RED ZONE FILES: The five fronts conflict. The winter brawl is intensifying. With the arrival of December in Islamabad, the political thermometer is reporting several spikes throughout the scale. The country’s stability — or, more precisely, its lack of it — can be measured on at least five fronts that are currently experiencing active and latent conflict.
PTI vs. ECP: This continuous conflict has intensified again again, with the PTI government insisting on the election commission ensuring the use of electronic voting machines in upcoming by-elections and general elections. Punjab’s government has also entered the fray, throwing a few odd punches and stating that ECP must use EVMs in the province’s upcoming local government elections. The ECP, on the other hand, has stated repeatedly that it cannot rush into implementing the EVM law due to a variety of practical constraints. The threat by the government to withdraw financing from the ECP if it does not implement EVMs in the elections has escalated this conflict. Insiders in the Red Zone believe the ECP would not budge from its position that it will not introduce EVMs unless it is satisfied with the machines’ adequate testing and the infrastructure required for the large exercise. The relationship between the PTI government and the ECP has deteriorated to the point where different constitutional entanglements are possible in the coming days. Expect a scarcity of steadiness.
December will determine the scale and outcome of this coming conflict, as the opposition alliance prepares to make critical decisions about rallies, street protests, and a possibly protracted march on Islamabad. However, the PTI government has maintained an advantage in this fight thus far due to the PDM’s lukewarm show of public dissent. Its words have spoken louder than its actions, and its hesitation demonstrates a lack of clarity over its future course of action. Despite assertions to the contrary, the absence of PPP from PDM has damaged the coalition. Another element undermining the PDM, according to opposition sources, is the PDM’s lukewarm support from a sizable portion of the PML-N leadership. The pragmatists inside the party are uneasy with the PDM leaders’ harsh anti-establishment posture and would prefer to unseat the PTI administration by ways other than an all-out attack on the establishment. Thus, the uncertainty appears to jeopardize the alliance for the time being and further erodes the opposition’s chances of presenting itself as a genuine alternative to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
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PTI vs Establishment: Despite a narrative that all is fine between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, things remain tense between the two cities. However, the nature of the tension has shifted subtly during the previous few weeks. What looked to be ‘hot’ tension has cooled. According to Red Zone insiders, this coldness is more of a state of detachment, even aloofness, than a genuine conflict at this stage. However, the warmth, cooperation, and active support at all levels have waned. Both sides are wary of the other. This will begin to manifest itself in December’s political dynamics if the PDM accelerates its pace. Numerous members of the PTI leadership are making concerted efforts to mend the wound and restore the relationship to its pre-spate state. An source who recently met with one of the most influential people in the PTI government confessed that the ruling party’s top hierarchy was fully involved in communicating to the opposing side that there was no malice intended. For the time being, though, this front remains active, albeit quietly.
PML-N against Establishment: In recent weeks, the PML-N has attempted to create the impression that its confrontation with the establishment is waning. It has not been entirely successful in accomplishing this. The fault lines are too deep, and the party’s internal struggle ensures that the healing process is useless. Immediately following the quarrel between the Prime Minister and the establishment, the PML-N made the appropriate sounds to prepare the ground for its engagement with the establishment. However, subsequent events, notably the publication of audio leaks, have torpedoed these efforts to some extent. While the war of words has been somewhat hushed, the war of intent has not. The pragmatics inside the party, which includes a sizable number of electables, fear they are losing an opportunity to re-enter the game as a result of the party leadership’s refusal to adapt to the altered circumstances. The clock is ticking. The conflict is still ongoing.
PML-N against PPP: In this week’s Peshawar jalsa, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also launched an attack on the PML-N without mentioning names. PML-N and PPP have squared off in the Lahore by-election due by the end of this week. The video evidence of votes being purchased has elevated the verbal duel to a new level. At the heart of this fire is the fundamental mistrust that continues to afflict the relationship between the two parties’ leaderships, despite the seeming camaraderie during the PDM’s early halcyon days. According to PPP insiders, they seek to capitalize on the gap created by the PTI-establishment conflict and have urged the PML-N to play smart politics. Certain insiders have also verified that the PPP’s image has improved in recent years. This has exacerbated the PPP’s relationship with PML-N hardliners, who now feel the PPP is looking to negotiate a deal and extract its pound of flesh at the expense of the PML-N. In the aftermath of the Lahore by-election and PDM manoevres, December will see another wave of friction between the two parties. Additionally, this front stays active and volatile.
With numerous conflicts raging for the spoils of victory, the broader war’s conclusion remains more uncertain than ever.
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