Jun 26, 2008 0
The Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) made major gains in today’s by-elections. It won ten additional seats in the Punjab Provincial Assembly.
Two belong to Shahbaz Sharif. He’ll have to give up one of them; the results of both could even be nullified.
Still, the PML-N is now better placed to control Punjab without the support of the People’s Party (PPP). All it needs is to gain close to a dozen defectors from the Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q). PML-Q forward bloc members in the Punjab Assembly have displayed a greater propensity to side with the PML-N than their equivalents in the National Assembly, who have merely distanced themselves from the Chaudhries of Gujrat and the convenient fall guy, Shaukat Aziz.
The first shot of a war between the PML-N and PPP could very well be fired in Punjab, control of which is of immense importance to both parties.
It could have very well have been fired with the appointment of Salmaan Taseer, who serves as the PPP and Musharraf’s check on the PML-N. Earlier this year, Zardari said he would move to Lahore. This never materialized, much like the Murree Accord’s promises. But it signaled his intent to re-build the PPP in Punjab. This month, Taseer announced that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would tour the province this summer. The teenager–in effect, a socialist-feudal sajjda nashin–would be gracefully politicized and beatified (in life) through a soft induction in the Seraiki belt.
In short, the battle for Punjab is, in many senses, the battle for Pakistan. The PPP needs to consolidate its position in southern Punjab and push up north. The PML-N dominates urban centers in the province’s north and center, but could use some expansion southward. The party could become overly insular in Punjab; it would be wise to use its increasingly comfortable position in Punjab as an opportunity to expand into Pakistan’s other provinces. And that requires not only reaching out to non-Punjabis through national issues (sovereignty, peace, and the rule of law), but also through appreciating their provincial concerns — particularly in respect to provincial autonomy and resource sharing.
Nawaz Sharif’s chief ministership of Punjab during Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister paved the way for his first stint as PM. Shahbaz Sharif’s objective is to run Punjab well and help that serve as one source of leverage catapulting the PML-N to power nationally. The PML-N’s gains in Punjab have put it forward on that path. But if it, like the PML-Q, embraces ethnic chauvinism (in this case, Punjabi), it will win Punjab and lose Pakistan. That, in reality, is a loss for everyone as it will push Pakistan further along the path of fragmentation.
At a broader level, Pakistan’s socio-political stability is dependent on the PPP and PML(N) partnering on core issues yet at the same time competing against one another not only in Punjab, but also elsewhere in the country — from Khyber to Karachi, Balochistan to Bahawalpur.