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Opposition vs Opposition, Government vs Government

Though its burial may take a while, PDM is dead. ANP has formally left the PDM while the gulf between the remaining opposition alliance parties seems unbridgeable. It is basically PPP vs the rest of the PDM parties.

The unpardonable sin of PPP, according to PML-N and JUI-F, is the election of Yusuf Raza Gillani as the Leader of the Opposition in Senate, with the votes of the senators of BAP, a party considered a bunch of The Establishment boys. It actually was the last straw, to use a cliche, that broke the camel’s back.

As a result, the political romance between Bilawal Bhutto and Mariam Nawaz ended rather abruptly. Those who thought the new generation of political leadership of PPP and PML-N, without the baggage of the past, stood a better chance of cordial working relationship against their common non-political rivals, were proven wrong, at least for the time being. Bilawal has been quoted as saying “now, the PML-N contact points will be {not Mariam but} Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz .” Interestingly, in other words, Bilawal said that he would be talking to that PML-N group that the Establishment trusted and talked to.

So, it is opposition vs opposition. Ironically, on the other hand, it is government vs government. The government’s lackluster performance, particularly in the economic sphere, is not even funny, frightening friends and foes alike. The governance is a nightmare. The PTI government, having completed half of its term, is still looking for a ‘suitable boy’ as a finance minister. After Asad Umar and Hafeez Shiekh, it is Hammad Azhar. Next in line, it is rumoured, is Shaukat Tareen. He has been appointed the convener of an economic advisory council to assist the finance minister. Confusion, there is. It will not surprise many if a Battle Royale ensues between Hammad Azhar and Shaukat Tareen to decide ‘who is the boss’.

Confusion worse confounded: the government announced its decision to allow the import of cotton bales and sugar from India but the next day the decision was reversed. The funny part was that Imran Khan as Commerce Minister proposed the import and as Prime Minister rejected the proposal. The U-turn kept the government spokespersons busy for the next few days defending the indefensible. These are the lacunae of a hybrid system. What decisions can the PM take on his own? What areas are off-limit? There certainly are boundaries, and the players know that, but sometimes the dividing line of domains blur. After all, hybrid system does not have the constitutional clarity, well defined realms and roles.

The U-turn, in fact, became the butt of a few jokes in the international press as well, because of the environment wherein the decision was taken and reversed. There was a momentum building after a recent COAS statement which indicated that Pakistan was getting ready for a new beginning in Indo-Pak relations. The entire effort, initiated by the COAS with the support of key international players, has to go in limbo for a few months after the government’s faux pas. Obviously, the Establishment is not pleased.

Last week, it was reported that the COAS summoned six PTI federal ministers and without mincing his words shared his concerns. The gist of his talk was that the government’s bad governance is causing anger on the street and hurting the reputation of its perceived guardians; and that the government needed a more efficient team to put the governance on track, at least the economy. Insiders, insist the message was simple -time is running out. All agree, the unprecedented price-hike in the country is a killer that has left all associated with the present set-up jittery.

To bolster the dwindling image of the government, the Prime Minister has started a new initiative -direct tele-contact with the people. The PM already has many fora available to him and his bulky brigade of spokespersons, to improve the perception of his government. Will another platform help his cause? Or is it a wrong diagnosis of the ills plaguing the present set-up? The perception primarily stems from the performance. Period!

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