Comparing Imran’s first term with Benazir, Nawaz Sharif’s

Annexation of Kashmir by India during PTI tenure a perpetual stigma

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 04:54 PM, 3 Feb, 2020
Comparing Imran’s first term with Benazir, Nawaz Sharif’s

The 18-month rule of the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, which opposition parties say has the fullest backing of the military establishment, is a perfect example of political inexperience but is still comparable to Benazir Bhutto’s first and full 20-month stint in power as country’s chief executive without any previous experience. However, Imran’s governance cannot be compared to Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure as prime minister because the industrialist-turned-politician had enormous experience of the statecraft as he had twice served as chief minister of the country’s biggest province before taking on the new mantle.

While other problems during these three tenures were almost similar except for their severity, Imran Khan has got an indelible stigma – annexation of Kashmir by India – that he will have to face at all important political junctures in future. And since there is little possibility of Pakistan being able to get the unconstitutional and immoral step reversed and get the Kashmiris their right to self-determination because of lack of the required political support at the international level, his party will have to pay a heavy price in the next elections, no matter what the government’s performance on other fronts.

As of now, if the PTI government addresses one problem, another crisis crops up without delay and the cycle has been going on since day one. As a result, the general impression across the country is that it is beyond the PTI-leaders’ capacity to tackle all crises.

Imran Khan is heading a coalition which is a daunting task.  Allies are not satisfied with the PTI for one reason or the other, because of which there is instability. At times it appears that running on razor thin majority the PTI government will fall any time as the dissatisfied partners, who also have long experience of arm-twisting the vulnerable, may withdraw their support any moment.

PML-Q, MQM, GDA and BNP are some of the PTI’s important allies. At present, none is wholeheartedly with the PTI, and the ruling party has to hold session after session to assure the junior partners that it is trying to address their problems.

The PML-Q wants a greater say in administrative matters of Gujrat, Chakwal and Bahawalpur districts, the areas where they won elections. There are also reports that they want one more ministry at the federal level, a demand which at times they own and then equally vehemently deny.

The PML-Q leaders also complain that they are treated like suspects, not allies.

For the time being a deadlock-like situation is going on and the PML-Q leadership is not willing to hold another round of talks with the PTI unless agreements made in the previous sessions are implemented.

MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui recently quit the federal cabinet, announcing at the same time that his party would not part ways with the PTI-led coalition. Efforts are being made to address all demands of the Sindh-based party, which has the experience of working with parties of all shades of opinion, including PPP and PML-N.

So far, the gulf between the two partners remains unbridged.

In Punjab and KP, where the PTI is in power, even the ruling party legislators are not satisfied with the performance of chief ministers. They want them replaced with efficient and dynamic leaders in the interest of the party’s future. However, Imran Khan is resisting these demands, a situation because of which the uncertainty persists.

The delegation of more powers to the chief secretary and the police inspector general on the pretext of better governance has weakened the position of the chief minister. However, he has no option but to follow Imran Khan’s instructions as he is retaining his position only because of his unwavering support.

In KP, three ministers opposed to the CM, have been removed from the cabinet, a step that has created more unrest in the party. Efforts are going on to normalize the situation, but so far everything is fluid.

As for performance in various walks of life, the PTI government has launched some initiatives, but prices of essential items remain out of control, because of which the common man doesn’t have a good opinion of those in power. Likewise, the PTI government has added to the national debts, alleging that it had inherited a bad economy and there was no alternative available except getting more loans to run the country.

Shortage of wheat and increasing prices of sugar are something unbelievable in an agricultural country.

Petrol prices are raised every now and then, a step that has led to raise in transport fares.

Now let’s see the kind of situation Benazir Bhutto had faced on taking over as prime minister (that continued from 1988 to 1990).

It is believed that the establishment did not like Benazir Bhutto for reasons best known to them. They just tolerated her because people had given the party sympathy vote in the first election the PPP had contested after the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979. (The PPP, like other parties in the then opposition parties in the MRD had boycotted the 1985 party-less elections on the plea that such polls are unconstitutional. Gen Zia had disallowed the parties to contest the elections mainly to keep the PPP out of race).

Chief ministers of Punjab and Balochistan, Nawaz Sharif and Akbar Bugti, respectively, were staunchest rivals of Benazir Bhutto and were totally non-cooperative. It appeared as if the two provinces were out of the federal government’s domain.

Sindh and NWFP (subsequently renamed as KP) chief ministers Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Aftab Sherpao belonged to the PPP and were a source of strength for Benazir Bhutto.

To destabilise the PPP government, the opposition, apparently led by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi but Nawaz Sharif the real driving force) had tabled a no-confidence motion against Benazir Bhutto.  Although the move failed by about a dozen votes, it had shaken her government.

It may also be recalled that then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan (formerly a bureaucrat) also did not like the PPP chairperson and was waiting for an opportunity to dismiss her government.

Not many people remember that before being offered the post of the prime minister, Benazir had visited the residence of then army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and prepared ‘pakoras’ at his residence, saying she is expert at this.

Shortly after taking over, Benazir had removed Gen Hameed Gul as ISI chief and appointed a loyalist – Shamsur Rehman Kallu as its head. The decision had flabbergasted the establishment.

As the establishment wanted the continuity of the earlier policies, Sahabzada Yakub Khan, V.A. Jafri and another two ministers of the previous system were retained in the Benazir cabinet.

She released political prisoners, introduced policy for privatization of important state units, reinstated a number of employees earlier removed by Gen Zia.

Mian Nawaz Sharif remained prime minister from 1990 to 1993.

He had the backing of the establishment. Even president Ishaq Khan had very good relations with him until, because of his innate nature of fighting with everybody he worked with, differences cropped up between the two that led to fresh elections.

The working environment when he assumed the top role was very conducive.

In Punjab, Ghulam Haider Wyne was got elected as Punjab chief minister. He was like a servant of the Sharifs and used to do whatever was asked to do.

In Sindh, Jam Sadiq Ali and Muzaffar Hussain Shah remained chief ministers during the prime ministerial tenure of Mr Sharif.

They did not create any problem for the Punjab leader.

In KP it was Mir Afzal Khan of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, the alliance Mr Sharif belonged to.

During Sharif’s prime ministership, Balochistan’s chief minister was Mir Taj Muhammad Jamali, a cooperative soul.

This shows that unlike Benazir Bhutto, Mr Sharif got a much conducive environment during his first tenure.

Since Sharif was an industrialist, he introduced such policies as could help this community.