PDM Meeting: Why Criticism Of PPP Is Unfair

PDM Meeting: Why Criticism Of PPP Is Unfair
The marathon meeting of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)'s leadership resulted in a stalemate of sorts. Whilst the mainstream media played up the internal discussions, the final press conference was more sombre and a clear admission of the difference of strategy among the alliance's leading parties i.e. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The PPP has asked for more time to contemplate and decide on the long march and resignations from the assemblies demanded by PML-N and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F). Meanwhile, the punditry on television channels jumped at the opportunity and saw this 'split' as juicy material for their shows. Many were quick to predict the end of PDM.

It is true that such public display of disagreement is not good for the optics as the government and its supporters are likely to exploit the situation to their benefit, overlooking the reasons why this alliance came into being in the first place. This is why Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry was seen celebrating this divide on TV. However, pundits and the partisan loyalists of PML-N on social media are missing the larger point. An alliance striving for full restoration of democracy and civilian supremacy should not act in an authoritarian manner. Despite their differences, the PDM continues to be intact, which is a welcome sign.

To be fair, the PPP has much to lose if it follows the Nawaz-Maryam nuclear option. It will lose its stakes in the current dispensation, including the Sindh government and the potential chairmanship of the upper house of the parliament. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that resignations would result in the dismantling of the hybrid regime that governs Pakistan.

More worryingly, even if a fresh election is called, who will ensure that the establishment will remain neutral and refrain from the political engineering that PDM has accused it of undertaking in 2018? Former president and co-chair of PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, has a point. In-house change in the Punjab and centre is a constitutional route and given the growing unpopularity of the PTI government and by extension its benefactors, there is a likelihood that the establishment may take a few steps back and withdraw its brazen support to a fledgling  government. Needless to say, all such scenarios are speculative and we don't know what the generals are thinking.

The truth is that we are only two years away from the general elections, and PDM can exert substantive pressure to ask for a fair deal instead of rocking the system, as such moves in the past have resulted in direct military interventions -- which is the last thing Pakistan can afford. The PPP knows this more than any other party as the 1977 agitation against alleged election rigging was used by the then junta to take charge of the country for the next 11 years. This is why caution is important and going over all the options is necessary before a final strategy is agreed upon. The PML-N supporters on social media are well advised to hold their horses. There is no denying that Nawaz Sharif's narrative is winning in the Punjab and beyond, but that cannot succeed without the PML-N organising its rank and file and building cadres on the ground.

Thus far, the PDM has not turned into a mass movement against the domination of army and judiciary. Trends and hashtags are no substitute for mass mobilisation, as is evident from the lackluster PDM rally held in Lahore during December 2020. Borrowing Maulana Fazlur Rahman's madrassa power has its own pitfalls. Bickering in public is OK as long as it does not revive the ugly conflicts of 1990s. This is why the major parties of the PDM need to sit back and rethink the options before them. It is true that political parties strive to attain power, but they have a greater responsibility: of strengthening a political culture which is democratic, dilaogue-oriented and where disagreements are not viewed as enmities.

It is too early to say whether the PDM has failed, but the longer it takes to presents a unified strategy and win over the populace burdened by inflation and unemployment, the faster its credibility will dissipate among the public.
Founding Editor

The writer is founding editor of NayaDaur Media. Formerly, he was editor of Daily Times, The Friday Times and a broadcaster at Capital TV and Express News. He is the author of Delhi By Heart, The Fractious Path and Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and the Arts.