By Irfan Bukhari –
Cobbled together by a dictator, the PML-Q has finally run its course. There just isn’t anyone interested in staying put
The drawing-room-politics of one-time maestro politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and the cleverly-maneuvered-clout of his cousin Ch Pervaiz Elahi, who were at their peak under the Pervez Musharraf regime, are fast losing their hold and the party (PML-Q) created by an over-ambitious general, is set to be disintegrated, leaving behind imprints of an intrigue-ridden history of power politics.
Though the Chaudhrys of Gujrat have been facing revolts within the party ranks since the ouster of General (R) Pervez Musharraf from power in 2008, which led to the creation of PML-Likeminded as well as other forward blocs in the Punjab and Balochistan Assemblies, the time for a formal dissolution of what was once the King’s Party is around the corner and the Chaudhrys’ political scheme of switching loyalty from Musharraf to Zardari (from one king to another) is set to earn no political mileage for a dying political entity.
The PML-Q, from the very beginning, failed to establish an ideological identity and proved to be just a bunch of opportunists gathered at one platform to either avert Musharraf’s wrath after the 1999 coup or secure key slots in the dictator’s regime. This opportunism was fully exposed when, after facing a crushing defeat in the 2008 general elections, a number of PML-Q leaders and lawmakers not only started mending fences with the Nawaz-led faction of Muslim League but they also ditched their erstwhile mentor Pervez Musharraf when both Zardari and Nawaz arrived at the decision of impeaching the retired commando.
“The PML-Q best represents the parties that military dictators in Pakistan and elsewhere created to support their regimes. The individuals and groups that formed PML-Q to defend and support General Pervez Musharaf had one objective in mind – power,” comments Rasul Bakhsh Rais
The intra-party differences and fissures kept on widening as the formation of forward blocs and splinter groups in the Q-League eroded the authority of the Chaudhrys and the man – Pervez Musharraf – who used to call the shots in the PML-Q, had lost both sticks and carrots and opted to go into a self-imposed exile. In years 2008-2010, the helpless and dejected Chaudhrys were unable to control renegades, while both the PPP and the PML-N were luring their men for their vested interests. Just at the time the PML-Q was set to be disintegrated, the Chaudhrys tactfully struck a power-sharing deal with the PPP and joined the ruling coalition in May, 2011, hence giving some more breath (though artificial) to a fading political pride.
“The PML-Q best represents the parties that military dictators in Pakistan and elsewhere created to support their regimes. The individuals and groups that formed PML-Q to defend and support General Pervez Musharaf had one objective in mind – power,” comments Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Professor of Political Science at LUMS. “Once Musharraf and power were gone, the crowd couldn’t keep its coherence. There was neither ideology nor a powerful charismatic leader to keep them together. They looked for a new patron,” Rais adds.
Most of the members lost trust in the already non-charismatic central command due to preferential treatment given by the Chaudhrys to non-elected, constituency-less decision makers in the party like Mushahid Hussain
After carefully weighing all available options, the PML-Q leaders (former MNAs, Senators, MPAs, District Nazims) as well as sitting members of the national and provincial assemblies, have now made up their minds for future political affiliations and the departure of one PML-Q leader after the other for the PPP or the PML-N, indicates that the dictator-designed political party has lived its shelf-life. A number of fair weather friends like Marvi Memon, who fully exploited not only the Chaudhrys but also Musharraf for material gains till her departure from the PML-Q, have already ditched the party to join Nawaz.
Erstwhile PML-Q stalwarts like Saifullahs, sons of General Akhtar Abdul Rehman (Humayun Akhtar and Haroon Akhtar), Hamid Nasir Chattha, Gohar Ayub Khan etc have now become the partners of Nawaz Sharif from the platform of Likeminded Group which they call ‘Real Muslim League’ as they challenged the legality of the election of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain for the office of party president in 2009. Former Chief Minister Sindh, Arbab Ghulam Rahim is also affiliated with the PML-Likeminded. A number of former PML-Q Senators like Tariq Azeem, Naeem Chattha and Syed Javed Ali Shah have also joined the PML-N in their individual capacities since long.
Meanwhile, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, who is supposed to run family’s political business, has also failed to prove his mettle. In fact, his image was tainted due to corruption scams like the National Insurance Corporation Limited. Ch Pervaiz Elahi’s son also lacks acumen to maintain coherence between party leaders and the charisma to attract crowds.
