As the government is slowly beginning to discover, it is often trickier to deal with an ally than with a fierce opponent, especially if that ally happens to be the mainstream faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
Part of the problem lies in the unpredictability of the ruling party’s ally, its penchant for grandstanding and its appetite for political leverage. On Monday, the JUI-F again voiced its opposition to the Fata reforms package in the National Assembly, embarrassing the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and jeopardising its long quest for consensus on the mainstreaming of the tribal areas.
Notwithstanding the approval of the opposition parties and Fata lawmakers for the reform programme, the JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, tore into the legislation and the two bills proposed by the Safron minister — a constitutional amendment and the Rewaj Act — while accusing the government of violating its agreement with his party.
The government, according to him, had chosen not to incorporate any of the points they had together agreed upon in the proposed legislation. If there was such an agreement, the government is clearly unwilling to admit to it. The government was not the only target. Scorn was heaped at Fata lawmakers for bartering away their interests, prompting an angry rebuttal.
The JUI-F believes that the Fata-Khyber-Pakhtunhwa merger would complicate the border row between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It proposes that a referendum be held on the issue of Fata reforms.
Given the current fissures within the ruling coalition over the Fata reform plan, it would be better if the government re-examines the legislation clause by clause and sees where it could be flexible to other political viewpoints, no matter how discordant they may seem. It could also withdraw the bills altogether in a show of goodwill to its ally but hawks within the ruling party will point out that a climbdown will probably send the wrong message to the JUI-F.
Another option for the two parties is to end their alliance for good if there is no room for compromise. Such is the symbiotic relationship they share that neither the ruling party nor its junior coalition partner would be ready to forego the current arrangement. Until then a stalemate will be guaranteed.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2017.