Unpacking the message By Arifa Noor


THE PDM finally met after days of discussion and speculation about their future course of action. It agreed to ignore the outliers but also decided to allow the bridge-builder to reach out to them, within parliament. The government is still the greater evil, despite the great betrayal.

The outliers responded by also announcing their intent to ignore the principled democrats but they are not going to snub the bridge-builder, it seems.

And herein lies the state of the opposition. But the build-up to this was far more exciting than the decisions, which finally emerged. For within a short span of a week or so we had Shehbaz Sharif playing bridge-builder, only to have Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Maryam Nawaz swoop in and subject him to a rude awakening. This was followed by Shehbaz Sharif’s grand interview in which he bared his soul and his vision (which he is yet to share with his elder brother). And on the sidelines we had various second-tier leaders from all the parties speak of chances of reconciliation and confrontation and the kitchen sink.

But now that some — only some — of the dust has settled down, here are the key takeaways:

From the streets to parliament: In some ways, the PDM’s decisions are reminiscent of those of Imran Khan, who is seen as an untraditional politician. As he headed to parliament after having thundered and raged in his dharna, so too is the PDM, having in much the same way threatened and predicted resignations and fresh elections. The only difference is that the PDM learnt far more quickly that resignations were easier to talk about than deliver and its actions show it’s learnt the lesson just as Khan did.

The current difference of opinion between Maryam and Shehbaz only provides for entertainment.

Hence, it may have announced a new schedule for jalsas but these power shows will no longer have the bite the earlier ones did. For one, a major party will be missing and more importantly, the alliance itself is not talking of sending the government home.

The PDM knows now, as does the PPP, that the days of a countdown for the government are over. And in order to keep the politicians in its ranks in line, the leadership has to return to parliament and wait for the next elections.

This means whatever ‘oppositioning’ has to be done will take place on the floor of parliament. And for this the PDM needs the PPP, even if it may have decided to not invite them to the jalsa stage. Hence, its decision to allow Shehbaz Sharif to engage the PPP for the budget session.

In other words, for the foreseeable future, Maryam Nawaz and Abbasi will continue to rail about the great PPP betrayal but inside the hallowed halls, the situation may be different.

Dynasty: The original title belonged to a soap so popular its hefty videocassettes were played up and down on VCRs in Pakistani homes in an era before streaming services and even the age of entrenched political dynasties. But by now, family politics and rivalries dominate our national stage — move over, Carringtons and Corbys, for we have our own families “where people [are] in conflict but [love] each other in spite of everything”.

Read: RED ZONE FILES: Is the PDM chapter closed?

But the current difference of opinion between Maryam and Shehbaz Sharif like the television show only provides for entertainment. For if they are this contradictory and this public about the future course of action, chances are that Nawaz Sharif hasn’t weighed in on either position. It’s noteworthy that in this current confusion, no one has said what the Noonies’ Quaid thinks or wants. So everyone in the party is holding forth. A senior leader, Rana Tanveer, has even commented in a show on Hum TV that Nawaz Sharif should instruct the party and clear this confusion.

That Sharif senior has not made his views evident can be judged by the manner in which the difference in opinion was rarely expressed in the past once he had weighed in. For example, once he decided to return to Lahore via GT Road after his disqualification, it was said to have made Shehbaz Sharif very uncomfortable but the latter never said anything publicly. And later, when the party was following the strategy of mufahimat (rapprochement) and voted for the law allowing the extension in the services chief’s tenure, Maryam Nawaz kept her peace. If the daughter and brother are aamnay saamnay (poles apart) in their views, it is because they haven’t been told what the future policy will be. The Krystle-Alexis angle plays out in the shadows of the patriarch in the television series too, though it’s what kept the viewers enthralled.

Conflict and compromise: Both begin with the same letter, as do mufahimat and muzahmat (resistance). The distance between the two is not really that great as most politicians know. No wonder then that Maryam Nawaz also said — in rather meaningful remarks — that if there is muzahmat, there will be mufahimat, adding that “power talks to power”. It indicates that even the non-conciliatory faction of the PML-N knows that eventually there will be talks. But more importantly, in these words, Maryam Nawaz seems to have given a message to her uncle as well as those with whom the party eventually wants to talk that negotiations will be held but once the PML-N can do so from a position of power, without really explaining what this position looks like.

Waiting for Khan: Opposition politics aside, it is still worth asking what the government is thinking. Merely celebrating the fissures with the opposition is not much of a policy but it seems there is little else on offer from those inhabiting Constitution Avenue. It requires far more than just a verbal offer to discuss legislation if the government is serious about engaging the opposition. But for this it will need to get off the NRO-nahi-doonga high horse, which is a tall, tall order for the prime minister.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2021