The PML-Q forward bloc in Punjab Assembly which, in fact, enjoys the support of majority of MPAs elected on bicycle symbol in 2008 elections has affiliated itself with the Sharifs since they sabotaged the PPP-PML-Q plan of toppling Shahbaz Sharif’s government in February-March, 2009 and its members are all set to contest upcoming polls on the PML-N’s tiger symbol.
Talking to Pique, a PML-Q MNA said that most of the party men lost trust in the already non-charismatic central command due to the preferential treatment given by the Chaudhrys to non-elected, constituency-less decision makers in the party like Mushahid Hussain. “Mushahid bears major responsibility for the present-day crisis in the party. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain always overturned pieces of advice of the elected parliamentarians just to please Mushahid and now such pseudo-intellectuals are of no use for the beleaguered leaders,” he added. According to leaders from both factions of Muslim League (N and Q), the chances of rapprochement between the Sharifs and Chaudhrys are almost near to impossible. “When their men, either individually or in the form of groups, are joining us, then what is the compulsion behind shaking hands with the Q’s top brass?” commented a PML-N leader.
After facing crushing defeat in 2008 general elections, PML-Q leaders not only started mending fences with Nawaz, but they also ditched their erstwhile mentor/master (Musharraf) when both Zardari and Nawaz landed at the decision of impeaching the retired commando
Background discussions with a number of PML-Q lawmakers revealed that a stark majority of the sitting PML-Q MNAs are unlikely to contest next elections from the Chaudhrys’ party. Reliable sources within the PML-Q claimed that MNA from NA-20 Mansehra-I, Shah Jehan Yousaf and his father, former Mansehra District Nazim , Sardar Mohammad Yousaf, have made a pledge to join the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) in their recent meeting with Maulana Fazlur Rehman. The duo is annoyed with the Chaudhrys over the protocol being given to Mansehra-based Syed Qasim Shah – special assistant to prime minister – by the Chaudhrys who also belongs to their constituency. The Qasim-Shah factor has also angered dozens of other PML-Q leaders and workers from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) as they think that the party leadership has neglected Pashtoon belt and awarded not only both ministerial berths to Hazara region but also the party’s top provincial slot to Qasim Shah.
Another PML-Q MNA Mohammad Nawaz Allai, from NA-22 Battagram, is also likely to join the PML-N and talks are underway between the two sides. Allai remained in contact with the PPP in the last five years through PPP MNA Mehreen Anwar Raja, but after being disappointed with PPP’s lukewarm response, is likely to become a part of PML-N. MNA from NA-27 Lakki Marwat, Humayun Saifullah Khan, is a part of the PML-Likeminded, which has already struck an electoral alliance with the PML-N. Amir Muqam, MNA from NA-31 Shangla, has also joined the PML-N. After ditching Pervez Musharraf, Muqam said goodbye to the PML-Q leadership when Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi declined his request to be accommodated on some lucrative ministerial slot.
The PML-Q forward bloc in Punjab Assembly which, in fact, enjoys the support of majority of the MPAs elected on the bicycle symbol in the ‘08 elections, has affiliated itself with the Sharifs ever since they sabotaged the PPP-PML-Q plan of toppling the PML-N government in February-March, ‘09
The PML-Q’s strategy of clinching a power-sharing deal with the PPP has virtually failed to control defections and the beneficiary in the game, by default, is the PML-N, since the Muslim Leaguers naturally tend to join the party representing the right-wing. “Many members of the PML-Q don’t see this (arrangement with the PPP) strategy working except for the Chaudharys and that is why they are leaving for greener pastures,” Rasul Bakhsh Rais observes, “The party retains the label but it is empty of any content – human or philosophical”.
The sources within Q-League claim that ailing Prince Mohayuddin, the MNA from NA-32 Chitral, has pledged to leave his constituency for General Musharraf. Mohayuddin’s son is the staunchest supporter of Pervez Musharraf and was the one who led the team that organized Musharraf’s Karachi rally in January 2012.
Two PML-Q MNAs from NA-65 Sargodha-II, Chaudhry Ghayas Mela, and from NA-67 Sargodha-IV, Chaudhry Anwar Ali Cheema are poised to quit the PML-Q as the former is flirting with the PPP while the latter, who is also a close relative of the Chaudhrys, has decided to join the PML-N. Cheema’s son has already joined the N-League. “Actually, both the leaders called on Nawaz two years back and subsequently Mela, apparently due to the arrogant attitude of the Sharifs, changed his mind and tilted towards the PPP, while Cheema delayed his announcement after the PML-Q joined the ruling coalition in 2011. Anwar Cheema has so far received development funds worth billions of rupees from the Chaudhrys as well as a quota in jobs but his departure from the League is inevitable,” said a source in the party.
