The battle for Sindh

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The PTI’s efforts to topple the Sindh government seem to have failed because the party made the mistake of relying solely on the JIT report in the fake bank accounts and money laundering case to bring down the PPP administration.

While the PTI leadership appears to have halted its mission to bring about change of government in Sindh, this is little more than a temporary ceasefire. Both sides are now working to strengthen their position and launch another offensive at the right time.

The PTI’s plans to use the JIT report to achieve political gains have strengthened the existing impression that the accountability process is politically-motivated. This has led many PPP leaders to assert that the allegations of corruption, incompetence and misuse of authority levelled against them are an attempt to replace the PPP government in Sindh with a PTI-led provincial administration.

The PTI is also blamed for trying to create rifts within the PPP in the Sindh Assembly. But political manipulation isn’t going to be an easy task in the present circumstances as the PPP enjoys a comfortable majority in the assembly. Despite all the difficulties that the PPP leadership has faced, it still has control over the party.

Usually, political manipulation take place before and after elections. Jam Sadiq Ali used these tactics in 1990 and formed a coalition government with the MQM. The Musharraf regime did the same when the PML-Q and the MQM formed a coalition government and created rifts within the PPP. If history is anything to go by, such political manipulation is only possible with non-political support.

The PTI will have to resort to horse-trading and changing the loyalties of MPAs to topple the PPP government. Any attempt to do this, whether it leads to success or failure, will have long-lasting political repercussions. Efforts to destabilise the Sindh government will only bring back the confrontational politics of the 1990s and the PTI is likely to fall victim to the old tactics involved in dirty politics. The opposition forces will employ the same strategies against the PTI governments at the centre and in Punjab. Confrontation will increase and democracy and the political process stand the risk of being compromised through this form of politics.

We must wait for courts to deliver their verdict in this regard since the accountability process will become even more controversial if it is used for media trials and political manipulation.

History clearly indicates that political forces cannot be wiped out through judicial and administrative measures. The steep decline of the PPP in Punjab is a case in point. When General Zia’s military regime tried to destroy the PPP with state repression, the party survived even though Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged and thousands of its activists were put behind bars and tortured. The PPP also survived attempts by authoritarian and right-wing forces to wipe it out from the political scene in the 1990s.

But after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, the PPP seems to have lost ground in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was primarily the result of the political process and the mistakes made by the PPP leadership.

In the past, the PPP suffered temporary setbacks in the electoral sphere and managed to recover from them quickly. However, Asif Ali Zardari has incorporated anti-PPP forces from Sindh within the PPP and the party now relies on feudal lords and influential spiritual leaders to win elections.

Be that as it may, it will be wrong to draw the conclusion that the PPP has lost popular appeal in rural Sindh as the party still enjoys considerable support among the people. In addition, there is no viable political alternative to the PPP in Sindh as the MQM is in disarray, the PML-N lacks no organisational structure or support base in the province to challenge the PPP. The PTI is relying on anti-PPP feudal lords and tribal chiefs, and lacks considerable public support in rural Sindh. Even the Grand Democratic Alliance has failed to take off in the province.

Any political manoeuvrings and dirty tactics to destabilise the PPP government in Sindh will play into the hands of the PPP leadership. Such political manipulation will merely raise doubts about the accountability process and strengthen the impression that it is being used as a tool for political victimisation. The JIT report will become controversial even before it is brought to a court of law.

The PTI has the right to exert pressure on the Sindh government within the limits of the constitution and political morality. But it may be going too far. The PTI can only strengthen its political position in the province through democratic and political means.

Published in on 04-01-2019.