The changing politics of Punjab

Mazhar Abbas

Punjab, historically lacks in producing leaders of national stature. Often they
come from smaller provinces.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto despite being from Sindh emerged as the most prominent leader in

Sharif’s entry into politics came to counter the myth of Bhuttos and Pakistan People’s
Party. The Sharifs from Punjab became its unopposed rulers. Now, after 30 years a man
from Mianwali, Imran Khan has become his biggest challenger in Punjab.

The PPP fighting hard to regain Punjab, is posing as if it is the real opposition to Pakistan
Muslim League- Nawaz. From the looks of it, the next election will be quite challenging, as
three different parties will battle for Punjab.

Before Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Punjab’s political leadership by and large remained a proxy of
the establishment. Stronger leaders came for Bengal, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan
—leaders like Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Maulana Mufti Mahmood, Sardar Attaullah Mengal and
Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo.

Pakistan Muslim League, after the death Quaid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan, divided into
different faction as leaders from Punjab, could not counter Bengali leadership of Muslim
League like Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy.

What happened between 1948 to 1958, was disaster for Pakistan, and political failures
combined with civil-military bureaucracy conspiracy led to the imposition of first Martial Law
in 1958, which through One Unit, laid the foundation of what happened in 1971.

When Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah challenged Ayub Khan in the Presidential election, she could
only win from Karachi and Dhakka, while Punjab went with Ayub.

Elections in 1970 were a turning point. Bhutto after leaving Ayub's cabinet made PPP the
most popular party of Punjab within three years --1967 to 1970. He used nationalistic and
anti-India slogans beside 'roti,kapra and makan.' In the aftermath of break up of Pakistan,
Punjab's political importance become the decisive factor in ruling Islamabad. It still is the
key factor.

Bhutto’s rule ended with the imposition of Martial Law on July 5, 1977. Zia promised elections
in 90-days, without knowing Bhutto is still popular in Sindh and Punjab, which led to election
postponement. Later, Bhutto was hanged in a controversial trial and Zia never faced any
serious challenge till his deah in a plane crash on August 17, 1988.

In the post Bhutto era Punjab politics has revolved around Sharifs even when they were not
in power. Nawaz Sharif, created history in 2013, when he become the Prime Minister for the
third time. While the duo Sharif (Nawaz and Shahbaz) rarely lost Punjab since 1985. Will
they be luck this time in the aftermath of 'Panama papers,' and challenger from Mianwali,
Imran Khan.

Historically, Punjab remains proxy of the then Zia establishment. Sharif's political career
started with Tehreek-e-Istiqlal (TI) which under the leadership of retired Air Marshal Asghar
Khan was launched as an alternate to Bhutto and PPP, to make inroads in Punjab.

Zia wanted someone from Punjab, preferably from central Punjab, who could not only
counter PPP, but, also emerged as national leader. Zia, knew that even after Bhutto's
hanging his widow and daughter could create problems in his future game plan.

Baray Mian Sahibb, was not interested in politics nor wanted his sons to join politics. But,
he was anti-Bhutto, because his factories had been nationalized by him during PPP,
government. The issue was exploited by Zia, and a senior PPP leader revealed an interesting
story of Nawaz Sharif's entry into politics, first, through establishment and later on his own.

An unimpeachable PML-N source disclosed that Mian Nawaz Sharif for the first time was
offered Ministry in Zia's cabinet while he was the finance Secretary of Tehreek-e-Istiqlal.
It was late Majeed Nizami, who convinced Mian Sharif to play a role in politics as Punjab
lacked political leadership and as a businessman he could become a force against feduals.

"One day Mr Wazir Ali father of Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who was the TI central leader was sitting
with Mian Sharif, when Nawaz Sharif entered and told him about the offer. Wazir Ali advised
him not to join him elections are due," the source said, adding that Sharif said, he couldn't
see elections in near future.

"Few days later Mian Sahib took oath as Sports Minister, " the source said.

Later, the establishment build Sharif's political image but since political sentiments were
high after Bhutto's execution and Bhutto ladies were in exile, a Sindhi politician, Mohammad
Khan Junejo was made the Prime Minister after non-party based elections.

A section of Pakistani left and progressives also backed Sharif as they believe that through
industrialization feudalism would get weaker and pave way for progressive politics and
strengthen democracy.

Junejo lost Zia's confidence after Geneva Accord, and the establishment got him sacked.
This paved way for Sharif to get control over Muslim League, it paid off with the support
of General Zia and former ISI chief Lt. General Hameed Gul.

Zia first held referendum in 1984 to get some legitimacy and later elections on non-party
based, in a bid to keep PPP out of politics and secondly to have weak democratic system.

When Benazir decided to end her exile, Zia never thought she would get such a reception.
It scared both Zia and Gul, and this led to the formation of Islami Jamohri Ittehad, IJI led
by Nawaz Sharif.

After 1988, Sharifs never looked back and till 1990, Sharifs and the establishment were
hand in hand against PPP, to dilute Bhutto's myth. He was brought parralel to Benazir as
national leader while he was the Chief Minister. Later, he was made President of IJI, the
brain child of former ISI chief, Gen. Hameed Gul.

First crack between Sharif and establishment came when he did not back ohis mentor
Gen. Gul, as army chief.

However, credit goes to Sharif, that he turned PML-N, a traditionally pro-establishment
party into a political party and during nine years of Gen. Musharraf resisted the establi-
shment pressure.

Being a politician from Punjab, luck also favours him, time and again. But, experience
and anti-establishment stance during Musharraf's era also brought him and Benazir close
to an extent that they signed historic, 'Charter of Democracy,' in 2006.

Sharif was also lucky that in 1993 the Supreme Court restored his government, which
was dismissed on corruption charges, but, in 1990 and 1996, it did not restore PPP
government, sacked on the same charges. However, he remained unlucky that in 2001,
SC in Zafar Ali Shah's case gave legitimacy to Musharraf's coup.

Mian Sahib practically went unchallenged particularly in Punjab, before the rise of man
from Mianwali, Imran Khan. It took him 20 years to get recognition as a national leader
and that too from Punjab, despite having a huge Pashtoon following.

How far has Imran Khan led PTI been able to cause a dent in the strong constituency
of the powerful Sharifs, depends on the outcome of the Panama Case, but some senior
PML-N leaders believe that even if decision goes against them, the party will sweep
the polls.