Sumaira Malik, who has been elected twice from NA-69 Khushab-I, is likely to join the PML-N, though immediately after 2008 polls, she had distanced herself from the PML-Q and also voted for Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential election. After failing to get lucrative rewards in exchange for her campaigns for the PPP’s presidential candidate, she went into hibernation and never retaliated against the ruling party, apparently due to her spouse, who was posted in the interior ministry. A source in the PML-N told Pique that after Sumaira Malik’s first meeting with Nawaz at Raiwand in Oct 2011, Nawaz Sharif faced ‘pressure’ from within ‘family’ for not accommodating her in the party. Sumaira’s sister and former PML-Q MNA, Ayla Malik has joined the PTI.
Two other PML-Q MNAs, Asim Nazir, elected from NA-77 Faisalabad-III, and Rana Asif Tauseef, from NA-80 Faisalabad-VI, are also not contesting the next polls on the PML-Q ticket. The former has already joined the Nawaz-led Muslim League. The circles close to Asim and Asif claim that they operate in Faisalabad in the form of a group and generally evolve joint political strategies against Jats. Under the same approach, they had defeated PML-Q candidate Akram Sahi in the Zila Nazim race to secure the slot for the elder brother of Rana Asif Tauseef – Rana Zahid Tauseef.
Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada from NA-186 Bahawalpur-I, has already joined the PML-N. Commenting on the future of the PML-Q, Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada predicts that only the Chaudhry brothers will contest polls from their party as the majority is waiting in the wings to join Nawaz Sharif. “Few MNAs may join the PPP as well,” he added. Another PML-Q MNA from NA-188 (Bahawalnagar I), Khadim Hussain Wattoo is aligned with the PML-N since 2008.
PML-Q MNA Farkhanda Amjad Warraich who was elected from NA-92 T.T. Singh-I on the PML-Q ticket as her spouse, Amjad Warraich, could not contest 2008 elections due to graduation condition, has also parted ways with the Chaudhrys. It is pertinent to mention here that soon after 2008 elections, Farkhanda aligned herself with the PPP and in return her husband, Amjad Warraich was appointed as chairman Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC). However, Warraich ditched the PPP and launched his own party – Pakistan National Muslim League (PNML) – and contested by-elections from the provincial assembly seat against PPP’s candidate Qasim Zia once graduation bar was removed and lost the seat as well as PPP’s proximity. In upcoming polls, Farkhanda would contest from her husband’s new party.
Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, who is supposed to run family’s political business, has failed to prove his mettle. In fact, his image was tainted due to corruption scams like NICL
According to sources, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana, elected from NA-87 Jhang-II is also likely to join the PML-N. Her constituency is divided into followers of three shrines, Sial Sharif, Golra Sharif and Ali Pur Sharif, with the majority being the followers of Pirs (spiritual leaders) of Sial Sharif and she herself is the Mureed (disciple) of Sial Sharif and always takes political decisions on their nod. The Pirs of Sial Sharif are aligned with the PML-N and, therefore, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana will ultimately go to the PML-N camp.
Another PML-Q MNA, Siddique Khan Baloch, from NA-154 Lodhran-I, is also likely to join the PML-N. Siddique was elected with the support of Abdul Rehman Kanjo – former District Nazim Lodhran and son of Siddique Khan Kanjo, who was a member of Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet in the ‘90s. According to reliable sources, Abdul Rehman Kanjo, after flirting with the PPP, has recently called on Shahbaz Sharif and is likely to join the N-League. It is pertinent to mention here that Abdul Rehman Kanjo’s uncle – Akhtar Khan Kanjo – who won by-elections from NA-155 in August 2010 as an independent candidate, later joined the PML-N.
After feeling threats from former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani’s family over their intentions to contest next elections from his constituency, Dewan Ashiq Hussain, elected from NA-153 Multan-VI, has now joined the PML-N. Pir Mohammad Aslam Bodla from NA-158 Khanewal-III, who enjoys strong electability, has also joined the PML-N after being disappointed with the PPP leadership. He is the one and only PML-Q MNA who cast each and every vote in favour of the PPP in the National Assembly in the last five years, whether it was the election of the Speaker or the President, or any bill, including money bills, tabled by the PPP, but in exchange of his support, he got nothing from the other side, and under such compulsions, embraced the PML-N.
