On the side - Talking Points

Which has been Pakistan’s most significant political schism?

Updated Nov 23, 2016 11:58pm

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Which has been Pakistan’s most significant political schism | Illustration courtesy dawn.com
Which has been Pakistan’s most significant political schism | Illustration courtesy dawn.com

Change is mostly haphazard in societies passing through a transition, central to which are political parties, often subject to surprise divisions and messy splits. Sliced into multiple factions and shaken by ceaseless internal differences, many parties in Pakistan have seen great ascensions and greater falls. Every now and then, a politician walks away in anger, complaining of mistreatment, betrayal or both — à la Javed Hashmi or former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza. The Herald reached out to analysts and commentators for their opinion on the most significant splits within this ongoing saga of shifting allegiances in Pakistan.

No shoulder to lean on

Talk of coups may be premature, but it does appear that its split with PMLN and PPP will lead the military to play a more direct role in Pakistan’s politics | File photo
Talk of coups may be premature, but it does appear that its split with PMLN and PPP will lead the military to play a more direct role in Pakistan’s politics | File photo

The establishment has always needed a B-team. From the Republicans and the National Democratic Alliance to the Convention Muslim League; Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam, authoritarian rule in Pakistan has always been premised on the strategic cooperation of pliant (and influential) civilian politicians and elites. The reason for this is clear: Pakistan’s military regimes have long relied on colonial-era techniques of control, using the language of elections and rule of law to legitimise their rule by erecting a facade of democratic government.

In this context, it makes sense to reflect on what has arguably been one of the most significant political splits in recent history. With both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) alienated by the Musharraf government, the establishment has been, for the first time, unable to marshal the support of Pakistan’s most significant political parties. The implications of this have been clear. Unlike the 1990s, when both parties could be counted on to support the establishment against each other, the antagonism that now defines their relationship with the military has forced the latter to rely on much smaller players (such as the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and its ilk) to pursue its political agenda. This lack of credible civilian support has also forced the military to assert itself more directly and visibly, as evinced by the lead taken by its top officials on questions of foreign policy and internal security. Talk of coups may be premature, but it does appear that its split with PMLN and PPP will lead the military to play a more direct role in Pakistan’s politics.

By Hassan Javid, an assistant professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences

From rebel to traitor

The split between PTI and Javed Hashmi will be recognised as a pivotal moment for Pakistan | Illustration courtesy dawn.com
The split between PTI and Javed Hashmi will be recognised as a pivotal moment for Pakistan | Illustration courtesy dawn.com

When Javed Hashmi joined the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it sent a very strong signal: that one of the PMLN stalwarts of integrity found his parent party short and the new kids on the block more on the level. Hashmi also gave the PTI much-needed cover as they went from being naively principled to an electoral machine focussed on winning elections through the recruitment of questionable electables. Hashmi’s membership was an important PMLN scalp — one that suggested the momentum of the PTI in the run-up to the elections was beginning to amass real substance.

Several years down the line, the split between PTI and Javed Hashmi will be recognised as a pivotal moment for Pakistan. It derailed the ill-advised agitation the PTI led in carnival fashion, which could have created a circus of instability leading to dictatorship.

Sadly, there was no poetic justice as Hashmi lost the election for the seat he resigned for. The online troll militias have worked overtime to denounce Hashmi; he quickly went from baaghi (rebel) to daaghi (traitor). But it will hopefully be recognised – even ironically – in the future that his party split is what kept the nascent system of democracy together.

By Fasi Zaka, a radio show host and columnist

Defectors united

PMLQ formed the government with the help of defectors from PPP, merged with the National Alliance, PMLJ (Junejo), PMLZ (Zia), PMLF (Functional) and PML (Jinnah) to form the United PML | File photo
PMLQ formed the government with the help of defectors from PPP, merged with the National Alliance, PMLJ (Junejo), PMLZ (Zia), PMLF (Functional) and PML (Jinnah) to form the United PML | File photo

In the aftermath of the bloodless coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and the subsequent exile of PMLN party leader Nawaz Sharif, a large number of PMLN members defected to form PMLQ, whose rising fortunes were tied to support and patronage from the military regime. In the 2002 elections, PMLQ emerged as the strongest party, securing 118 seats, while PMLN was reduced from having a two-thirds majority to only 19 seats in the National Assembly. PMLQ formed the government with the help of defectors from PPP and later, in 2004, PMLQ merged with the National Alliance, PMLJ (Junejo), PMLZ (Zia), PMLF (Functional) and PML (Jinnah) to form the United PML.

This split had the immediate impact of definitively changing the composition of PMLN. On the one hand was the pro-Nawaz faction that gained credibility as an anti-establishment party with Nawaz Sharif as a populist leader. On the other were the defectors, who were once more willingly co-opted by the military regime, harkening back to 1986 when PML was first cobbled together to serve as the civilian face of the Zia regime, and to oppose the Pakistan Peoples Party.

The more detrimental long-term legacy of PMLQ’s creation was that it showcased the inherent weakness of party organisations in Pakistan, as PMLN was unable to elicit credible commitment from its legislators to remain loyal to the party in a regime crisis. PMLQ, in turn, clustered around constituency-based politicians who viewed political parties as organisational platforms to contest elections and not as vehicles for mobilising public opinion. Moreover, the collective goal of these politicians was the pursuit of state resources and reinforcing clientelism: a system in which winning benefits for constituents wins political support. However, this system does not create a responsible government or legitimacy — discrediting the very notion of democracy.

By Mariam Mufti, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, Canada

Clever plans that proved unwise

The political split between the PMLN and the military is perhaps the most significant of the past 30 years | AFP
The political split between the PMLN and the military is perhaps the most significant of the past 30 years | AFP

After Bhutto’s overthrow, the military regime of General Ziaul Haq sought to carve out for itself a political and social base that would counter the PPP’s popularity and left-wing orientation. This effort led to the policy of Islamisation and close collaboration between the military, till then a resolutely secular institution, and the religious establishment. It also led to an alliance between the military and conservative businessmen, industrialists and landlords, many of whom had suffered on account of the PPP’s nationalisation of industries and services and awareness-raising politics. The political leader who was chosen to counter PPP and the Bhutto legacy was none other than Nawaz Sharif and the party that came to bear his name — the PMLN. Zia’s plan was extremely clever: use the religious establishment to move Pakistan to the right socially and culturally, and use pro-establishment politicians to move the country right politically and fiscally.

Like most extremely clever plans, it was also unwise and after Zia’s demise, his successors had a hard time keeping their political and religious instruments under control. Both sets of instruments – while helping blunt the PPP in the 1990s – chafed at the limitations imposed on them. The alliance between PMLN and the military was the first to fray (in 1993) as the premier sought real power for himself, and collapsed in 1999 when – on the verge of converting Pakistan into a dynastic theocracy – PMLN was thwarted by Musharraf’s coup. After this, there was no going back and the PMLN saw greater wisdom in making amends with the PPP and striking a bargain (the Charter of Democracy) whereby the two parties could alternate in power at the centre while reigning perpetually in their provincial bastions. As far as political splits go, the one between the PMLN and the military is perhaps the most significant of the past 30 years.

By Ilhan Niaz, teacher of history at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, and is most recently the author of Old World Empires: Cultures of Power and Governance in Eurasia


This was originally published in the Herald's July 2015 issue. To read more, subscribe to Herald's print edition