Splitting the ranks


It was an indirect attack, full of reverence but also having a ring of rebellion. Although PTI has traditionally been subjected to tough inter-party squabbles with Imran Khan often finding it difficult to keep even his top ranks in harness but the fresh break-out in party hierarchy has come at a time when the party is feeling very uncomfortable in managing the governmental affairs. There is hardly any doubt that the PTI is a motley crowd surrounding charismatic Imran Khan for the sake of remaining in power but it appears that cleavages within its ranks are now widening.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi is a sharp politician who after being cornered by PPP veered towards PMLN but then judged Imran Khan a better bet and was amply rewarded. The problem is that he has not been able to fully gel with the leader and the crowd surrounding him. It was recently felt that he has been built into a credible personage in the PTI hence the return of Jahangir Tareen. Tareen was sidelined after the fiasco of his being declared a defunct politician but he is now considered the only figure to hold Qureshi in check.

In a bid to underrate Qureshi, Imran Khan travelled an extra-mile by exposing Tareen to the forbidden zone providing Qureshi the chance to pounce on his rival while conveniently hiding his actual intention of discomfiting Imran Khan. It is a classic rivalry as both Tareen and Qureshi come from South Punjab with almost secure electoral support and have been daggers drawn right from the beginning. Tareen, however, has an edge as he was the financial mainstay of the party and was valued by his leader.

The issue Qureshi based his attack on was quite logical as the relevant constitutional provision does not allow any public role to Tareen let alone attending the exclusive cabinet meeting. It is difficult to read what Imran Khan had in mind when he invited Tareen to the meeting except that he was daring the judiciary to take a notice. It is nowhere hidden that Imran Khan is very resentful of the high judiciary allowing Nawaz Sharif a bail, however conditional it may be. He has made his resentment known publicly and probably it was his typical defiant state of mind that was primarily instrumental in asking Tareen over.

Tareen was quite non-plussed as he was not expecting such a drubbing and had no way out of the trouble except re-asserting his loyalty to his leader. PTI senior leadership was also quick to jump up for his defence and in its typical aggressive way it tried to sidetrack the main issue. Fawad Chaudhry came up with a reason that somewhat resembles the unease Imran Khan feels about Tareen’s disqualification. Fawad Chaudhry’s words amply reflected the sentiment when he said that Tareen was instrumental in the party’s election win. “His [Tareen’s] attendance in Cabinet meetings is the wish of the prime minister. Senior leadership should respect the prime minister’s wishes. The court decision against him [Tareen] was unfortunate and he has been barred from elections, not from the heart of PTI worker,” Chaudhry tweeted.

The old divide between the party came to fore when Qureshi fired his salvo addressing a press conference flanked by Governor Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar. Qureshi was very explicit in declaring that if disqualification under Article 62-F of the Constitution banned PMLN supremo Nawaz Sharif from holding any public or party office, how the yardstick could be different for the PTI leader. In the same vein he advised Tareen to voluntarily withdraw himself and continue serving the party by remaining in the background by upholding politics of principles.

The acrimonious reaction of Qureshi is surely directed towards the party leadership leaving other PTI leaders and workers to wonder how the cracks within the ruling party would be bridged after such open criticism. The impression is that at a time when the PTI government was struggling on the economic front, the face-off between senior leaders could compound its problems. Rifts between the ruling party leaders, including cabinet members, over different issues have been reported in the past also, as some of them criticised each other on social media.

Qureshi broadened the scope of his attack when he openly disagreed with the decision of Imran Khan to change the nomenclature of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). This change was arbitrarily agreed to in response to a demand made by GDA leaders in Sindh. This difference of opinion contrasted directly with the PM’s stance depicting that Qureshi has willingly decided to raise the ante. The tone of FM Qureshi is ominous and conveys that something has fundamentally gone wrong with the party in power. TW


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