" In 2008, elections when Mian Sahib was disqualified we fought and won Punjab on
Mian Sahib's photograph. I am sure we will win the legal battle but are ready to accept
any decision of the Supreme Court, and rest assured PML-N, would not lose Punjab,'
a senior PML(N) leader told this writer, on condition of anonymity.

National politics has now completely switched to Punjab, particularly after the assass-
ination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 PPP could not regain Punjab. Infact in 2013, it
completely lost the province in a most humiliating manner.

Thus, in a way rise of Imran Khan in 2011, is considered by many political pundits as
good omen for Pakistan, for different reasons. In the absence of Benazir, the country
needed an alternate political leader and ideally, someone from Punjab.

Imran had grabbed the political opportunity and exploited PPP's bad governance and
Sharif's corruption as issues. Imran's rise came as a result of continuity of democracy
and if it continues it may also break the strong biradri system.

—The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. He tweets

Source: https://www.geo.tv/latest/123639-The-changing-politics-of-Punjab
Wednesday Dec 14, 2016

Can Imran Khan win Punjab?

Mazhar Abbas

With only one year left in the next general elections, for the first time in 40 years, politics would
not revolve around pro- and anti-Bhutto, but around pro- and anti-Sharif, particularly in Punjab,
where the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, PML-N has a firm control since 1984.

Can the rising popularity graph of Imran Khan be a matter of concern for the Sharif family, who
many believe were brought into politics to end Bhutto's politics in the late 1970s.

The late Benazir Bhutto, despite huge popularity, could not cause major dent to the Sharifs for
three reasons: (1) Establishment sided with Sharifs, by backing Sharif-led Islami Jamhoori Ittehad
(IJI); (2) She did not make Punjab her political base; and (3) Sharif's policy to go after vulnerable
development and progress enabled them to make ground in Punjab politics. Despite criticism, the
politics of Motorway and Metro did attract Punjab's middle class.

Imran Khan has come a long way to this position where he now feels that he has a good chance of
causing upset in Sharif's stronghold i.e. Punjab. The reasons behind Imran's popularity are: (1)
New voters particularly youth, women and even families who prior to 2013 elections had never cast
their votes; (2) Decline in PPP's politics after Benazir Bhutto's assassination; and (3) his reputation
as Mr Clean and “yet-to-be-tested” politician.

Imran takes the credit for making corruption a national issue and has never been so confident of
clean sweeping the upcoming polls as he seems after pronouncement of the Supreme Court verdict
in Panama case.

But, politics is not merely all about issues or ideology, as it involves a lot of skills and strategy too.
Imran and his PTI do stand a chance, provided he plays his cards well and does not make same
mistakes that he committed in 2013.

Taking few lessons from 2013 elections, he has now practically abandoned the romance of an over-
night change through new, young and clean faces. He is now going after traditional electables to
get maximum seats in the Punjab. There is an element of risk involved in it and that is one of the
reasons why there is a mixed reaction in his party's rank and file over accepting PPP's former federal
or provincial ministers and advisers, etc.

In another development, he has also brought major changes in party's election rules in a bid to
minimise risk of any major split in the party. But, unlike in 2013, there doesn’t seem much enthusiasm
among party workers and leaders about the June-12 party elections. Some of the party founding
members like Hamid Khan, who is author of the PTI constitution, are not even in the race.

These two major changes in Imran's politics of 'Tabdeeli’ (Change) from the one in 2013, came in
view of the setbacks he received in the last elections. Whether these are the right moves or not
need serious debate as the change in his tactics is contradictory to his claim of anti-status quo

His main challenger, PML-N or Sharifs, despite being in power for long and still having a firm control
in Centre and Punjab, have started feeling the heat. It may not be for the first time that Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif or the PML-N is facing accountability. Even if we include nine years of former president,
General (retd) Pervez Musharraf's government, the party and the family never faced such an
embarrassment before an independent judiciary for which the PML-N and Sharifs also fought.

This is also for the first time that they are facing accountability in their own tenure and if the Joint
Investigation Team (JIT) summons Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz,
it would be for the first time that the PM and his children would go through a judicial review in his
own government. It has its own positives in a democratic system, but at the same time, it can also
ruin his long political career.

The PML-N still has an advantage as it has powerful organisation at the union council level, which
resulted in major victories in the last local government, Cantonment Boards and by-elections.

Normally, political surveys are not very reliable, but people generally believe that if there is a serious
challenger for Sharifs in today's politics, it is Imran Khan. Even the PML-N leaders also admit it in
their private conversations.

What kind of team Imran is looking for to win over the Punjab? His aggressive politics has also helped
him in keeping the momentum, but his biggest drawback is his number 2 and 3, who are not on one
page over the party issues, which causes problems for him in the Punjab.

At present, he is depending on three key figures in Punjab: Jehangir Tareen, Shah Mehmood Qureshi
and Aleem Khan. All three are part of his panel. Even Chaudhry Sarwar, Ejaz Chaudhry and Mahmood
Rasheed are not included in his 'core team’.

Qureahi joined the PTI months after he left the PPP, when he quit as foreign minister during the last
PPP government. It was the right choice for both Imran as well as Qureshi. He not only has strong
constituency in southern Punjab, but also has his followers as a 'Pir’ in interior of Sindh.

Qureshi soon became the second most powerful leader in the PTI, after Imran. But, within the PTI,
he has serious differences with another powerful leader, someone who is more close to PTI chairman
than him Shah Mehmood, and he is none other than Jehangir Tareen.

In order to avoid internal rift, Imran decided to include both in his panel and on the same position.
The two leaders have been given the task to win over the electables in Punjab, as the PTI leader
knows that road to Islamabad starts from Lahore.

The trio of Imran, Shah Mehmood and Jehangir Tareen has so far been able to create dent in the PPP,
but unable to break the PML-N. Prominent among those who had joined the PTI from the PPP include
Sumsam Bokhari, Raja Riaz, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Ghanzaffar Gill and Gondal brothers.

But, Imran wanted someone like Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Nadeem Afzal Chan and Qamaruzaman Kaira,
the three outspoken PPP faces and stalwarts in Punjab.

Early this week, two more PPP leaders, Gondal brothers joined the PTI. Nazar Gondal remained a federal
minister in the PPP's previous government while his brother was an MNA. Few days back, former federal
minister Firdous Ashiq Awan also joined the PTI.

