Dr Tahirul Qadri’s comments at the outset of All Parties Conference (APC) set the agenda for his future course of action. Along with seeking justice for the Model Town tragedy, he emphatically declared the annihilation of Sharif Sultanate as the broader objective of his struggle.
Timings could not be more opportune for Dr Qadri. Despite its public bravado, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is visibly brittle after the successive fiascos of Dawn Leaks, Panama Case, and Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue. Their recent tirade against the judiciary and the establishment is not helping their cause either. With the ouster of the elder Sharif from electoral politics, the younger Sharif is poised to carry the mantle of the PML-N in the next elections as prime ministerial candidate. Regarded as the architect of party strength in Punjab, he exercises a firm grip over party affairs in the province. Dislodging Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and embroiling him in the Model Town case with serious legal ramifications, poses an existential threat to the Sharif clan and PML-N politics.
Mainstream opposition parties sense the opportunity. After all, it makes political sense to pursue the high ideals of justice and the rule of law, and in the process gain critical political mileage.
Former president Asif Zardari — an acclaimed maestro of political manoeuvering and surprises — visited the Minhaj Secretariat twice. Thumping his fist on the dais repeatedly, he chanted slogans for the ouster of the Punjab CM. This is the same PPP which stood with the elder Sharif when similar demands were voiced by the PAT during the 2014 sit-in. If their stance was to safeguard democracy then, has the PPP consulted some other dictionary to reconsider the contours of democracy in 2018? With their electoral presence in disarray in Punjab, the PPP is desperate to regain its lost turf. Their current aggressive posture betrays aspirations other than their new found love for justice.
The PTI has been consistent in hounding the Sharifs from day one. Thus, Imran Khan’s close consultations and unwavering support for Dr Qadri falls in the pattern. But can we forget how the two brothers in arms fell out when the PAT left the PTI midstream at the height of the sit-in? However, such flimsy misunderstandings can be conveniently set aside in realpolitik if the prized booty is the head of probably the last bastion of PML-N fortress. If the Hudaibiya decision dampened PTI expectations regarding the political future of the Punjab CM, the Model Town case has the potential to deliver the same outcome with venom. The prospect of contesting Punjab without Shehbaz at the helm promises significant electoral dividends to the PTI.
Waiting with open arms for some months, the PML-Quaid has yet to welcome old comrades from the PML-N in hordes, as the ruling party displays some semblance of resilience. Shehbaz’s exclusion from the scene can reinvigorate their political fortunes and electoral relevance. The Jamaat-e-Islami, the Sunni Tehreek, Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party, and other participants of the APC, besides unifying for a worthy cause, are repositioning and launching their electoral campaigns for 2018. Missing the bandwagon will only do political harm.
Despite fluctuating perceptions, the 2018 elections appear as a tangible reality now. Political parties need to galvanise their internal ranks and street power to brace for a robust political campaign. The Model Town incident offers them an occasion to flex their muscles before the final thrust.
Spearheading a national alliance to replace the entrenched Sharif power, Dr Qadri is in a unique position to become relevant and potent on the national scene. Demanding resignations from the Punjab CM and the law minister, invoking a legal course by appealing to the CJ for suo-motu action and seeking Panama-style Joint Investigation Team, building public pressure with sit-in and agitation, he is prepared to utilise all avenues to subdue the Sharifs. Besides seeking retribution for Model Town victims, Dr Qadri must be relishing the prospect of leading political heavyweights from across the spectrum.
The Punjab government must be thinking hard these days. Recent humiliation of the PML-N government to grapple with the Islamabad sit-in at the centre must be haunting them. Can the Punjab government afford the breakdown of civil order and authority right at their nerve centre? Resorting to force will be disastrous, cowing down to pressure will expose vulnerability. With their firebrand law minister and a brigade of loud-mouthed spokesmen, a balancing act has traditionally not been the PML-N forte. It would be a surprise if they can bring some novelty out of their rusted political armour.
Flashed live on our television screens, the brutal massacre of 14 people, with more than a hundred injured, maimed and incapacitated by state troopers in broad daylight demands nothing less than justice. The Punjab government has failed to satisfy victims and aggrieved parties about its seriousness to pursue the case transparently. The report by the Baqir Najfi Commission has added fresh fuel to the already simmering cauldron of the Model Town tragedy. Whether Dr Qadri’s allies further their own political agenda in the garb of high ideals, or whether they invoke public, political, or legal options to seek elusive justice, the Model Town episode refuses to die down easily. Whether it sweeps away the rug under the Sharif rule is for time to determine. For now, the grand political chessboard is spread and the players are anticipating their moves.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2018.
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