 the motivation to defeat the juggernaut of PPP became grounds for emergence of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). It was an amalgamation of right and left-wing parties with right having a dominant voice. The major parties of that alliance were Pakistan Tehrike Istiqlal (or in short PTI), Jamat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat-Ullema-Islam (JUI) and Jamiat-ullema-Pakistan (JUP), National Democratic Party (NDP), Communist Party (CP), Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and Baloch National Party (BNP). In an established democracy with long tradition it is difficult to conceive that parties with diverse ideological bases can come together to form a united front. It was possible to forge this alliance in Pakistan as in our country politics are not driven by ideology rather special interest of those that control political parties.

The election results in which PPP secured a vast majority was rejected by PNA which launched a protest movement. The alliance blamed PPP government for massive rigging in the elections. The movement got credence as many analysts predicted considerable win for PNA as its Jalsas were drawing huge crowds. PNA’s first step was to ask its winning members to refuse to take oath as they did not accept the election results. Their second more drastic step was to pressure the government for fresh elections through street protests. For next four months PPP government held various rounds of negotiations with PNA leaders. At one point it seemed that negotiations are making a head way and a compromise has reached including announcement for new elections. But instead on July 5th the nation experienced a coup d’état which brought Pakistan Army Chief General Zia ul Haq to rule the country for next 11 years. We all know the outcome of the policies of that martial law regime.

It seems there is an emergence of another PNA as PTI (not istiqlal but insaf), Pakistan Awami Tehrike (PAT) of Tahir ul Qadri, Awami Muslim League (or you can say lone ranger Sheikh Rasheed), Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and some other small factions are planning to initiate street protest to demand fresh mandate as NADRA revelations about certain constituencies point to rigging in the last elections. There are many commonalities between the two versions of PNA. First and foremost a clear majority by a dominant party PML N this time versus PPP last time which also controls government in a province. Economic uncertainty resulting from Bhutto’s misguided nationalism of industries at that time while rising inflation, terrorism, energy crisis and fiscal crisis producing economic hardships now. Another similarity is amalgamation of ideologically diverse parties to come together for political expediency. On the other hand the two movements also have unique features. During original PNA members of National assembly refused to take oath and boycotted the provincial elections. In the current reincarnation of PNA some of the agitating parties are running provincial government in KP.

Will this new PNA succeed in over throwing the government of PML N?

If we look back at the history the original PNA resulted in emergence of a military rule. This time around it seems less likely that an Army Chief with celebrated family history would be willing to risk it for illegitimate ascension to political power. If reemergence of military dictatorship is less likely than the other likely (but least probable) outcome can be new elections. If that happen the chances are that political parties will retain their current position with minor changes rather than any of the opposition party to emerge as a majority to form government. The third outcome which seems to be more on the mind of opposition is to continue political pressure which could translate into slow economic growth increasing frustration among masses that could undermine the popular appeal of PML N government. Another benefit to opposition from this agitation politics could be to appeal to the electorate to give them a majority mandate in local bodies election. I don’t think this strategy is viable because local bodies politics are driven by local issues rather than national causes.

The major political force in the reincarnation of PNA is Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI). As member of PTI, my personal view is that PTI is damaging its own political goodwill by continuing on the path of politics of agitation. It would be better for the top leadership of PTI to focus on turning around the situation of people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province as well as strengthen the organization of the party. PTI has lost local bodies elections in Baluchistan and situation looks bad in Sindh. In Punjab it seems that PTI is inducting ex-nazims belonging to PML Q and PML N rather than give an opportunity to its own youth while in KP it has the potential to emerge as a majority party. If PTi focuses on the larger picture and organizational development then it has a good chance to emerge as a majority party in the center in next general elections. So far it seems the priority of PTI top leadership is short-term opportunistic politics of the street rather than employment of wisdom and long-term vision to reform the country.

Pakistan’s opposition parties should learn lessons from the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. It cost those countries billions of dollars of economic loss and 1000s of people dead but the final result is the reemergence of status quo. In Tunis the old guard is about to take charge again. In Egypt military is once again controlling the politics and in Syria the West is now seeking continuation of Assad regime.

As a nation it is better for us to evolve institutions rather than rely on iconic leaders. We had peaceful transfer of political power which is a big leap forward. In the similar vein judiciary has to demonstrate it is relevant after the retirement of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Army has to prove that it is their institutional preference that democracy should prevail rather than the personal choice of its retired Chief General Kayani. If these two trends withhold then the next step in evolution is emergence of a political party that is an institution rather than a dictatorship or a family enterprise.

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