The PPP is worst affected as it is fast losing its leaders and workers in Punjab and job for old guards like
Yusuf Raza Gilani, Qamaruzaman Kaira, Nadeem Afzal Chan or Aitzaz Ahsan has become more challenging.

There are also reports that many more PPP leaders are in contact with PTI leadership particularly Shah
Mehmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen and likely to join the PTI soon.

Many within the PTI support the electables politics, and believe that if Imran really want to break the
mighty power base of Sharifs, he must go with the electables, and once he gets power he can bring
about a major change in the system.

Others say that the PML-N would have an advantage if Imran goes in the elections with electables as
Sharifs and the PML-N are better strategists and can place better candidates. If Imran decides to go
with young and committed PTI leaders, workers would be more motivated and charges.

There is nothing wrong in accepting leaders from other parties, provided they did not carry any 'corrupt
baggage’. The danger of accepting controversial people with a track record of joining one party or
another is the chance of them leaving the PTI during crisis.

Imran has created a very strong vote bank of his own in almost every constituency. He even made
inroads into the MQM constituencies in Karachi. If his party secured nearly 80 lakh voters in 2013
elections, it is because of the youth, women and families, majority of who came to polling stations
for the first time, just because of Imran.

So, one wonders why he went after electables when the PTI emerged as the second biggest party not
on the basis of seats it won, but vote it pulled.

Therefore, Imran has taken another risk of playing on the PML-N strong point of the politics of elec-
tables, but question remains whether he will be able to win Punjab in a bid to win Pakistan in 2018?

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, June 11, 2017

Nawaz, Imran the political adversaries

Mazhar Abbas

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has never faced a political challenger as Imran Khan, in
his 40 years political career including the one he faced from late Benazir Bhutto, as
the PTI chairman now sees himself as Sharif's alternate in politics, particularly in

There has always been an element of 'respect,' for each other among them, but in the last one
year, the political rivalry become too tense and personal and likely to get worst and more tense
before the next general elections.

The situation is far more different today than it was in 2013 elections, when PM Sharif first visited
Imran to inquire about his injury and health and termed him a good political opponent.

He later met him at his Banigala residence in the same year, when sources said, was former army
chief Raheel Sharif asked Sharif to persuade Imran not to oppose army operation in Noth
Waziristan, as he was against military options. Imran accepted the request and welcomed Sharif.

Imran attended the APC called by the PM, after Army Public School, Peshawar massacre in December
2014, but by the time they become serious political adversaries after 126-days PTI dharna at
Islamabad. They did shake hand in the parliament when Chinese president during his visit to Pakistan,
addressed the joint session. "Your dharna caused Pakistan lots of damage,' Sharif said to Imran with
a smile.

It is still a long way to go for Imran to oust the mighty political power of the Sharifs, whom many
critics called 'Takht-e-Lahore.' They have been center of power politics since early 80s, and went
through many political crises, but the present is by far the toughest for the family and the party.

The PML-N and the Sharifs blame one man for all this and considered him the 'tool' of conspiracy.
Imran thinks otherwise and believes what Bhuttos and PPP could not do despite their political
experience, he did it in 20 years of his politics.

Benazir, despite her charisma and strong personality, never posed a serious challenge for Sharif.
One of the reasons has been her failure to make Punjab, as political base, which her father Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto always considered.

Imran, on the other hand despite his constituency in Mianwali, always regarded as typical Lahori
and had spent his best days in Lahore's Zaman Park, where he also formed Pakistan Tehreek-e-
Insaf in 1996.

Last elections in 2013 was an eye-opener for the Sharifs and though the PML-N won polls and got
maximum seats from Lahore, as well its inner circles taken by surprise, the kind of votes Imran
and PTI had pulled. It was a wake-up call for the Sharifs, but they did not wake up even after
October 30, 2011 historic jalsa of the PTI, the biggest since BB's April 10, 1986.

Today, he is the only challenger for Sharif and left the PPP and others far behind. This may still not
be easy for the man from Mianwali, as he still has to win elections in 2018, with or without Nawaz
Sharif. One thing is certain, Imran's politics has caused the most serious dent in Sharif's political
base, both in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the two provinces where PML-N has strong pockets.
It lost the KP in 2013. The Sharifs have to do a lot in retaining its politics as well as its strong
political base intact.

Therefore, as political adversary, Nawaz Sharif's camp considered Imran a serious threat. In the
last four years of PML-N government and particularly after 'Panama leaks, the political rivalry has
turned more personal than political, as Imran's politics led to a situation where Sharif family left
with no other option but to appear before Joint Investigation Team, a bid too humiliating.

The situation had never been as tense between the two as it is today. In fact, they were political
allies till 2008, when Nawaz Sharif's decision to participate in the elections led to the break-up of
alliance, comprising PML-N, PTI, JI and some other parties, who had earlier decided not to parti-
cipate in any polls under former president Pervez Musharraf.

Sharif once welcomed Imran's decision to enter politics whom he once regarded a cricketing legend
and his hero. Since Mian Sahib also has special love for the game and used to play in their early
days, he once termed Imran's entry into politics as a good omen. Imran, on the other hand, also
used to admire Sharif's development work in the Punjab and also supported his Shaukat Khanum
Hospital project.

Even when Imran becomes critical to Sharif and Benazir's politics and supported Musharraf, the two
opposition leaders never realized that he was emerging as a political threat to their politics. Imran,
too, often feel frustrated in his early days in politics when he got one seat of his own from Mianwali
in 2002, and all his candidates faced humiliating defeat.

In 2007, Sharif and Imran again came close to each other in an alliance and decided that they would
boycott any elections under former president Musharraf and jointly criticized Musharraf-Benazir's NRO.

BB was a powerful leader and when she decided to return and ditched Musharraf and his advice not
to return, she was received by a million crowd. Her rising popularity once again brought NS-IK close.

She convinced NS to participate in the elections and the two agreed to oust Musharraf through
elections. The move surprised both Imran and Jamaat-e-Islami, who blamed Nawaz for breaking the
accord. Since then Imran never looked back and today, he posed the challenge, which the Sharifs
have never come across in their political career.

