Shaukat Aziz Gets Something Right

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has become the scapegoat for the country’s present economic challenges.  Much of the blame is well-deserved, though many of his former allies have put a disproportionate amount of responsibility on him to save themselves.

However flawed or failed his economic policies, Aziz manages to get some things right in an interview with Dawn.  He notes that the the PML-Q was a party of opportunists.  He also predicts Nawaz Sharf fully parting ways with Asif Zardari, resulting in new elections that the PML-N will sweep.  This, he says, will produce a two-party system with the PML-N governing and the PPP in the opposition.

Aziz’s prediction, I believe, is incisive and has a high likelihood of realization.

The PPP is generally assumed to be Pakistan’s largest political party.  But few recall that the PML-N won a majority of National Assembly seats in the last elections before Musharraf’s coup. Nawaz’s renewal (through his mix of nationalistic, anti-Musharraf, and pro-judiciary stances) combined with the Zardarization of the PPP (which mitigates the Bhutto factor) could bring his party back to such levels.

In recent days, the possibility of rapprochement with the PML-Q (or at least the Chaudhries of Gujrat) has increased.  There have been rumors of a Nawaz-Shujaat meeting in London this weekend.  Patching things up with the Chaudhries could work both ways.  It could tar the Sharifs, but also consolidate the Muslim League factions (excluding Pir Pagaro’s peculiar branch) and shore up the position of the PML-N (or by then, the PML) in Punjab, and–by virtue of that province’s size–nationally.

The question then would be: Will the PML-N revert to simply being the product of an anti-PPP vote bank (which many Pakistani analysts argue has been a determining factor in elections since the PPP’s emergence)?  Alternatively, will the PML-N continue on its present course, as a party that largely stands for something?

At the moment, things are unclear.  But what is and has always been obvious is that Pakistan would be better served with a substantive political discourse as well as its two major parties having a national reach.  The latter can be said for the PPP, to some degree, but the PML-N has had difficulty expanding beyond Punjab and the NWFP’s Hindko belt.  Both the PML-N and PML-Q have come out on the same side on the Kalabagh Dam issue–one that is seen by name as being another case of ‘Punjab vs. the rest’.  The PML-N will lose an opportunity to project its influence beyond Punjab if it does not use that project’s failure as an opportunity to lead a national discourse on inter-provincial relations, particularly over natural resources.  It can still win nationally by sweeping Punjab, but that would put Pakistan further on the path of Balkanization, make governance difficult, radicalize alienated groups, and produce a subsequent government led by the PPP including parties from the smaller provinces.

Pakistan then would be reliving the 1990s and the deleterious politics of antagonism.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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