Following Sunday’s by-elections, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are now two peas in the same pod – or Ps if you will, as the first letter of their acronyms or indeed the first of the word party itself.

The P also stands for the very similar predicament that they, and all those before and around them, have gone through as civilian entities. Another P also stands for the probability of the two finally turning their heads around and accepting one another and agreeing to unify in a bid to finally and collectively get out of the shackled pod – which of course is pretty limited.

The PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif’s arrest in the lead up to the by-elections was as categorical a signal as any that he had prodigiously misread the circumstances in the lead up to the July 25 elections, and his continued failure to recognise that is only going to dig him new holes. With Nawaz Sharif out and about, the PML-N is now back under its de facto leadership, which had planned to prowl and then pounce on any opportunity that the PTI would give them.

The PTI has done precisely that in abundance. First of all by the manner in which they have approached the IMF for a bailout package – which was inevitable, and should’ve been portrayed as such the day the cabinet took oath. Hence, not only was the IMF precondition always going to be met and shoot the dollar’s price skywards, its ramifications on the prices all over are already being felt by the masses, and the blame – albeit injudiciously – being pinned on the PTI government, given the contrasting position they had taken both before and after their election.

Second, the PML-N would be absolutely over the moon by the by-elections’ results. Bagging the same seats in the centre (four) as the PTI, two of which were nipped from the ruling party, and outdoing Punjab’s ruling party 5-4 in the province, is something the PML-N would not have imagined in their wildest of dreams.

They are, hence, expectedly, touting this as a verdict of the masses on the PTI’s 50-day performance. Now the PML-N needs to wait a few more weeks, and as the sanctions on Iran kick in and potentially take the Brent crude price over 100, the prices would further hike up, with the blame for it all being pinned squarely, and unfairly, on the PML-N.

Of course, fair is what PTI couldn’t even pretend to be in the opposition, and it’s natural that the PML-N would play by the same rules – only worse, since they have far more experience of playing the spoilers.

But here’s the thing: both Ps will remain stuck in the pod till the day they continue to play spoiler to one another. For, those pitting them against one another are the ones who don’t want the pod to be shattered.

And so, the PML-N shall remain tied to the plethora of cases their leaders have been embroiled in – NA-131 victor Saad Rafique in Paragon Housing Scheme, party president Shehbaz Sharif in Ashiana Housing Scheme and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in Al-Azizia Steel Mills, for instance.

Meanwhile, the PTI have been conveyed through the by-election that their leads in the centre and Punjab are fragile, and the moment the supporting hand is lifted, the PML-N can gatecrash the party.

What this means in the grander picture is that of all the money that is at the state’s disposal, a significant fraction would go in debt servicing and another would go in war servicing, and the civilian government – the PTI lead, as things stand – will have nothing to play with.

And as prices soar, and the government has nothing to show, the masses would agitate. That would leave the civilian leadership with two options: to accept their fate in 2023, or to fight out as a united front of all the Ps in the shackled pod.

 

The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.