Can Sharif bounce back from a situation where more than his political career is at stake and that, too,
from a man who once had been too junior in politics, but change the political discourse through his
own votebank? The Sharifs are down, but are they politically out as well. We still have to wait for next
polls. Irrespective of the outcome of Panama, politics should not go so low as to become rivalry or

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, July 24, 2017

The post-verdict politics

Mazhar Abbas

While the legal experts are divided over disqualification of prime minister Nawaz Sharif despite
Supreme Court 5-0 verdict, its political fallout would be far-reaching, depending on how the
political parties and parliament react.

As one senior politician put it, 'There are great opportunities in it also for the political parties, but
only if they want to seize it.' They can go and formulate a law for 'across the board' accountability
through a complete, independent, transparent and autonomous accountability forum.

As situation stands today, Pakistan will have three prime minister, in the next one year. A make-
shift PM followed by another PM till June, and then the Interim PM and set up for holding 2018
general elections. It would have been better, if the PML-N would have picked someone within
the NA as PM till next elections, without disturbing Punjab.

All eyes are now on the Punjab which, for the last 33 years had sided with the Sharifs, both when
they were hand in gloves with the establishment and even after Musharraf's nine years, regained
power. Punjab has been the center of power politics and the Sharifs’ dynastic politics as well which,
for the first time is facing serious challenges of 'survival.' It is true that historically the Punjab go
with the 'power', where power will go this time.

The Punjab is watching these political developments closely as against the mixed reaction in other
three provinces. In Sindh, people generally say that for the first time any superior court had given
verdict against a Punjabi PM. Surprisingly, the nationalist parties in Balochistan backed Sharif while
in Sindh, they also demanded accountability of former president Asif Zardari. Similarly, In Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI and JI have already appeared in coalition cracks, when the PTI ended
its coalition with Aftab Sherpao's Qaumi Watan Party, while ANP, called upon all the parties to
make parliament strong.

Reports from the Punjab suggest that people generally are in a state of shock. They had trust in
Sharif and never thought such allegations come against them. Secondly, they still want to listen
to the Sharif’s side of the story. The PML-N has never been the party who has the capacity of
launching mass scale agitation, but there had been protest demonstration in some cities.

Punjab still sees the Sharifs from different perspective and believes that as compared to other
rulers, Nawaz and Shahbaz did a lot on development front. They still believe that if all those stories
of corruption and Panama papers are true, it would be disappointing for them.

Nawaz at present is being seen as a 'wounded lion,' and against what he had spoken Saturday,
his speeches at public meetings would be closely watched and monitored. He knows the only
political boost, he can now get would be from the people whom he once called People's JIT.

Problems for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is not yet over as in the next six weeks National
Accountability Bureau, NAP under the oversight of the Supreme Court judge, would be filing
multiple reference against Sharif and his children, son in-law, ex-finance minister. This can even
lead to formal registration of cases, arrest and trial, which need to be completed in six months.

It appeared as the more he gets aggressive and defiant the he may fall in trouble. What is the
choice before a man, three times prime minister, ousted from parliamentary politics for life? He
felt humiliated, insulted, which reflected from his first outburst since the verdict. "I was not
expecting this kind of treatment,' he said in an emotional manner.

He also knows how lethal and aggressive could be his arch-political rival Imran, as he celebrated
his legal victory and saw Nawaz's disqualification from the SC. Can he and his party would be
able to translate it into a political victory through ballot particularly in the Punjab would be a
treat to watch.

Their first test will be in NA-120 and both the PML-N and PTI have already nominated their
candidates. The PML-N strongest man is Shahbaz Sharif against PTI potential candidate Yasmeen
Rashid. It will not be the contest between Shahbaz and Rashid, but between Nawaz and Imran.
Victory to either would be seen as a reaction of the people over SC verdict.

If Nawaz and Shahbaz, manage to keep the party intact till the next general elections against all
odds, the PTI would need to work hard and more organised. In Punjab, the PTI may get some
support from the PML-Q and Jamaat-e-Islami, but the two parties’ own vote bank has fallen a lot
in the last few years.

NS’s utmost task would be to see Shahbaz win NA-120, which has fallen vacant after the NS de-
seated. Lahore has been Sharifs political base since they entered politics in 1984.

Nawaz took a risk of nominating Shahbaz next PM after he gets himself elected from his seat i.e.
NA-120. Perhaps, he considered that only Shahbaz could keep the party united, but his first and
utmost task would be to win the seat in a very different political atmosphere where his key rival
Imran Khan and the PTI would come with full force.

The PTI gave a jolt to the Sharifs in 2013 elections in Lahore and after the SC verdict Imran and
the PTI are confident of causing major upset in the Punjab. Whether they do it or not, is another
debate, depending on how Nawaz Sharif would campaign and how his voters would respond in
post-SC verdict.

The Sharifs and PML-N top leadership must have calculated the risk involved in both the nomi-
nations, Shahbaz and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, as there are inquiries and cases pending. Can the
PML-N afford another jolt before the next elections.

Besides, next six weeks and six months important for the Sharif's political career as we may see
change in the mood of the administration like the one we witnessed during JIT. We may also see
NAB and FIA in an ' independent mood.' All this could indicate what is coming up.

Will the Sharifs be able to retain their political base in the Punjab, as the Punjab has always been
divided and in the past had been stronghold of the PPP. The PTI now stands a good chance in the
southern Punjab, but not sure whether they will win central, as well, this time.

Next six months and a year would be full of politics and despite Nawaz Sharif's disqualification, it
would revolve around 'pro and anti Sharifs’. Politics is the game of opportunities and possibilities.
Who plays his cards well could be the ultimate winner.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, July 31, 2017

Emerging political scenario in 2017

Mazhar Abbas

‘Panamagate’ refuses to die as the New Year has begun with new bench of the Supreme Court,
which will start hearing petitions of Imran Khan and others from Wednesday. However, the new
chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar, has recused himself from the case. In all probability,
the outcome of the case will dominate the emerging political scenario in 2017, which even other-
wise is the electioneering year and we will witness lots of political happenings in the next 12

Both, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-
e-Insaf (PTI) are confident of winning the case, but it is good that both will accept the judgement,
at least this is what they say right now.

However, Imran Khan was disappointed when the previous bench, headed by former chief justice,
Anwar Zaheer Jamali, adjourned the hearing till the first week of January, and said, the new bench
would hear the petitions.

