Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) is the King’s Party and its fortunes in the next general elections early next year will give an accurate measure of President Pervez Musharraf’s political acumen and his hold over the country’s polity, at least for the next few years.
From a rag-tag group of opportunist and ambitious politicians, PML-Q has managed to stay afloat for five years and provide a stable government. The period has not been without its share of turbulence for the party. There were serious differences of opinion with the military over a host of issues, like the suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice and the Karachi showdown that resulted in riots.
Despite facilitating the re-election of Musharraf as the President for a second term, the party faces an uncertain future with the military pressing ahead with a political arrangement with Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto. PPP is PML-Q’s main rival in the coming elections. In the 2002 elections, it was PPP (80) which came second to PML-Q’s tally of 118. 1PML-Q leaders apprehend that any political understanding with PPP would undercut their vote base in the elections.
But one person who is not really pessimistic about the outcome of Musharraf’s talks with Bhutto is PML-Q supreme Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, a thoroughbred politician, who has managed to become the Army’s winning horse in the game of politics. He has seen politics at close quarters and has lived through scandals and desertions in his long political career. He has been quite critical of the Musharraf’s deal with Bhutto keeping in mind the split in the votes between PML-N, the PML-Q and the religious parties led to the success of PPP vote bank2 in the 2002 elections. But he is too much of a politician to commit a political suicide by parting ways with Musharraf or the Army. He knows that for the time being, the Army is his best bet to political power.
The origin of PML-Q can be traced to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) where a small group led by Mian Azhar, Khurshid Kasuri, Abida Hussain and Fakhr Imam, unhappy with Nawaz Sharif’s way of functioning, began to dissent.3 In March 2001, the group decided to break away and form PML-Q when a former Minister in the Nawaz Sharif government, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain joined them. It was an opportune time for a young party. Musharraf was keen to legitimise his rule and was willing to experiment with a political party to set up a military dominated government. PML-Q was an ideal candidate and Shujaat lost no time in hitching his party’s bandwagon to the fortunes of Musharraf.
What the Chaudhary did was quite reminiscent of what political parties often do in the subcontinent faced with the opportunity to form government. He managed to lure politicians from different parties, including PML-N and PPP, to add muscle to his party which his distracters called a Qainchi group (scissors group). It was Shujaat Hussain’s money and political muscle, of course aided by Musharraf’s no less military power, which enabled the party to win enough seats during the elections to form a ruling coalition.
Once again it was Shujaat Hussain’s political dexterity which brought together disparate elements like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) to form the coalition. After the 2002 elections, Shujaat Hussain emerged as a strong political force as he re-organised the party in all the major cities and emerged as a powerful political force in urban Centres.
But early enough, Shujaat knew who called the shots when Musharraf decided to pick up a non-entity, a Baloch politician, Zafarullah Khan Jamali as the Prime Minister. Musharraf in his autobiography said he chose Jamali because he was personable. Whatever might have been the provocation for Musharraf to choose Jamali, it was obvious that it was not to the liking of Shujaat. Within two years, Jamali resigned primarily because of the differences with PML-Q chief. Even though Musharraf decided to bring US-educated economist, World Bank official Shaukat Aziz as the Prime Minister, he let the Chaudhary hold the position as an interim measure.
PML-Q: Five Years
The party has been true to its main agenda: to help Musharraf run the country, in uniform. In October 2004, the party acting pushed through the National Assembly Bill to allow Musharraf to remain in uniform for the remainder of his tenure as President4 to bring about "stability and ensure a smooth continuation of democracy". Next year, the party managed to romp home with sizeable number of seats in the local elections, a factor which was critical to shore up support for Musharraf.
Musharraf in turn helped the party, and himself, by tightening the eligibility criteria for contesting the elections (candidates must have studied English, Pakistan studies, and Urdu to be eligible) which contained religious parties which had surprised everyone by winning third highest number of seats in the National Assembly. Some key constituencies in Punjab like Rawalpindi , Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Multan were redrawn and declared as city districts to accommodate more PML-Q party members as nazims.
Relations with MMA, MQM, PPP
In the initial phase, PML-Q’s had a working relationship with MMA with its leaders agreeing to support the ruling coalition. The religious alliance even became part of the PML-Q coalition in Balochistan. But the honeymoon ended soon enough with the religious alliance divided vertically on its support to Musharraf. Qazi Hussain Ahmed was skeptical of the military regime and called for conditional support while his party colleague, Maulana Fazlur Rehman was keen to ally with the military and PML-Q. The Chaudhary played a critical role in keeping the differences minimal and doors open for future negotiations. In fact, the Chaudhary has been negotiating with the Maulana to help facilitate the re-election of Musharraf. Some political leaders allege that the Maulana had played an important role in ensuring Musharraf win the second tenure.
