The Q-League secures its `quota`
04 May, 2011
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
On a day when the world was following the riveting story of Osama bin Laden’s death in a secret US Special Forces operation in Pakistan, a group of Pakistani politicians, oblivious of the momentous event that had taken place some hours ago 71 kilometres away in Abbottabad, were making merry at the Presidency in Islamabad. President Asif Ali Zardari, in yet another political somersault in his career, was administering oaths to 14 ministers belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, a faction-ridden party that he had not long ago condemned as “Qatil League” (Killer League) for its alleged involvement in the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.
This should explain the priorities of the set of politicians now ruling the country. The oath-taking was an effort to maintain the majority of the PPP-led coalition government in the parliament through the induction of the PML-Q nominees in the federal cabinet. The priority was to save the government and prolong its rule. Saving the country wasn’t a concern, at least not for the time-being and not until the task of securing a stable majority in parliament’s treasury benches was achieved.
Trust the politicians to justify anything and everything they do. This is what the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Q leaders did as they made a largely unconvincing explanation to make a case for their new alliance, which is opportunistic without doubt.
Something unthinkable happened as the PPP and the PML-Q (not the whole lot but the Q-League’s mainstream faction led by the Chaudhrys of Gujarat), joined hands to first ensure the passage of the coming budget in parliament and then jointly rule the country for the next two years before the next general election.
This unnatural alliance and the ones brokered before it by the PPP with the PML-N, the MQM, the ANP and the JUI-F have been grandly labelled as “national reconciliation.” The PPP politicians never tire of arguing that the “national reconciliation” is being pursued in the national interest. They don’t admit that, but the common people are certain that personal interest is the motivating factor for all these strange power-sharing arrangements.
Thanks to the television channels, viewers are now able to listen to what these unprincipled politicians were saying about each other in the recent past. Nasty things were being said and serious corruption charges were levelled against each other by the same persons who have now joined hands in the coalition government. The common man should not be blamed if he concludes that these foes of yesterday have become friends to plunder and misrule the country, violate merit and pave the way for winning the next general election.
The stress during the deal-making negotiations was on the cabinet positions that the PML-Q could get and the PPP would be able to give. It was give-and-take that was being discussed, and not some bright idea or innovative project that could bring improvement in the lives of the suffering masses or solve the serious problems that Pakistan is facing. In the end, the PML-Q managed to induct its 14 lawmakers in the cabinet, seven each as ministers and ministers of state. Two advisers and three special assistants were also appointed in what was described as the PML-Q quota, reducing cabinet-making into quotas.
As the PML-Q has suffered splits on account of the divergent, interest-driven agendas of its leaders, almost all its lawmakers and factional leaders will have to be accommodated in the power setup to keep it intact. Those not made ministers have the option of joining Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N or cutting separate deals with the PPP. After three years of wait, PML-Q lawmakers are happy that they now have a number of tempting options before them.
Predictably, the PML-Q lawmakers lobbied and wrangled over the portfolios, with Riaz Hussain Pirzada refusing to become minister of state and in the end manoeuvring to win the status of full-fledged minister. Chaudhry Parvez Elahi became the senior minister with two portfolios and another member of the Chaudhry family, Wajahat Hussain, found a berth in the cabinet. Pervez Elahi was tipped to become deputy prime minister, but this needed a constitutional amendment. Mr Zardari, who did the deal-making negotiations with the PML-Q leaders at the Presidency in his capacity as PPP co-chairman and once more showed how partisan the country’s president has become, played his cards well. He gave unimportant portfolios to the PML-Q ministers to send the message across that this is what they deserved.
After pocketing the PML-Q, he is now in a better position to lure more factions of the divided party to his side to strengthen the PPP-led federal government and put an end to the blackmailing tactics of the other coalition partners. The MQM, a demanding ally, is said to be considering a return to the federal cabinet, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the party’s past record in making and breaking alliances.
The PPP and the PML-Q could also attempt a political change in Punjab, a province which has always been the big prize and is presently in the hands of the PML-N. Punjab could become the battleground for the PPP and the PML-N and their allies as the former would be keen to realise its ambition of capturing the “Takht-e-Lahore” after having failed in an earlier effort to oust the PML-N government in Punjab.
Once the PML-Q MNAs and Senators have been accommodated at the federal level, their colleagues in the provincial legislatures would also want to become part of the ruling coalitions. The lust for power appears to be intense in Punjab and one should expect the beginning of horse-trading in the province, sooner rather than later. In Balochistan, the PML-Q lawmakers are already part of the 51-member cabinet – in an assembly that has 65 MPAs. In fact, the PML-Q had the largest number of MPAs in Balochistan, but splits in the party meant that the lawmakers made their own deals with the PPP and enabled it to lead the provincial government. In Sindh, any PML-Q lawmaker still not part of the government could be easily accommodated.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP will have to be persuaded to make room in the provincial cabinet for the PML-Q nominees if a decision is made to expand the coalition. Cabinet berths for PML-Q lawmakers in the provincial cabinet would likely come from the PPP quota as it has made the alliance with the PML-Q without involving the ANP in the equation. The PML-Q legislators may not refuse cabinet berths in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, unlike PML-N MPAs who declined to join the provincial government after the 2008 general elections when the relationship between the PML-N and the PPP was warm and friendly. However, the issue of creation of a Hazara province could become a hurdle in the induction of PML-Q lawmakers into the cabinet of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The PML-Q has been spearheading the campaign for separation of Hazara division from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and making it a province. The ANP isn’t opposed to the idea publicly, but it would still want to keep the province intact and is keen to make administrative changes by creating two new divisions in Hazara and Malakand to weaken the demand for a separate Hazara province.
Keeping in view the ongoing and future political deal-making, it is obvious that the biggest concern of the ruling parties is to stay in power and not the critical security and economic issues confronting Pakistan. As things stand, the remaining two-year life of the parliament would be used by the ruling parties to prolong their rule instead of finding solutions to problems afflicting the country.