All the PML-N’s men in South Punjab: Which way does the wind blow?

South Punjab politicians deserve special praise for their forethought and wisdom—they have the ability to guess who will form the next government

Pakistan’s political landscape is complicated and unpredictable, which is why politicians from South Punjab deserve special praise for their forethought and wisdom. These men—mostly men till now—are blessed with a unique ability to guess who will form the next federal government. So, before the clock strikes 12 and elections are announced, they switch camps.

Why make a losing deal?

After the 2002 national elections, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q and the National Alliance had a total of 25 members of the National Assembly in southern Punjab. In 2008, the Pakistan Peoples Party had 22 MNAs in this part of the province. Then in 2013, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz came out victorious in the province with 35 MNAs from South Punjab. Aren’t these numbers fascinating? As they say, ‘Whichever way the wind blows…’

Khusro Bhaktiar is among politicians who have left PML-N demanding a separate South Punjab province -  Online 

On April 9, barely a few months before the assemblies pack up and a new date for the election is announced, five PML-N lawmakers, members of the National Assembly, left the ruling-party to demand a separate province, including Khusro Bakhtiar, Tahir Iqbal Chaudhry, Rana Muhammad Qasim, Tahir Bashir Cheema and Basit Sultan Bukhari. Those that jumped ship insist they will soon be joined by other members of South Punjab to push for their demands.

At the moment, there are 46 MNAs who hail from South Punjab. Of them, a whopping 35 belong to the PML-N. But after these six MNAs left and before that Raza Hayat Hiraj quit to join the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in March, that number has shrunk to 29.

Now, which way will the pendulum swing for the remaining 29? If you examine the political history of the majority of them, some strange and surprising facts emerge.

Let’s start with Multan. Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, who belongs to the city, contested the 2002 and 2008 elections on a PML-Q ticket. He is currently the Minister for National Food Security and Research. Then there is Syed Javed Ali Shah, also from Multan, who did not contest the 2008 election, but his cousin, Mujahid Ali Shah, did and that too from a Q League platform. Shah secured a 2002 election ticket from PML-N.

Photo from June 5, 2016 shows Sikandar Hayat Bosan addressing a press conference in Multan.—APP/File photo

Over to Lodhran. Abdul Rehman Khan Kanju, the Minister of State for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, has previously served twice as a PML-Q district nazim. But in 2013, he ran independently and later joined Nawaz Sharif’s party. On to Pir Iqbal Shah, who recently defeated Ali Tareen in Lodhran’s by-election. He had until very recently been the PML-Q tehsil nazim.

As for neighbouring Khanewal, Pir Muhammad Aslam Bodla won on the PML-Q and PPP tickets, in 2008 and 2002 respectively. Also from the same area, Chaudhry Iftikhar Nazir had contested the 2002 and 2008 elections under the PPP banner, winning only once. In this area, Mohammad Khan Daha maybe the only candidate that has stayed consistent. He contested all three previous elections from the PML-N platform.

Moving to Vehari. Syed Sajid Mehdi Saleem fought the 2008 election as an independent candidate, defeating PML-N’s Iqbal Shah. Prior to 2013, Nazeer Araain contested a by-election against a PML-N candidate. He was accused of several corruption cases. However, later, he and the ruling party made up and he successfully landed the PML-N ticket for 2013. Syed Ahmed, another MNA from Vehari, had contested against PML-N’s stalwart Tehmina Daultana in the 2008 election.

Now for a look at Dera Ghazi Khan. Amjad Farooq Khosa had contested against former PML-N ticket holder Badshah Khan in the 2008 polls. As for Sardar Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, the incumbent Minister for Power who was recently seen coming down hard on those leaving the party ranks, he was a National Alliance candidate in 2002 and a Q candidate in 2008. In 2013, he ran independently and later joined the Sharifs.

Photo from April 9, 2018 shows leaders from South Punjab announcing their resignations from the PML-N.

From Rajanpur, Jaffar Khan Laghari, took part in the 2008 elections as a PML-Q contestant. While, Sultan Hanjra, the MNA from Muzaffargarh has been a former PML-Q nazim, and his nephews have contested the general elections on the same party’s tickets. Another MNA from the same area, Ashiq Hussain Gopang won as an independent in 2013 and then joined the ruling party.

The story is a little different in Layyah. Syed Saqlain Bukhari and Sahibzada Faiz ul Hassan have both been loyal to PML-N, contesting all three previous elections on a PML-N ticket, finally winning in 2013.

In Bahawalpur, Ali Hassan Gilani managed to secure a PML-N ticket this time, although both in 2002 and 2008 he had won his constituency from the PML-Q’s platform. Similarly, Najeeb ud Din Awaisi was a PML-Q candidate in 2008. Riaz Hussain Pirzada, an ageing politician, has a similar political history. He has tried his luck with every major political party in the past. In contrast, federal minister Baleegh ur Rehman has been a PML-N candidate in both 2008 and 2013 and won both polls.

Bahawalnagar resident Alam Dad Lalika’s mother had taken part in 2008 elections as a PML-Q member. His father, Abdul Sitar Lalika was a former minister in the Q government of 2002.

As for Mian Imtiaz Ahmed, from Rahim Yar Khan, he had taken part in the 2008 election as an independent, facing off against PML-N’s Jaffar Iqbal.

Here is a quick recap. It seems that the only MNAs who have been loyal to the Sharif party are Multan’s Abdul Ghaffar Dogar, Khanewal’s Mohammad Khan Daha, Dera Ghazi Khan’s Hafiz Abdul Kareem, Layyah’s Faiz ul Hassan and Syed Saqlain Bukhari, Bahawalpur’s Baleegh ur Rehman and Rahim Yar Khan’s Arshad Khan Leghari.

Now for the maths. Of the 29 MNAs who belong to the PML-N from South Punjab, only seven seem to have an unwavering political past. Although, Amjad Farooq Khosa who belongs to Dera Ghazi Khan and Javed Ali Shah of Multan also seem to have resisted switching loyalties.

Both PPP and PTI are on the hunt for electables as the national election near. These men could go that way or they could join the campaign for a separate province in Punjab, and put together a “package deal” for the coming government, whichever it may be.

—Nizami is a senior producer with Geo News.

Title picture: A view of the Ghanta Ghar in Multan