When the senior most judge, Justice Saqib Nisar, took the oath, he ended all kinds of speculations
over 'Panama case’, by keeping himself out of the bench. Whether elections will be held as per schedule
in 2018 or earlier, the battle for Islamabad will be between the ruling PML-N and opposition PTI, the
SC verdict on Panama will also determine the political career of both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,
his daughter Maryam Nawaz and also of Imran Khan.

Imran, who had lost his campaign over election rigging in 2013 after the Judicial Commission findings
in 2015, wants to win 'Panama case’, as his chances of victory in the next general elections has a lot
to do with the court verdict.

Defeat in this case will further reduce his chances of winning the upcoming elections, but a victory
could give a new lease of life to his party and he could go into polls with high spirits. On the other
hand, stakes are also high in the other camp. There’s a lot more than the political career of PM Sharif
which is under threat.

Any adverse ruling would seriously dent his political legacy, as he often sees his daughter taking over
power from him in future. But, the PML-N is ready to take the challenge, as the political battle between
the PML and the PTI has now entered the crucial phase and political temperature has also soared.

The kind of language being used by both sides during TV talk shows and in public meetings also reflects
rising tensions. The battle for Punjab is the battle for Islamabad. The PML-N has been ruling the
province since 1985 and has retired General Pervez Musharraf not staged a coup on Oct 12, 1999,
Sharifs could have enjoyed an uninterrupted rule. Musharraf's era had created a split in the party and
Chaudhrys of Gujrat sided with the former president as an alley.

However, for the first time, the Muslim League emerged as an opposition party, unlike in the past when
leaguers had the reputation of changing loyalties. But many who changed their loyalties during
Musharraf's period are now part of PML-N, something which went against Shairfs’ post-Musharraf politics.

Imran Khan, who also supported Musharraf from 1999 to 2002, not only regretted his association with
him but is also seriously challenging Sharifs’ political supremacy now. Thus, in 2017, the battlefield will
be Lahore, which since 1970s had witnessed major political transformation. Once it was the stronghold
of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It is the city where three major political
parties, PPP, PML and PTI were founded.

So, the city will witness one of the most crucial political battles in the next elections between the 'might
of Sharifs’, and the rise of Imran. Some PML-N leaders conceded that for the first time the party faced
serious political challenge in 2013 elections in Lahore, and the PTI did jolt the party. "In a way it was
good for the party, as competition always helps you correct your mistakes, said a PML-N leader on
condition of anonymity, as he criticised some of the party leaders.

Now where would stand the other mainstream political parties in this 'two-party battle’? The PTI has
practically replaced the PPP in Punjab, and the latter may witness some important party leaders leaving
it before the elections.

The decision of former president, Asif Ali Zardari, to take the centre-stage is something which had been
opposed by many leaders of the PPP Punjab. They had even suggested to Mr Zardari to either stay
away from the party or become the party's 'Rahbar’ (patron).

The only option for the PPP is the post-election scenario, as they are unlikely to stage a big comeback
in near future. In 2017, the party would try to regain some of its lost glory in southern Punjab and
sweep in Sindh including improving its position in Karachi.

While Imran Khan is confident that the PTI would retain its position in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, only an
anti-PTI alliance comprising PML-N, JUI-F, ANP and PPP could pose challenge to the PTI-JI alliance.

Therefore, we may see hectic political manoeuvring in 2017, in the post-Panama scenario. But, for the
first time, Karachi will be most unpredictable in the aftermath of a split in the MQM, between the MQM-Pakistan, MQM-
London and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). Will this split help any of the three or parties like PPP, JI and
PTI, is yet to be seen.

The year would determine the future political discourse for 2018. Thus, the visit of Imran Khan and his
stay in the city for three days clearly showed that he sees the party chances and has decided to hold
public meetings here in the next few months.

While there are little chances of any grand opposition alliance before the election, the PPP is at cross-
road right now. The only positive response which Mr Zardari has got was from the PML-Q’s Chaudhry
Shujaat Hussain, who met him recently. But, his own party's position in Punjab and elsewhere is not
much different from that of the PPP in Punjab.

The Supreme Court, since the historic lawyer movement, had taken some historic decisions. It has
done what the successive governments and Parliament have failed to do, like holding of local govern-
ment elections or population census on time as a constitutional obligation. In fact, they failed and put
the burden on the SC.

While the mainstream opposition parties, led by Imran Khan, and even persons like Sirajul Haq, have
stated that if they did not get justice from the SC, they would settle the issue on roads, i.e. agitation.
For them, ‘justice’ means decision in their favour.

Thus, in many ways we have not only tried to politicise the case but also the judiciary, something
which could have negative repercussion on the independence of judiciary.

The year 2017 will be the test of political maturity, independence of judiciary, autonomous Election
Commission of Pakistan, constituted with consensus and the test of parliament to adopt consensus
'electoral reforms’, and implement it before the next polls.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, January 3, 2017

New trends in politics

Mazhar Abbas

In the last couple of years, we have witnessed new trends in the field of politics, which have not
only brought new class of voters but also changed the dynamics of our political culture. As 2017
is the electioneering year, we may see rise in voters’ percentage and more aggression in the

Definitely, it will have an impact on the next general elections particularly in the post-Panama
scenario, which is a non-issue for the ruling PML-N, but a game-changer for the opposition.

Allegations are being traded regularly, which at times turn into character assassination. Politics
had matured when Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed the 'Charter of Democracy’, which laid
the foundation of showing tolerance and burying the past. However, the credit for the new trends
in politics goes to Imran Khan.

The new trends include change in the style of politics, protest, use of modern means of communi-
cation in which the most effective remains the use of 'twitter’, and other means of social media,
which also saw decline in politics of violent agitation. Various religious parties, including those who
still don't consider democracy as a means to change the government and stay away from elections,
are using private TV channels and social media quite effectively for running their ideological campaigns.

The electronic media remains the 'hallmark' of changing trends and, at times, are even divided in
pro- and anti- camps. What we lack is a debate like that of the US presidential campaigns, in the
media. The media not only helps in raising political consciousness but also makes ministers and
legislatures more accountable. With the passage of time, one expects more maturity both in the
media and among masses.

If we are to name one politician has used the media most effectively is veteran Sheikh Rashid Ahmad
and Dr Tahirul Qadri. The use of media though brought politics to drawing-room, but because of its
huge reach, proved to be more effective.

Now, if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) manages some 'check and balance’, on the media
publicity through paid advertisement and use of resources, it will help in positive use of the media.