The Legharis from D.G. Khan have already jumped ship and joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf and there are reports that they are mulling their options to mend fences with the PML-N after Saifuddin Khosa (Legharis’ conventional rival in D.G. Khan) switched loyalty from N-League to the PPP. Worth mentioning here is that along with the Legharis, a good number of PML-Q elders like Sikandar Bosan, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Ishaq Khakwani, Chaudhry Ameer Hussain, Hussain Jahanian Gardezi, had also joined the PTI in December, 2011. The PML-Q MNA from NA-174 (Rajanpur I), Sardar Jaffar Khan Leghari is in two minds but sources close to the Leghari family claim that he, too, would join Nawaz Sharif.
PML-Q secretary information Senator Kamil Ali Agha refutes the impression that his party is going to be disbanded, claiming, “After March 16, a number of people from other parties will join our ranks, while those who defected from us will also rejoin the PML-Q.”
Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, elected from NA-88 Jhang-III, has parted ways with the PML-Q and is likely to contest elections independently as he enjoys a secure vote-bank in his constituency though he has offers from the PML-N. He broke away from the Q-League over Chaudhrys’ decision to support Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s candidature for the slot of the premier after Yousaf Raza Gilani’s disqualification in Swiss Letter case in June, 2012 while Hayat was fighting legal battles against Ashraf in the Supreme Court as well as in the media on Rental Power Projects.
Another PML-Q MNA from Jhang, Sheikh Waqqas Akram, who secured the NA-89 seat (in the interest of full disclosure: Akram is Pique’s publisher) and who had been the voice of the party since its defeat in 2008 polls, has also quit the Q-League. He broke his relations with the Chaudhrys over the latter’s inequitable distribution of development funds received from the government but till today, despite his closeness with President Asif Ali Zardari and other top-runners in the establishment of the Peoples Party, he has not decided to switch to the PPP. Sheikh Waqqas Akram is receiving offers from the PML-N’s central command but he is reluctant to join this faction of Muslim League on two grounds: first, the PML-N’s soft stance towards banned religious outfits against whom he contests elections from NA-89 and secondly, due to the League’s vindictive mindset, under which it victimized his family in the last few years. He is likely to contest elections either from the PPP or as an independent candidate.
Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan, the MNA from NA-91 Jhang-VI, is also mulling his options to jump the PML-Q ship. Mehboob Sultan, along with his uncles Nazeer Sultan and Hameed Sultan (former District Nazim Jhang) tilted towards the PPP and also openly supported PPP’s plan of toppling Shahbaz Sharif’s government during Governor Rule but once the bid was foiled, they established contacts with the PML-N, and on receiving a cold response from the Sharifs, came back to the Chaudhrys’ camp on the PPP’s nod. They will join either the PPP or the PML-N, depending on who offers a better deal. Riaz Fatyana, MNA from NA-94, may also go as an independent candidate as the PML-N would field Chaudhry Asadur Rehman, the brother of Justice (retd) Khalilur Rehman Ramday against him. Riaz Fatyana is the parliamentarian who first launched a forward bloc in the national assembly in 2008 to challenge Chaudhrys’ authority in collaboration with Kashmala Tariq.
The majority of former District Nazims belonging to the PML-Q, who enjoy considerable political clout in their respective regions, have also joined Nawaz Sharif while certain other district heavyweights who were previously affiliated with the PML-Q have now joined the PTI
Liaquat Abbas Bhatti from NA-103 and Sardar Talib Nakai from NA-142 are among the very few parliamentarians who might stay with the Chaudhrys. Bhatti was elected from Hafizabad while Nakai has been elected from Kasur. Both are likely to stay in the PML-Q, not due to their choice but because of local compulsions in their respective constituencies, which make no room for them to align themselves with the PPP or the PML-N.
Raza Hayat Hiraj, elected from NA-156 Khanewal-I, is also unlikely to contest the upcoming elections on the PML-Q ticket as he is the guy who has been flirting with Musharraf, the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI in the last five years. After giving firm assurances to Musharraf to join his political ambitions, he cast his vote in favour of PML-N’s candidate Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui in the 2008 presidential election and also sent a photo of his stamped ballot paper through an MMS to Nawaz Sharif’s son, Hussain Nawaz, as a proof of his loyalty. Afterwards, he took a somersault and aligned himself to the PPP through former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani for his vested interests and also succeeded in securing slot in Gilani’s cabinet in result of PPP-PML-Q power sharing deal in May, 2011.
After developing differences with Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, former federal minister for housing and works, Raza tendered his resignation as Hayat’s state minister and started establishing contacts with Imran Khan. Now, he is again an essential part of Chaudhrys’ camp but the Q-insiders bet that he would again ditch the party leadership and may go independently in the elections.
