Was PDM Used As A Negotiating Chip By PPP?

Was PDM Used As A Negotiating Chip By PPP?
Imagine. Imagine if Pakistan People’s Party had agreed to tender resignations alongside the other 9 PDM parties. Imagine the shockwaves it would’ve sent across the highest echelons of Pakistan’s power corridors in Pindi and Islamabad both. 400 resignations-laden long march to Islamabad would’ve resulted in the form of new general elections to bring forth a new ruling setup. The current regime, operating on life support from overlords would have been jolted. Enter Asif Ali Zardari's pragmatism.

Asif Zardari’s refusal to resign from the assemblies has come as a definitive blow for the PDM. While it was foreseen by some in and outside the movement, it was PDM’s battering in Senate chairman elections & state intervention which had reignited concerns around opposition’s future strategy and its potency, or lack thereof. Since PPP had championed in-house change, the speculation was already in the air: that the PPP is inclined to hold on to its provincial government and reap rewards inside the system, rather than aim for a bigger payoff outside it.

There were, however, those inside PDM who believed that PPP would ultimately succumb to pressure for resignations, especially amidst cries of establishment intervention in Senate chairman election. It appears that PDM’s adoption of PPP’s steady in-house, systemic change was underpinned by the belief that Asif Zardari would deliver on resignations, when push came to shove. However, Zardari’s decision making was dominated by power considerations in the near future, not PDM’s longevity. This frustration was remarked by a senior PMLN figure in a private conversation, who argued that PDM had probably ‘depended too much’ on PPP to deliver. This is precisely why it is ludicrous to believe PPP came to an all-important meeting, simply to demand more time, for party’s internal deliberation.

If refusal to resign was foreseen by some, Zardari’s demand for PMLN’s supremo to return was not. Zardari made elder Sharif’s return a pre-requisite for Pakistan People’s Party’s resignation from assemblies. In many ways, Asif Zardari played a masterstroke on two fronts. First, he shifted the onus on Nawaz Sharif to lead the resignation-laden long march to Islamabad. By clubbing PPP’s resignation together with Nawaz’s return, he made sure that the former doesn’t take place anytime soon. By evening, Asif Zardari had, in a way, become the voice of regime supporters, on and off television. Second, it appears that PPP has also made political gains as a possible viable alternative to overlords in the current scheme of politics. The miltablishment’s success is dependent on an increasingly fragile coalition of public confidence and trust, coupled with subservient political parties.

Asif Zardari has all but ensured the PPP acts as that manageable political party in opposition, the missing piece in establishment’s puzzle, to stop hybrid system from falling under the weight of concerted street agitation and new general election. While PMLN’s strategy has been to hold military elites and agencies publicly accountable, PPP’s has been to target Imran Khan only. This layered approach which worked effectively earlier on, seems to have benefited the PPP more than it has PMLN, in a political life managed by the overlords. Was the PDM used as a card in negotiations with the establishment, by PPP? Time will reveal, but similar sentiments were echoed by a senior PDM figure.

The ball is now in Nawaz Sharif’s court. He can return to lead from jail and prompt PPP to resign. But the former is as unlikely to happen as the latter. For the moment, it seems Pakistan’s politics will remain subjugated to the perennial winner of all political contests in our land, while opposition and government continue to duel in a controlled Parliamentary democracy.

So close, yet so far.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.