The new voting trend and the new voters had surprised many in the 2013 elections and caused major
dent in the myth of two-party contest between the PPP and the PML-N.

This changing trend not only surprised the PPP but also the MQM in Karachi and the PML-N.

For the first time, families went to the polling stations and thousands of them voted for the first time.
All this not only generated interest but also proved to be a challenge for mainstream parties.

No wonder the results surprised the party like MQM in Karachi, when relatively new party like the PTI
got eight lakh votes in the port city, the MQM stronghold. Similarly, it surprised the PML-N in Punjab
and Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

A record number of new votes were cast in the last elections and the recent report of the ECP showed
that a large number of new votes had been registered. If the overseas Pakistanis are given a chance,
the number of percentage can create new record of voting percentage. Modern means of electioneering
like political songs were most effectively used by the PPP after the return of the late Benazir Bhutto in
1986, for the first time. Leading singers like Salman Ahmad, Abrarul Haq, Esa Khelvi and others were
not only seen performing in public meetings but some of them also joined politics.

Initially, Imran faced criticism both from secular and liberal parties as well as from religious parties for
making politics non-serious through songs and dances, but, later on, the trend forced others to adopt
some of these means to draw the media attention.

While politics no more revolve around the ideological basis of 'right and left’, except for among int-
ellectuals, it has become more personalised and character-assassination, rather than issue-oriented.

The means of protest have also changed and it was good to see that instead of burning buses and
public properties, wheel-jam strike, the political parties now stage 'dharnas’. However, there has been
decline in participation of people in public meetings.

Similarly, there has also been decline in the arrest of political workers, putting political leaders under
detention in isolation camps or in solitary confinement. However, for the first time the international
human rights bodies have raised the issue of putting some MQM-London workers in custody without
any charge.

In 2015 and 2016, there had also been incidents in which political workers had been killed in custody.
But, if one compares it with the days of former military dictators like General Ziaul Haq or even the
Bhutto regime, there is remarkable improvement.

One expects large-scale participation in public rallies and meetings in 2017 and 2018, being the
election years.

The PPP-led opposition in the Senate played a historic role in keeping a fine ‘check and balance’.
Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani gave the upper house of the parliament a new look, and quality
debates were witnessed there on major issues.

There has been criticism of the performance of National Assembly, but a closer look clearly shows
that its performance has not been as bad as it appears, specially keeping in view the handling of the
year 2014 dharna.

While the PML-N believes that its focus will be on development schemes including metro, orange-line
train and motorway and resolving issues like load-shedding, the campaign of the opposition, led by
the PTI, would revolve around alleged corruption of the Sharif family.

Irrespective of the fact that the PML-N considers Panama leaks as a non issue, the Supreme Court
decision would change the dynamics of politics in the next elections.

Whether it was because of Imran Khan's personality charisma or due to bad performance of the PPP-
led government of former president Asif Ali Zardari, the fact remains that the last elections witnessed
massive participation of educated middle class in the mainstream politics, particularly its youth and

While the PPP cited threats from Taliban as one of the causes of its defeat in Punjab and Khyber-
Pakhtunkhwa, the Pakistan media played an important role in some of the changing trends.

New trends have not only brought more colours to politics but also created a moderate view of
democracy. It also increased competition among the parties. Whether it will also change the results
would be interesting to watch in next general elections.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, January 16, 2017

The changing political scenario

Mazhar Abbas

In the fast changing scenario, political tension is mounting between the ruling and
opposition parties and their allies, as three-member bench of the Supreme Court
reserved order on 'Panama case,' and over the question of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's
possible disqualification. Though no date for the order has been given, there is the
indication that it is expected next week.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still holds the 'key' in this scenario, as political development revolves
around him, both in favour or against. For his supporters, his decision to 'fight and defy' is the right
way in given circumstance while others believe that he should nominate his replacement in case of
any adverse order.

Sources said the PM's decision would set the tone for his government and party's strategy as the
ruling party is expecting the decision next week. While there are no defections in the party, the
issue between Interior Minister Ch. Nisar and PML-N top leadership including the PM remained un-
resolved and in the last one week, he has not been part of any consultative meetings, but has not

Sharif also knows problems within PML-N and among his key players like Ch. Nisar, Kh Asif on one
hand and between Sanalullah and Abid Sher on the other hand. The PM has also discussed with his
colleague how to get Imran disqualified and speed up cases against him regarding foreign funding.

On the other hand, the opposition, particularly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, is confident of not only
victory in the SC but also very optimistic about its success in next elections. Imran in particular sees
'division in the PML, and also political exit of the Sharifs. The PTI has already decided to maintain
pressure on the government, which includes holding a grand show in Islamabad after the SC order.

Imran knows importance of the SC order and also knows that despite victory on the legal front, it
would not automatically take him to Islamabad unless he defeated the PML in the Punjab. Despite
all odds against Sharif, his focus would be to retain his position in his constituency in the biggest
province. Therefore, he is particularly in consultation with Punjab leadership to built pressure in
the Punjab.

The PPP which politically emerged as a 'loser' after it committed a blunder by not becoming a party
in this case as a petitioner, now sees the developing scenario healthy for its political space in Punjab.

There is little doubt that the next political battle would be fought in Punjab, and in the changing
scenario, the PPP would also take confrontation with the PTI who it believes has caused them political damage.

The PPP has announced 'Go Nawaz Go,' rallies in the Punjab Sunday, not only in a bid to build pres-
sure on the PM but also to show its own presence in this PML VS PTI political battle.

While the hearing in the SC concluded after the decision was reserved, it is now up to the politicians
and parties to cope with the situation. PM Sharif will lead the party in the next elections, even if
decision goes against him and he resigns as PM on court order not under pressure.

The PML-N has already said that they would accept and respect the SC order. The party has given
Mian sahib task to decide. Reports suggest that the PM held one-on-one meeting with his brother
Shahbaz before he held consultative meeting with other leaders over the SC proceedings and possible
outcome. It was an important meeting as the PML-N and Sharif under no circumstances would allow
the PTI to take ground in the Punjab, as without winning Punjab, its dream to form government at
center would remain a dream.

The PM and the PML-N looked 'down but not out,' from political scene and if the PM and the party
decided not to go for fresh polls or dissolved assemblies and instead fight on both legal and political
fronts, the opposition, particularly Imran Khan, may face a tough challenge in the Punjab.

