Election campaign on?

Nawaz Sharif’s remarks against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) may appear odd, given no immediate issues of conflict between the two parties, but when viewed in the context of possible upcoming elections, they begin to make sense. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief was in Muzaffarabad to re-launch the party’s local chapter in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), which had collapsed during the long exile of the Sharif brothers. It may suit the Sharifs to calmly pursue a policy of ‘wait and see’, first because managing Pakistan in its current situation is not child’s play and second, they would want the PPP government to sully the party’s repute through its dismal performance in managing the country’s affairs before reinventing themselves as the new messiahs of Pakistan. But re-entering the corridors of power after the next general elections would need a handsome number of seats countrywide, which is not possible in the absence of the party in large swathes of the country. PML-N virtually disintegrated in all provinces with the exception of central Punjab after the Sharifs’ departure from the country. PML-N officials as well as workers joined Musharraf’s handmaiden PML-Q in droves, leaving the party in the doldrums. After coming back, the Sharifs made moves to reorganise the party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan, albeit with little success. But now, realising that their current strength is not sufficient for realisation of their lofty ambitions, the Sharifs have renewed their efforts.

Concomitantly, their rhetoric is becoming more strident with each passing day.In the Muzaffarabad rally, in addition to reiterating that the PML-N is not a friendly opposition, Mian Nawaz Sharif singled out MQM for harsh criticism. He blamed the party for the May 12, 2007 incident, when the chief justice of Pakistan was stopped from addressing a function of the Sindh High Court Bar Association by detaining him at the airport. Meanwhile, political activists and lawyers, who had come out in his support, were targeted, resulting in nearly 50 deaths. Vituperating against MQM in Muzaffarabad has a reason. During the Sharif’s exile, while PML-N was withering on the vine, MQM was actively working on its agenda of becoming a national party, after remaining confined to urban Sindh for most of its life. Its work in the earthquake-affected areas earned it two seats in the AJK legislative assembly.

Although its plans of expanding its outreach into other parts of the country were severely sabotaged by its ill-advised move of May 12, it has continued to consolidate its base wherever it got a little toehold, posing a tough competition for its rivals. Nawaz Sharif is right in declaring the talk of revolution as empty sloganeering for gaining political capital, taking advantage of public disillusionment. But his criticisms lack merit because most of the things he decries in others, his own party is guilty of. For example, he criticises the PPP for not making appointments on merit, but the situation is no different in Punjab, where his brother is the chief minister. Nawaz Sharif’s expression of disgust for those who mollycoddle dictators was a loaded remark against the MQM, but he seems to have forgotten the trajectory of his own rise to political stardom. Moreover, his visit to Muzaffarabad has been paid for by the Punjab government, instead of the PML-N party fund or his own pocket.MQM’s leader Altaf Hussain has pledged to respond to all of Nawaz Sharif’s allegations. These are all signs that the campaign for the next election has begun and the political temperature is slated to rise – Dailytimes