The PML-Q’s relations with the Mohajir Quami Party (MQM) have been on an even keel as both profess to be staunch supporters of Musharraf. But serious differences erupted out early May this year when MQM activists went on a violent spree in Karachi to prevent Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary from holding a march. The party leadership felt that MQM’s action would boomerang on PML-Q’s political chances in Sindh. They apprehended that PPP might benefit from the public anger. It is significant that PPP had done well during the 2002 elections in Sindh. It was reported that Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain was quite critical of the military regime’s strategy, forcing Musharraf to hold a meeting with the party members to assuage their feelings.
The party’s equation with PPP will always be troublesome even if Musharraf-Bhutto pact were to materialize. Both the parties draw support from a similar vote bank in Punjab in terms of social, political and economic profile. Besides, it is difficult to fathom how the Chaudhary and Benazir can co-exist, leave alone function, as alliance partners. Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain’s father, Chaudhary Zahoor Elahi, a seasoned parliamentarian and an activist was assassinated in a terrorist attack in 1981. It was widely speculated that the attack was carried out by Al-Zulfikar, an outfit led by Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir’s elder brother.
The fissures within the party began surfacing in 2005 when some members led by Farooq Amjad Mir formed a `forward bloc` and demanded the resignation of Shaukat Aziz and Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi5. The rift began on the issue of nomination of candidates for the local council elections. The differences emanated from personal and factional grievances against the Chaudhary brothers.
The other differences emerged due to the caste politics in Punjab. Members from the Saraiki Belt (southern Punjab) or the group comprising of Maliks and Awans, from the Pothar region are not happy with the Chaudhary brothers from Gujrat. This faction is named as the United Muslim League (UML) led by Former PM Jamali which has been toying with the idea of forging an alliance with the PPP in the coming elections of 2007.6
Though the Chaudhary brothers have been successful in keeping the dissension under the lid, there have been desertions in the recent past which do not augur well in case Benazir accepts the Musharraf deal. There are indications that members unhappy with the politics of favouritism played by the Chaudhary brothers might desert the ship closer to the elections. Recently, PML-Q central vice president and former federal law minister Ch. Ghafoor, with over 50 naib nazims from Bahawalnagar and Layyah districts joined PPP. Similarly, Parliamentary Secretary for science and technology Syed Ali Hasan Gilani quit the party to join PML-N. Syed Kabir Wasti (PML-Q Vice President) was expelled after he opposed Musharraf’s re-election as President in uniform. The Pir Pagara’s Functional League, a constituent of PML-Q, has threatened to join hands with Nawaz Sharif. Shujaat Hussain’s arch-rival Zafarullah Khan Jamali, according to media reports, was busy gathering the dissidents under one umbrella to pose a threat to the Chaudhary brothers. Recently, Javed Hashmi, PML-N, president claimed that at least half of PML-Q would ditch the Chaudhary brothers if Sharif returned to Pakistan. He said at least 21 PML-Q legislators had applied for PML-N tickets. Though Hashmi might be boasting, there is a strong possibility of similar desertions in the run up to the elections which might weaken PML-Q’s electoral chances.
The party sustains itself on the political and financial muscle of the Chaudhary brothers and their equation with Musharraf7. This has prevented the party from promoting a second rung of leadership even at the provincial level which could have helped extending the support base of the party. It rather relied on identification with Musharraf to sustain its political centrality.
The party’s close identification with the military regime could prove to be its failing in the coming elections. There are enough signs that people are not really enamoured of Musharraf. A recent public opinion poll showed Osama bin Laden more popular than Musharraf. The recent spate of street protests against the suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice has only added to the disillusionment. People might take their frustrations (since they could not have voted out Musharraf in the presidential election) out on PML-Q, particularly in a situation where Benazir Bhutto would be one of the lead campaigners.
Rahul Mukand was Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi
1 Election Commission of Pakistan, http://www.ecp.gov.pk/content/GE-2002.htm.
2 Akbar Hasan, Rise of the King’s Party, Newsline, October 2002,www.newsline.pk/NewsOct2002/cover7.htm
4 K. Alan Kronstadt, Pakistan Domestic Political Developments, CRS Report of Congress, September 19, 2005. . http://www.italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/RL32615.pdf
5 The PML troubles and Musharraf, Dr. Hasan Aksar Rizvi, Daily Times, 07 May, 2007,http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C05%5C07%5Cstory_7-5-2006_pg3_2
6 Jamali Launches Muttahida Muslim League, The Nation, 1 June 2007,http://nation.com.pk/daily/jun-2007/1/index7.php
7 Authoritarianism and Political Party Reform in Pakistan, Crisis Group Asia Report N 102, ICG Report, 28 September, 2005. http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3704