ISLAMABAD: Liberal, mainstream political forces exchanging bonhomie with conservative religious groups ‑ makes a rare combination in Pakistan’s politics.
For long, major political entities like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Pakistan People’s Party and even the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have taken pride in their progressive outlooks.
Be it Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari or Nawaz Sharif, the country’s political bigwigs have hardly spared an opportunity to claim credit for showing the world what they call is a bright, vibrant, inclusive and ‘broadminded’ face of Pakistan to counter the “negative propaganda of the enemy” and to present themselves as an antithesis of hardliner religious groups some of which run political parties.
But times have changed and so have political priorities. Today, Imran Khan has all praise for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S). This has followed the creation of an expected alliance between the PTI and the JUI-S.
In another interesting turn of events, eyebrows have been raised after Asif Zardari went to Lahore to extend a hand of friendship to Dr Tahirul Qadri and reiterated the PPP’s complete support to the Pakistan Awami Tehreek in the latter’s quest for justice after the surfacing of much-awaited inquiry report into the Model Town carnage.
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It appears that, for now, both the leaders have buried the hatchet from the past. Needless to mention that Qadri launched his first sit-in in the federal capital in January 2013 ‘against the corrupt system’ when Zardari was the president and the PPP was in power.
Also jumping onto the bandwagon is ex-dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who claims to have formed a grand alliance. During his eight long years in power, the former army chief propagated the concept of enlightened moderation but he now depends on sectarian religious groups like the Sunni Ittehad Council, Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen and others to keep the grand alliance intact.
Even before the fresh episode of political parties’ alliances with religious groups, the PML-N and the PTI allied with religious parties but on a limited scale. The JUI-F is a coalition partner of the PML-N at the centre but not in Punjab, Balochistan or elsewhere. Jamaat-e-Islami and the PTI are ruling coalition partners in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa while JI and the PML-N in AJK.
“This is all about politics,” says political analyst and former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary Kanwar Dilshad.
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According to him, the ultimate beneficiary of religious parties’ growing relevance in Pakistan’s politics would be Imran Khan.
“He has played it wisely – by joining forces with the JUI-S in K-P, Khan has killed two birds with one stone – to tame JI and to counter the JUI-F in the province.”
Dilshad said Sami-ul-Haq, on the religio-political lines, can effectively counter the JUI-F’s vote bank in K-P.
“The alliance of the PTI and the JUI-S is a nightmare for the JUI-F. I don’t see any political future for Maulana Fazlur Rehman in a scenario like that. Back in the 1970s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made an unexpected alliance with the firebrand cleric Maulana Ghulam Ghous Hazarvi to dent Mufti Mahmood’s vote bank and Bhutto succeeded. It’s like history is being repeated.”
Another factor that would reshape Pakistan’s politics in general elections is the rise of groups like Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, he said.
“The rise of clerics from the Barelvi school of thought like Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Ashraf Asif Jalali and Pir Hameedud Din Sialvi is enough for the Sharifs and the PML-N to get sleepless nights.
“The government has faced a crushing defeat and massive humiliation in the controversy over changes in the election act clause and the ruling camp fears an imminent split in its ranks. Naturally, the PTI is going to benefit. There isn’t much for Sharifs, Zardari and Fazl in this political landscape,” Dilshad said.
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On the other hand, the ruling lot appears to hold the audacity to dismiss the lurking challenges.
“Alliances are being made these days. But zero plus zero is equal to zero,” said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi while addressing a political gathering in Jhang on Saturday.
PML-N Chairman Senator Raja Zafarul Haq seconds PM’s point of view. “In democratic societies, everybody has liberty to form alliances while acting within the parameters of the constitution and law of the land,” he tells The Express Tribune.
“But whether these alliances will make any impact, I really doubt that. The PML-N is the largest political force and the results of general elections will validate our stance.”