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APC an abject failure?


Or an impending threat

The recently held opposition moot under the stewardship of the enigmatic Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman is being touted by most as a damp squib, or somewhat of an anti-climax.

Perhaps little that the APC (All Parties Conference) ostensibly achieved was bringing the opposition parties under one roof. Unsurprisingly no immediate plan to oust the government though street-agitation was approved.

This is partly owing to the inherent contradictions within the opposition parties, namely PML-N on how and to what extent to confront the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government.

Both PML-N and the PPP form the rump of the opposition parties' alliance. They are severely handicapped by their top leadership incarcerated, facing NAB (National Accountability Bureau) cases.

The father and son duo- Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari- are by and large on the same page. On the other hand, the same cannot be said with certainty about Nawaz- serving his sentence at Kot Lakhpat Jail Lahore- and his younger brother the PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif.

The ousted prime minister is in favour of a strident line against the government while the younger Sharif is much more cautious and restrained in his approach. He is careful not to ruffle any feathers.

The real giveaway however is the political heir apparent, newly minted vice president of the party Maryam Nawaz. She rarely minces her words.

The PML-N has never been a mass movement party of resistance, while the PPP, which perhaps has the gumption, is left with little grass roots support in Punjab

The other day she quite candidly dismissed her uncle's favourite hobbyhorse -the proposed charter on the economy-as a joke. She termed it as a 'mazak-e-maeeshaat'(joke with the economy) rather than a 'mesaak-e-maeeshaat' (charter of economy). Even during the course of the APC she called a spade a spade declaring that, 'our struggle is not against the selected prime minister but against those who selected him.'

The PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari's recent speech during the budget debate after being released on production orders by the speaker after initial dilly-dallying was surprisingly restrained. He offered the ruling party a permanent accord on the economy.

Despite consistent denials that no talks are taking place for a deal with Sharif to be allowed to leave the country for medical treatment along with his daughter, rumours persist. According to some reports an arrangement is being brokered through the good offices of the Amir of Qatar Mohammed bin Thani who recently visited Islamabad doling out 3 billion US dollars to the cash strapped PTI government.

Perhaps in this backdrop the APC taking place at all is in itself a miracle. Both the PPP and PML-N were initially unenthusiastic about its timing.

They even formally requested the Maulana to postpone it. But he remained adamant that the date for holding it will not be moved ahead.

The JUI chief himself outside the reckoning is perhaps in undue haste to launch an anti-government movement. He renewed his threat in the meeting to shutdown Islamabad as per his proposal.

But unfortunately for him, there were no takers within the opposition. Hence the move fell through.

Lucky for the ruling party, the opposition is log-jammed owing to its internal contradictions. The PML-N has never been a mass movement party of resistance, while the PPP, which perhaps has the gumption, is left with little grass roots support in Punjab.

Hence the opposition seems skeptical about the numbers it can muster on the streets against the government. The Maulana's proposal to resign en masse from the assemblies was also shot down. Even if the leadership approved, the majority of elected opposition members are unlikely to follow their leadership's diktat.

During the PTI's dharna in 2014 its MNAs dutifully submitted their resignations to the speaker. But when push came to shove, they failed to appear before him to physically verify their resignations.

The only concrete step announced by the APC was to oust the Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani 'through constitutional means'. The opposition has the combined strength to dislodge the Chairman Senate who ironically was elected early this year courtesy Asif Ali Zardari.

Perhaps the opposition will use it as a bargaining chip with the government but it may not like to further alienate the establishment that was seen as the backer of the move to bring him in the first place.

It is difficult to agree with various critics of the APC that it was a flop. The very fact that the Maulana was able to bring the opposition on one platform is a big achievement.

In the Maulana the opposition has found a unifying force that is capable of sewing an anti-government alliance. After the demise of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan in 2003 no such person existed. The Nawabzada was famous for cobbling together anti-government alliances of disparate political forces

The present opposition alliance will continue to pose a permanent threat to the PTI government. Their backs driven to the wall opposition leaders will choose their timing to hit at the government's soft underbelly- the economy's management (or rather mismanagement).

The Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who after being appointed member of the economic steering committee has for the first time spoken on the government's efforts to stabilise the economy. He has blamed 'fiscal mismanagement' for the country's economic woes.

As it should be, he has supported the present government's moves to bring the economy back on rails saying that it has gone for difficult but quintessential decisions for long-term benefits.

Nonetheless the malaise afflicting the economy goes much beyond fiscal mismanagement. The problems are endemic and more structural in nature. The same was pointed out by the finance czar Hafeez Sheikh who also spoke at the same event as the army chief.

The malignancy will not simply go away with a front-loaded IMF bailout package, which our economic managers will only get after presenting the approved budget to the lending agency's board.

There are structural problems with the economy that need to be strategically tackled. The Army Chief, the government and the opposition should get together to charter a much-needed fresh course.

In the meanwhile, figures speak for themselves. The country' economic outlook has sharply deteriorated during the past year.

Inflation is now in double digits, the rupee has declined by 50 per cent since 2017 and 18 per cent this year. Gas, electricity and fuel prices have skyrocketed. The GDP growth in the next financial year is estimated to be merely around 2 or at the most 3 per cent.

This is a recipe for disaster for a country not used to double-digit inflation. In this dire situation the misery of the common man and the shrinking middle classes is not hard to imagine.

This is not the time for sabre-rattling but rather for introspection for the ruling party. The opposition has kept the door open for negotiations and developing a consensus by not immediately going into agitation mode.

Khan, rather than being hoisted by his own petard should listen to voices of sanity and replace container politics with consensual arrangements before it is too late.
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Publication:Pakistan Today (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 29, 2019
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