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Pakistan’s Not-so-Grand Opposition Alliance

Despite a large pool of public support, efforts of the ‘grand alliance’ to oust the incumbent government are hampered by a lack of organization within its ranks

by Sumeera Riaz

SIC’s Hamid Raza, PTI’s Omar Ayub, and PKMAP’s Mahmood Khan Achakzai address a press conference in Islamabad

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), under the aegis of the Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Ain (movement for the protection of rule of law), is set to launch from today (Friday) nationwide protests against alleged rigging in the Feb. 8 general elections and the “illegal” detention of political workers. While numerically strong, however, confusion and disorganization within the ranks of the “grand opposition alliance” hampers its efforts to make any significant impact.

Led by Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the six-party alliance includes the PTI, Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M). Formally launched earlier this month, it held its inaugural rally in Pishin on April 13, leaving independent observers unimpressed over the gathered crowds, as the PTI alone has managed to draw far larger numbers in the recent past. Despite this, leaders of the nascent movement are convinced they can increase the political temperature in the coming days and pressure the incumbent government, which they accuse of being “forced” upon the public through “sham” elections.

“This sham democratic set up, where the ruling elite is not elected by the people of Pakistan, will have to go,” maintained Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub Khan, also the secretary-general of the PTI. “None of the ministers in Parliament are ready to respond to the opposition’s queries because they are puppets, they don’t have the mandate to speak and raise their voices,” he alleged, adding the prevailing law and order situation also did not reflect civilian supremacy.

“The people of Pakistan have never suffered as much in dictatorial regimes as they are now,” he claimed. “This is the first time in the political history of Pakistan that people are facing oppressive powers under civilian rule, whose objective is to subjugate people,” he alleged. Fellow PTI leader, Shoaib Shaheen, is equally convinced that the opposition would eventually succeed in ousting the incumbent government.

Speaking with the Standard, the lawyer said the alliance was also seeking the support of the legal fraternity, noting an All Pakistan Lawyers Convention would occur on Saturday (tomorrow) at the Lahore High Court. “Our protest demonstrations will be held all over the country today (Friday) and they would be more streamlined than ever before,” he claimed, while admitting the “alliance” had yet to become fully effective, as only the PTI, SIC and MWM were currently attempting to protest.

“As far as PKMAP and BNP-M are concerned, these are ethnic parties and confined to Balochistan,” he said, adding the JI’s participation could prove significant, as it had a presence across Pakistan. However, JI Ameer Hafiz Naeemur Rehman maintains that his party is not part of any alliance. Rather, he asserts, the JI would offer “support” for other parties in the restoring democracy and supremacy of the Constitution.

According to the newly elected JI chief, the party would move the Supreme Court against rigging in the Feb. 8 polls and would adopt a suitable course if its mandate was denied. “The country is stuck in a political and financial quagmire and the only way forward is dialogue and the Jamaat is ready to host talks among all political forces,” he added.

Rehman’s views reflect a key problem for the Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Ain (TTA); that of a lack of ownership from within its own ranks, which independent observer Ahmed Bilal Mehboob also noted. “They have formidable numbers in most legislatures and they can be extremely effective if they know the rules of the game and use them,” said the head of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT). “Outside, public meetings are very expensive and effort-intensive so their cost-benefit ratio may not be so favorable to the alliance, especially when the chief crowd puller, Imran Khan, is in prison,” he added.

Tough time ahead?

However, the opposition’s primary goal appears to be success through agitation, with SIC chief Hamid Raza claiming to the Standard the political temperature would rise in near future. “As you see with the announcement of an opposition gathering in Faisalabad, the Punjab police have launched a massive crackdown against SIC and PTI workers,” he alleged, referring to a planned gathering in Faisalabad on May 10. According to Raza, Punjab police have already booked several party workers, including himself, under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO).

Maintaining he would reach Faisalabad to organize the May 10 demonstration in a few days, he warned of “enormous resistance” if police attempted to prevent the gathering. He also claimed that TTA head Achakzai would soon invite the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and the Qaumi Awami Tehreek to join the “grand alliance.” On the JI’s status within the alliance, he maintained it was part of it, adding its leadership was informed of all matters of import. MWM leader Amin Shaheedi, however, was less certain, merely saying that it would benefit all stakeholders if the JI allied with the other opposition parties.

Rubbishing the perception that the opposition had failed to give a tough time to the government, he said it was early days yet. Claiming the opposition’s pressure had led to the government removing the names of several opposition leaders from the Exit Control List (ECP), he lamented that the PTI—despite receiving the most votes—was the largest party in opposition, rather than in government. The participation of a large number of people in opposition rallies amidst resistance from the state and the establishment would prove the failure of the current system, he added.

Maulana goes solo

Shortly after the polls, it appeared the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), which has also alleged electoral rigging, would join the PTI, with both parties conducting several meetings to chalk out a future strategy. SIC’s Raza, however, said that while such efforts were ongoing, his party had serious reservations about it. “Maulana’s track record shows he might mar the opposition movement by shaking hands with the current set up and the establishment,” he alleged.

The MWM, similarly, believes there is a basic difference of ideology and objectives between what the JUIF and the TTA are seeking. “The current opposition is comprised of people who reached Parliament after facing barbarism and hardships, while Maulana Fazl was part of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which unleashed those oppressive polices,” claimed MWM’s Shaheedi. Accusing the JUIF chief of acting out of anger over being left out of the incumbent government, he claimed the JUIF always worked “hand in glove” with the security establishment.

JUIF spokesperson Maulana Hamdullah, however, said the party believed its platform was public and its politics revolved around public support. “We don’t need any alliance at present to further our demands,” he said, maintaining the party could alone give a tough time to the government and achieve its goals but was willing to support other opposition parties on matters of supremacy of law and Constitution. Referring to a JUIF rally in Pishin on April 20 as proof of the public support for the JUIF’s ideology, he maintained the people were united against the establishment’s role in politics and “theft” of the public mandate.

The JUIF plans to stage its next protest in Karachi on May 2—three days before the TTA holds its own Karachi rally on May 5—before moving to Peshawar on May 9 and Punjab in subsequent weeks. The PTI and TTA, however, would proceed to Faisalabad on May 10 and have yet to announce any future plans. “Our protest movement against this sham democracy and dictatorial rule would pick up steam gradually and engulf the whole country,” claimed Hamdullah, reflecting the beliefs of the TTA leadership and their movement.

PILDAT’s Mehboob, however, reiterates this is a tough ask. Maintaining the opposition’s best bet was focusing on Parliament and the provincial assemblies, he said this movement and media oversight might be enough to keep the government on its toes. “If the alliance is looking for drastic steps like toppling the government or undoing the election results, it will have to mount a powerful agitation which seems difficult at the moment as public is not in such mood and alliance doesn’t seem to be able to mobilize people in large numbers,” he added.

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