Offsetting PPP move: PML-N to reach out to Sindh nationalists

Published: December 27, 2016

ISLAMABAD: As Asif Ali Zardari steps up efforts to cobble together a ‘grand alliance’
of opposition parties, the ruling PML-N plans to reach out to nationalist forces in Sindh to offset a possible challenge to its government, The Express Tribune has learnt.

Zardari has promised a ‘surprise’ at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh where the PPP will hold a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of its slain chairperson Benazir Bhutto. Zardari’s announcement has provided grit for the rumour mill with some analysts speculating that he might announce the launch of a movement against the government.

Sources in the PML-N told The Express Tribune that the party leadership had decided to respond aggressively, if the PPP opted for confrontation with the government. “It would be tit for tat,” said an insider. “Presently, the PML-N doesn’t expect any serious challenge from the PPP,” he said. “But the alarm bell will set off if the party comes up with an aggressive plan and tries to reach out to mainstream parties like PTI, ANP, MQM and JI.”

The PML-N has already started its homework for the worst case scenario. The party is considering reaching out to nationalist parties in Sindh to offset any move by the PPP to put up a serious challenge.

Insiders say the PML-N has to muster support of nationalist parties because they do have significant presence in Sindh. “Wishful thinking aside, we are virtually a nonentity in Sindh where the PPP is largely unchallenged, with the exception of urban areas like Karachi and Hyderabad, where other parties like MQM have a stronghold,” said a source in the PML-N’s Central Secretariat.

“Nationalist forces may be a rural Sindh phenomenon, but they have a say in Sindh’s politics and have often posed a challenge to the PPP. Joining hands with them could be mutually beneficial,” the source said.

The PML-N may extend back-end support to the nationalist parties instead of openly siding with them, the source said. “This is because politics of provincial nationalism often ends up in deepening regional fault-lines and stoking tension between the provinces.”

The party has not directly approached Sindh’s nationalist parties but has recently consulted some ‘common friends’ to find out if they were ready to ‘cooperate’ with the PML-N government, according to insiders. “We’ve received an encouraging response. I think we can prepare a backup plan if and when required,” said a PML-N lawmaker involved in political developments related to Sindh.

Awami Tehreek, Sindh Nationalist Progressive Alliance, Jiay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party, Sindh National Party, Jiay Sindh Mahaz are some of the parties which have a say in Sindh’s politics, though they don’t have a considerable vote-bank.

Senior STP leader Gulzar Soomro said Sindh needed development on an urgent basis. “If any [political] force is willing to join hands with us to improve socio-political conditions in Sindh, our doors are open. We’ll deal with the political compulsions as and when such a situation arises,” he told The Express Tribune.

SNP’s Amir Bhanbhro denied anyone has approached his party on behalf of the federal government. “I don’t know about others but the SNP has not been contacted. When the time comes, we’ll see what to do keeping in view the political interests of our province and party.”

The PML-N leadership is happy with the current estrangement between the PPP and PTI, which reflected in Imran Khan’s speech at a public rally in Swabi on Sunday where he called Zardari the ‘coach of corruption eleven’.

“At present, things look under control. But when stakes are high, you never know how the situation will unfold the next moment. If things start slipping out of hand, we will exercise our options,” the source told The Express Tribune without elaborating what options does the party have.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2016.

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