The PML-N leadership has already given Nawaz mandate to decide on his own in the given political
circumstances and also in the light of the SC hearing, and secondly, to decide about the party's future

So far, the PML-N looked intact but for the PM, it is important that his old party colleague and key
figure Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali must be onboard. If he decided to keep himself aside or distance
from the PML, it would be a colossal loss, not only for the PML-N but also for the Sharifs in particular.

There is complete silence from Ch. Nisar and the last report from his quarters indicate that though
he has strong reservations on how the party and the government had moved in this case, there are
no indication as yet about his political exit from the PML-N.

The two Sharifs have also discussed the situation in the Punjab in the post-Panama and also chances
of 'defection', in case the SC order disqualifies the PM.

While many believe that the PML-N, under no circumstances, would dissolve assemblies and go for
fresh polls, if at all Sharif decides to step down after the SC orders, he will make the announcement.

Interesting political developments are expected next week and will also be a test case as to how far
PM Sharif and CM Shahbaz would manage to keep the party intact at least till next elections.

If Nawaz managed to keep the party united despite a few here and there defections, it may not be
easy for Imran to get clear cut verdict in his favour in the next elections. What is major concern for
the PM and PML, is the rising graphs of Imran which may further go up after the SC order.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, July 22, 2017

NA-120: lesson for all

Mazhar Abbas

Elections are part of any democratic process, but at times low turnout in any election, even if it
is by-elections, should be a matter of concern for all the contesting parties. NA-120 was one of
the most important by-elections for both ruling PML-N and the opposition PTI, and one was expe-
cting a better turnout, than it turned out to be i.e. around 33pc. Considering the political atmos-
phere in which it was held after hectic campaign from both parties in the post-SC verdict on
Panama, which led to disqualification of former PM Nawaz Sharif from politics and was de-seated,
and his review petition was also dismissed, the PML-N considered itself lucky to retain their seat.

All credit goes to PTI's Dr Yasmin Rashid, who once again put up a gallant fight and lost by a
close margin. Her percentage was improved against PML-N candidate Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz. But,
in the end, the PTI lost and the PML won. However, the PML needs a lot to do and assess why it
failed to repeat its past performance? Why it could not brought voters to polling stations and the
problems within parties. Same stands for the PTI and Imran Khan.

Sunday's election could be called a full dress rehearsal for all mainstream parties as well as for
Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) before the next general elections. It’s a wake-up call for
all. It is time for the PML-N, PTI and others to utmost go ahead with drastic reforms to ECP, the
time which opposition in particular had wasted.

There was hardly any political pundit in the country who had predicted victory for PTI's Dr Yasmin
Rashid, but most of them had predicted that the margin of defeat would be less than it was in
2013. So, no one was surprised when Kulsoom Nawaz was declared winner against Dr Rashid,
this time with even a close margin of some 13,000 votes. In 2013, margin was around 40,000.
As they say, in the end victory is victory and the PML-N maintained its supremacy in NA-120.

It would have been even better if despite allegations and counter allegations, PTI leader Imran
Khan or Dr Rashid made a call to Maryam Nawaz and congratulated her. On the other hand,
democracy would have been strengthened if, instead of attacking the PML leader Maryam Nawaz,
the PTI or Imran, could have congratulated Dr Rashid for giving tough fight.

This election result was also shocking for Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which saw itself on further
decline, instead of showing some marks of improvement. It clearly indicates that the party
workers and the voters, which used to side with PPP, had not returned and had either gone in
the PTI or in PML-N.

PPP leadership needs to revisit its politics particularly after 2008 and 2013 elections. Merely
bringing a few electables may not solve its problem because electables can change their loyalties
overnight. Its post-2013 politics and had only benefited the PTI, because Imran is a main rival
of the PML-N, with a popular base. He has also not spared the PPP leader, former president, Asif
Ali Zardari.

Similarly, if one party, which has been constantly performing badly and has gone from bad to
worse, is Jamaat-e-Islami. In the last few by-elections, both in Punjab and even in Karachi, its
candidates could not save their sureties. It clearly indicates that even the JI message is not being
well received even by its own workers, what to talk of voters.

It was also the first election for Jamaatud Dawa and its political wing, Milli Muslim League (MML)
and on debut, it even surprised the PPP and the JI. Although they just got over 4,000 votes, still
ahead of the two far more experienced parties. Many political observers were impressed with its
campaign and organisational capacity required in electorate politics.

In the long run, the MML would cause problems for not only the PML-N because of the Kashmiri
vote, but also for other religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).
Therefore, in case of an alliance of religious parties, the MML would get good share. The MML has
already announced that it would contest by-elections from NA-4, Peshawar.

Coming back to the key contest between the PML-N and the PTI, the theme of the campaign of
both should be a matter of concern for others. While the PML-N, in its campaign, asked the people
to reject the SC verdict through their vote in favour of Sharifs, the PTI and Imran campaigned that
the outcome of NA-120 would determine whether people stand with the SC.

Therefore, the whole campaign of the two parties revolved around the same theme i.e. pro- and
anti-verdict, which is something dangerous. The PML-N, despite being in power in Centre and in
Punjab, campaigned not as a ruling party but someone facing pressure from different quarters and
even in the end it complained that several of its workers were kidnapped and are missing.

NA-120 was crucial for the PML-N and its leader former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as it was held
as a result of his disqualification in Panama Papers case. Defeat here would have sealed his chances
in general elections because he or the party has not lost elections in this constituency for long. So,
the result brought a sigh of relief for him and the PML-N.

Why I said it’s a wake-up call, because if the PTI could manage 10,000 to 15,000 votes, Sharif would
have lost on his home ground. In 2013, I was in Lahore during the elections and it was clearly divided
between the PML and the PTI camps. The result and margin also showed that had PTI done some hard
work in the last four years, it could have performed better.

No wonder why Imran is giving full attention to Punjab and in a way had neglected the party in Sindh
and Balochistan in particular, as he wants to win maximum seats in Punjab.

While the general elections have its own political dynamics, the 2018 elections would be held when the
fate of Sharifs would be decided. But, it is more than clear that the focus of the PML campaign would
not merely be on development or success in ending load-shedding but on its 'anti-establishment' and
in a way on anti-judiciary stance, depending on the final fate of Sharifs, who will be facing NAB re-
ferences in accountability courts. The very indication that they may boycott the proceedings shows
that the PML is in a mood to handle the situation politically, sensing the possible outcome.

