Forward bloc?

Editorial Board
Friday, Jun 02, 2023

For the past week now, we have been seeing a rather successful dismantling of Project Imran, and with that a party completely in disarray – with scores of big and small PTI leaders having jumped ship. Many are speculating where all those who have left the PTI or are in the process of leaving will end up. The much-talked about Jahangir Tareen party seems to be the natural destination for many of them while the PML-Q could also be a new home for PTI deserters. In the midst of all this came a rather abrupt press conference on Wednesday by former information minister Fawad Chaudhry along with Imran Ismail and Mahmood Moulvi. Fawad Chaudhry talked to the press outside Adiala Jail where the three men had gone to see Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Sources have claimed that they went to shift the loyalty of detained PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who according to Imran Khan will lead the party in case of his disqualification. The gist of Chaudhry’s press conference was that he is in touch with those leaders who are still in the PTI and wants solutions to the crises facing Pakistan: "250 million people can’t be left at the mercy of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif”.

The rumour mill has naturally taken this as a sign that efforts may be afoot to form some sort of forward bloc within the PTI. This, however, has been denied by Qureshi’s son who has said his father remains a PTI leader. But there is little to deny that the PTI is on a rickety boat, with more people opting to jump off than be taken in by the waves of retribution the party faces now. There is also realpolitik in play. At the moment, those who have left the PTI are looking at the upcoming general elections in October – or beyond – and trying to ensure that their voters will not be upset with them for leaving the PTI come election time. In that context, a forward bloc may make better sense than just joining another party. Of course, there is still time till the PDM government’s tenure ends in August and observers say that things may change on the ground once it is clear what happens to the PTI after the crackdown.

There is little doubt that Imran Khan must be feeling the heat – but if he is, he is not letting on. In a recent interview, the PTI chairman has reiterated that as long as his vote bank and support on the ground is secure, there is no crisis for him or his party. Imran is either putting up a good face or is still in denial over what has transpired. The May 9 events led to a strong reaction from the state. When Imran is asked about his workers’ reaction to him being jailed, he seems to think its plausible for them to be angry. That may be fine but he also insists that his party workers were not involved in the May 9 attacks on state installations and buildings, and has asked for an independent investigation. This is a confused narrative that now may not find too many takers in at least the power-playing corridors of the country

Ever since the vote of no-confidence, Khan has built a narrative that this is a fight between ‘good and evil’, to the extent that we saw rallies where workers and supporters were asked to take ‘oaths’. He has called his fight a ‘jihad’ against his ouster through a foreign conspiracy – even though most of his workers did not even know when the jihad against an alleged US conspiracy that started with Donald Lu ended with an alleged Bajwa-Haqqani ‘nexus’. Post May 9, there have been call-outs on what his critics say is him hiding behind his supporters and using them as human shields to avoid arrest. At a time when there is an economic crisis, when there are clear divisions within the judiciary, when politicians are refusing to sit together, some are wary if elections will actually take place on time in October or whether we are going towards a national government or a long technocratic setup. It is imperative – even now – for there to be genuine dialogue between all political stakeholders, including Imran Khan. For that to happen, he will need to learn how to play with others. Unfortunately, his previous history does not bode well for him agreeing to do that.