Nawaz Sharif remains the most influential leader in Punjab, a province that acts as a controlling authority in Pakistan.
The political battle lines in Pakistan have been drawn. On the one hand, Nawaz Sharif, his Muslim League (PMLN), and Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUIF) are practically all opposition parties in the vanguard of a motley crew of other opposition parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
On the other hand, the Pakistan Army is backing its ‘chosen’ Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and his faction, Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), and its allies who have joined hands to grant him a wafer-thin majority in the National Assembly.
On paper, the opposite sides appear equally balanced. But considering the unequal strength and political complexities of the Land of Pure, the lay of the field appears to benefit the army and its civilian minions, with, of course, caveats. As a consequence, the question lurks: will the two sides dive into war, or will the opposition ranks take flight, perhaps disintegrate, before the battle begins, leaving their leaders in the lurch? And if ever the 3 M Opposition Coalition (Mian, Maulana, and Motley Crew) takes over the 2 M axis (Military and its Minions), who is likely to prevail? What are the chances of the 3 M pushing the other side to apply for peace? Is there going to be a stalemate (which may also favor the Opposition)?
Or is the opposition to be decimated and Pakistan to be left with a one-party dictatorship under which the military can dictatorship while retaining the façade of civilian rule by a loyal, obeisant and obsequious party like the PTI?
A SWOT review of the looming political war in Pakistan might provide some indication of how things are likely to spread.
The root of the opposition’s strength lies in its widespread popularity. Nawaz Sharif remains the most influential leader in Punjab, a province that acts as a controlling authority in Pakistan. He also has large pockets of support in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hazara belt. Nawaz Sharif’s fan base remained stable even in the toughest of times. His dynamic sibling, Maryam, is a power multiplier and is capable of drawing crowds like few other politicians in Pakistan.
What PMLN loses is the strength of the lane. The party will get people out at rallies and in the polling stations, but its supporters are not exactly known for having an appetite for street fighting. This is where Maulana Fazlur Rehman becomes a multiplier of powers.
The smart and wise Maulana has strong pockets of support in the Pashtun belt of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In addition, it operates Pakistan’s biggest network of madrassas. He may not have the votes that Nawaz Sharif has, but what he loses in the votes, he’s making up the street strength of his devoted cadres and supporters. Together, Mian and Maulana represent the confluence not only of the Punjabi and Pashtun politics but also of the powerful bazaar and clergy.
Added to this is the agglomeration of smaller political parties and groups such as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), Baloch nationalists, Pashtun nationalists such as the Awami National Party, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and the now predominantly rural Sindh PPP, the 3 M alliance has support across Pakistan.
Together with their help, they have a reason, even a grievance, against the army and its minions, which adds to their strength. Simply put, the 2 M conquered it by driving the opposing parties to the wall and establishing a do-or-die scenario for them. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is one of the most pragmatic leaders in the Indian subcontinent. For the last quarter of a century, the Maulana had never challenged the army. Also, his fiery speech against the US and for the Taliban after 9/11 was part of an agreement with the then military government of Pervez Musharraf.
He benefited from the patronage of Musharraf, even though he made a public display of opposition to the tyrant. He knows influence as few in Pakistan do, and that’s why he’s always been open to military accommodation. That’s it till now.
Military support for his bete noire Imran Khan is absolutely intolerable to the Maulana. He absolutely can not bear the sight of Imran, who is reciprocating the thought. Nawaz Sharif, too, amid his numerous military run-ins, has always been seen as a pro-establishment politician. But now both Mian and Maulana seem to have burned their bridges with the new military leadership and feel that they are left with no choice but to direct their assault on the army in order to get rid of the military’s minions. The fact that Mian and Maulana have a strong presence in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where much of the military rank and file come from, is something that the army should be deeply worried about.