Result and the margin of defeat clearly showed that the PML-N needs to do a lot more, if they want to
perform better in the general elections, as the voting percentage clearly gave an edge to the opposition
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) compared with its position in 2013. In a low turnout match, PTI's Dr
Yasmin Rashid pulled over 47,000 votes against the winner Kulsoom Nawaz's over 61,000 votes. In
2013, Nawaz Sharif pulled some 91,000 votes against Rashid’s 52,000.

Important factors in Punjab politics have always been birdari or cast. The non-party based elections of
1985 had badly damaged the ideological politics, whether of right or left. On the one hand, it made
feudal, Sardar culture strong but also divided society on ethnic and sectarian lines.

The failure of political parties to introduce the culture of democracy in themselves also encouraged
politics of electables. In the next 10 to 15 years, mainstream political parties would be struggling to
find leaders to lead and in the process will give space to undemocratic forces.

NA-120 is situated in the heart of Lahore, and its result in this charged political atmosphere had only
given the PML a launching pad for general elections. Its leadership also knows that despite victory,
it has to do a lot more to restore the confidence of its voters, not only in NA-120, but also in other
constituencies as turnout in 2018 would certainly be much higher and can hurt the PML.

The opposition also has time to revisit their politics and improve its organisational capabilities to
meet the challenges ahead.

All in all, it was a good election, violence-free and held in a peaceful atmosphere. Parties should
also try to make the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) awake and also empower them as an
independent and powerful institution.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, September 19, 2017

Is Punjab tilting towards Imran?

It is still difficult to assess who actually won the battle of Faisalabad on Monday, as agitation and
electoral politics are two different things, but certainly the present movement against the alleged
rigging in 2013 election is the battle for Punjab between the Sharifs and the rising Imran Khan.

Since the launch of “dharna movement,” in August this year, Imran has focused on the Punjab,
knowing that only by winning this province he could win Pakistan in the election. The PTI that won
just one seat from its chief Imran Khan’s home constituency — Mianwali in 2002 — is today the
second largest party both in the Punjab and in Pakistan.

He has already left the PML-N and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam JUI-F streets behind in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,
where PTI is the single largest party. However, the PML-N is still a very strong force in the Punjab,
with both Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif ruling the
province since 1984.

Imran should consider himself lucky to be active in politics when democracy has taken into roots and
has matured enough not to put political leaders and workers in isolation or torture cells.

What happened in Faisalabad was the most unfortunate but neither Imran was stopped from entering
the city nor the PTI local leaders or workers were arrested a day before the strike. This is an era in
which a number of cases of serious nature have been registered against the sitting prime minister,
chief minister and federal and provincial ministers.

In the last PPP government, one prime minister went home, at least three federal ministers regularly
appeared in the NAB courts while one minister was put in jail.

Although cases have also been registered against Imran Khan and his party’s top leadership, their
movements have not been restricted. Thus, Imran and his party have got a lot of space to work and
are seriously challenging the might of Sharifs.

Faisalabad’s response on Monday was mixed and had the Punjab PML-N not overreacted, the show
would not have got the hype it got from the media, which itself is too polarised. The death of PTI
activist Haq Nawaz charged the atmosphere.

The city once used to be the PPP’s stronghold but then a big chunk of the working class switched its
loyalty to the PML. Thus the PML-N won all the NA seats. But, the PTI surprised the ruling party in
the recently held by-election.

Some independent observers from this industrial hub told this reporter that Sharifs still had strong
roots there. “What happened here on Monday reflects typical Punjab politics. Imran still needs to
work really hard to win over Faisalabad,” one of them said.

But the manner in which he is challenging Sharifs attracts old and new Punjabis alike, as they all
like courageous people. “He is attracting not only the youth, but also the older generation,” one
PPP supporter said.

Imran certainly has a good start to his plan-C and will be coming to Karachi on December 12. One
may not see here what we saw in Faisalabad and it’s more of symbolic protest for his countrywide
“shut-down” call for 18th.

But Karachi will be interesting to watch. The city will be under tight security on 12th because of
the “Chehlum procession” of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) on 13th. They have already imposed ban
on pillion ridding on 12th and 13th. The PTI had surprised many in the city in the last election
when it bagged around 8 lakh votes though it won only one NA and three provincial assembly

Imran can also benefit from the PPP-MQM differences, as the strong urban-based party is now in
the opposition. Perhaps, Imran has distanced himself from the MQM because of its ally Jamaat-
e-Islami. Therefore, his biggest challenge will be on Dec 15 in the heart of Sharifs — the city of

It is the city, which in the past gave almost 90 per cent in support of Sharifs. But, it is also the city
where Imran Khan held his biggest public meeting not once but twice at Minar-e-Pakistan, though
late Benazir Bhutto still holds the record of biggest show on April 10, 1986.

Sharifs still maintain a firm grip on the Punjab politics, but it is also a fact that they never faced the
kind of challenge that Imran Khan has posed.

In the last four months of his struggle he has focused on the central Punjab, the base of mighty
Sharifs since 1984.

Imran’s home constituency is Mianwali, but it is Lahore where he grew up and spent the best days
of cricket and also of politics.

Punjab, which once used to be the stronghold of former prime minister late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto till
the non-party elections in 1985 held six years after the execution of Bhutto, tilted in favour of
Sharifs after the then establishment promoted the “bardari system”.

If Sharifs could be accused of being promoted by General Jillani to challenge Bhuttos, Imran Khan
too was initially backed by the establishment in mid-90s. Former ISI chief Lt. Gen (retd) Hameed
Gul had also patronized him.

Both Sharif and Imran have come out of the era of dictatorship and are now fighting the battle for
Punjab. If Imran is confident of better results for his movement, Sharif is equally sure he would
not let Imran take over Punjab.

At present, Sharif has an edge over Imran as far as electoral politics is concerned. Parliament is
still firmly behind him. Major political parties have opposed mid-term elections and the two arch
rivals of the 80s and 90s — the PPP and PML-N — have joined their forces to counter Imran.

On the other hand, the biggest advantage which Imran Khan has over other major parties is that
he is the only leader untested.

He has challenged Sharifs on the streets. Has he learnt enough political ropes will only be known
in next elections whether these are held in 2015 or before 2018.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Source: www.thenews.com.pk, December 10, 2014

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