His cousin Hamid Yar Hiraj, elected from NA- 157 Khanewal-II, has a well-known proclivity towards the PPP since the 2008 polls and it was former premier Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, who awarded the lucrative ERRA chairmanship to him. Sources close to the Hiraj family claim that the Hirajs’ secure seats in Khanewal, are mainly due to the established roots of Ahmed Yar Hiraj – former District Nazim Khanewal – who also heads the Hiraj clan. “Ahmed Hiraj still maintains loyalty to the PML-Q leadership but he has offers from the PML-N and the PPP. The PML-N has asked him to contest elections from Raza Hayat Hiraj’s constituency,” said the source. He said that if Hamid Yar Hiraj contests the next elections from the PPP platform without his elder brother’s support, he might lose his seat.
Malik Nauman Ahmed Langrial, elected from NA-163 Sahiwal-IV, is also in talks with the PML-N. He will join the N-League provided his father is awarded a ticket for provincial assembly from Kassowal, Chicha Watni, Sahiwal. Khwaja Sheraz Mehmood, elected from NA-171 D.G. Khan-I, remained in contacts with the PPP through Syed Khurshid Shah and Nazar Muhammad Gondal but got dejected over being consistently neglected by the PPP and nowadays has launched back-channel contacts with Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Sardar Bahadur Khan Sehar from NA-181 is all set to join the PPP. He is a former PPP leader who joined ranks of Q-League during the Musharraf regime and has a natural inclination to rejoin the mother party.
A number of Q-League leaders from Sindh have already parted ways with the Chaudhrys as the likeminded group and have announced their alliance with the PML-N. The PML-Q stalwart leader and former provincial chapter’s head Ghous Bux Mahar, along with dozens of party leaders and electables, has joined the PML-F, headed by Pir Pagara. Three other sitting MNAs of the PML-Q, Arbab Zakaullah, Ghulam Haider Samejo and Syed Ayaz Ali Sherazi, are no more loyal to the Chaudhrys.
The situation of the PML-Q in Balochistan is also very bleak and it is pertinent to mention here that the PML-Q faced its first public embarrassment when in 2008, despite being the majority party in the provincial assembly, it failed to form its government in the province and the party MPAs, individually, or in the form of forward blocs, clinched power-sharing deal with the PPP and elected PPP’s Aslam Raisani as their leader of the house.
The Chaudhrys, in private meetings, have been complaining that Pervez Musharraf, who was president at that time, had, in fact, asked the PML-Q to let PPP form its government as he wanted to send a goodwill gesture to the then PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. But the fact of the matter is that the Chaudhrys have permanently lost control of these MPAs from Balochistan.
Former federal minister and sitting PML-Q MPA from Balochistan, Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind is all set to join the PML-N. He holds grudges against the Chaudhrys as he thinks that they did not help him fight his family-feud against PPP’s former Chief Minister Balochistan, Aslam Raisani. Another PML-Q MNA from Balochistan, Ahmdan Khan Bugti is also all set to join the PML-N.
The majority of former District Nazims belonging to the PML-N, who enjoy considerable political clout in their respective regions, have also joined Nawaz Sharif. These include Ghulam Abbas from Chakwal, Raja Javed Ikhlas from Rawalpindi, Inam-ul-Haq Paracha from Sargodha, Ubaidullah Shadikhel from Mianwali, Hameed Akbar Niwani from Bhakkar, Fayyaz Ahmed Chattha from Gujranwala, Akmal Cheema from Sialkot, Faisal Mukhtar from Multan and Malik Ghulam Haider Thind from Layyah. Meanwhile other district heavyweights, who were previously affiliated with the PML-Q, have now joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) like Ghulam Muhammad Tiwana from Khushab, Jalil Sharqpuri from Sheikhupura, Rai Hassan Nawaz from Sahiwal, Rafique Haider Khan Leghari from Rahim Yar Khan and Syed Shahid Mehdi Naseem Shah from Vehari.
PML-Q secretary information Senator Kamil Ali Agha refutes the impression that his party is going to be disbanded, saying, “Such table stories proved incorrect in last five years and we proved our identity.” He said in the seat-adjustment parleys between the PPP and the PML-Q, the PPP had asked his party to field candidates on 86 seats of the Punjab provincial assembly due to the fact that the PML-Q had strong electables there, while both parties had just finalized working on only 60% seats of the said provincial assembly. “After March 16, a number of people from other parties will join our ranks while those who defected from us will also rejoin the PML-Q,” Agha claimed.
The writer is the managing editor