Bilawal’s “selected” title for Nawaz may hurt party’s ties with PML-N

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 04:19 PM, 23 Feb, 2020
Bilawal’s “selected” title for Nawaz may hurt party’s ties with PML-N
File photo.

Opposition parties have consistently been alleging that the July 2018 elections were massively rigged to bring the PTI to power.  However, it was PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who called Imran Khan the “selected” prime minister.  The term “selected” was subsequently used by all other PTI opponents to question the legitimacy of his credentials.

Now the PPP has come up with an equally important statement which has the potential to affect his party’s relations with the PML-N at a time when there is a dire need for unity among all opposition parties to give the ruling PTI a tough time.

Talking to journalists in Lahore on Saturday Bilawal included Mian Nawaz Sharif in the category of “selected” premiers.

“Before Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif was (also) a selected premier. Benazir Bhutto did not allow Mr Sharif to become Ameerul Momeneen (emir of Muslims) and led a vibrant opposition with just 17 members in the National Assembly (in 1997),” he said.

At the same sitting, the PPP chairman was critical of opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif’s absence from the National Assembly, and said: “Like the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the PML-N also does not give importance to parliament. The role of opposition leader in the National Assembly is important but he (Shehbaz) is in London. We hope that he will return soon and play his role as opposition leader.”

A few days ago he had said he hoped that Maryam Nawaz’s continued silence on the political situation was not the result of any deal with the establishment.

The PML-N leaders have not immediately reacted to the PPP chairman’s assertion about Nawaz Sharif and have preferred to exercise restraint. However, it will be clear in the days ahead whether the two major opposition parties stay together or pursue their own lines of action according to their interests.

But the PPP chairman must bear in mind that the establishment has always played a role in the induction or removal of a government and, ostensibly, there is no possibility of any change in this policy in the future. The establishments play their role in almost all countries – the only difference is that of degree.

 The PPP chairman’s determination that his party would not shake hands with the establishment for power-sharing will be tested when the time comes. It will be the beginning of a new era in Pakistan if any party comes to power without the establishment’s support or role.

Let’s have a look at the establishment’s role in the induction of prime ministers during the past four decades.

Gen Zia, the then army chief, imposed martial law in July 1977 with the undertaking to hold free and fair elections in three months. However, the polls were held after eight years – that too on a non-party basis – to block the PPP’s return to power.

Since the army chief is the most powerful person in the country, his decision not to hold the elections for eight years may be taken as the establishment’s decision.  Then Muhammad Khan Junejo, a Sindhi leader, was picked as prime minister to weaken the PPP’s position in its own stronghold and because Mr Junejo was regarded as the most obedient servant. That the Sindhi leader did not act as a compliant premier was the establishment’s miscalculation.

The 1988 elections won the PPP more seats which left no option for the establishment but to reluctantly accept Benazir Bhutto as prime minister. However, she was removed only after 18 months in power.

In the 1990 elections, Nawaz Sharif was brought to power by the establishment as he was the favourite of the establishment.

When he developed differences with then bureaucrat-turned-politician president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, his government was dismissed, paving the way for fresh elections.

Benazir Bhutto was the only substitute available to the establishment at the time and she was brought back to power in the subsequent elections.

In the next elections, Nawaz Sharif again replaced Benazir Bhutto – this time with a thumping majority.

Then Gen Musharraf overthrows the Nawaz Sharif government, holds elections in 2002 under a Supreme Court order, selected Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali as prime minister.  

He was replaced by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain for an interim period of two months.  Then Shaukat Aziz was brought in - under a plan given by the powers that be.

The induction of the PPP and PML-N into power in the subsequent two elections also did not happen on their own.

Young Bilawal’s father is in a better position to let his illustrious son know about the establishment’s role in bringing in or removing governments. He knows well what a political party has to do to make headway in politics.