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Wednesday Apr 03 2019

Is Jahangir Tareen the prime minister’s weakness?

After Monday’s public bickering between two of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s top stalwarts, there are some questions which need to be asked. Will Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, be the next casualty, for raising his voice against the ‘blue-eyed’ of the prime minister? It wouldn’t be the first. Remember what happened to Hamid Khan or Justice Wajihuddin? Or will Qureshi fight it out?

Either way, there is a serious discussion to be had by the party about its future.

The recent outburst of the foreign minister against Jahangir Khan Tareen, a day after the PTI retained its MPA seat in Multan, Punjab, clearly indicates that there is trouble in paradise.

Qureshi, it seems, spoke his heart out during a press talk, and that too flanked by the governor of Punjab. This is telling of the internal divisions within the party, something the PTI has long denied.

Soon after the press conference, the top party leaders, particularly those close to Tareen, took to Twitter to publicly support him. Team Tareen, it seems, includes, Pervez Khattak, Fawad Chaudhry, Faisal Vawda, Imran Ismail, Awn Chaudry and even newcomer in the party, Shakoor Shad, who surprised everyone when he defeated Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from Lyari in 2018.

No one as yet has spoken out in support of Qureshi. But does that make what he said wrong?

Once a person has been disqualified and barred from holding any public office, they should stay away from the political corridors. Well, that would be the ethical decision to make. But, in this case, Tareen is too important to discard or push into the background. Prime Minister Imran Khan still considers Tareen his most trusted man in politics, particularly when dealing with Punjab. Khan strongly believes that the PTI would not have been able to form a government in the centre had Tareen not delivered the required number of independent lawmakers to him.

Imran Khan is a strong leader in his own right, and the PTI without him would not have been able to survive, which is why it is important that he should look after the party’s interest. At the moment, the need of the hour is that the prime minister should either hold intra-party election or announce his successor.

One good thing in PTI is that unlike the Bhuttos and Sharifs, there is no family legacy imposed on the party. But at the same time, in the absence of a democratic and electoral process within the PTI, it will struggle to move ahead without Khan’s direction.

A personality cult is as damaging to a party as a political dynasty.

In 2013, when the election commission of the PTI, headed by the former Supreme Court judge, Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, levelled serious allegations against Jahangir Tareen, and a few others, for manipulating inter-party elections, Imran Khan preferred Tareen over the commission’s report. Soon after, the honourable judge was forced to quit the party.

Then, there was the treatment meted to Hamid Khan, the man responsible for the PTI’s constitution, who also had serious reservations about Tareen.

These men were those who stood with Imran Khan during his early days of political struggle. Yet, the PTI had no room for them and instead accommodated those who paratrooped into the party as late as 2018. Namely, Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, Usman Buzdar, Fawad Chaudhry and even Pervez Khattak.

When the Supreme Court disqualified Tareen, it in a way vindicated Justice Ahmed and Hamid Khan. Even then, on the day of Imran Khan’s victory speech, after winning the election, Tareen sat beside him.

This brings us back to Shah Mahmood Qureshi. With that backdrop, it seems unlikely that Qureshi will win against Jahangir Tareen.

Interestingly, both men are from South Punjab. Both are seasoned and skilled politicians. But, Tareen is closer to party workers, largely because Qureshi is known for his aloof and aristocratic style.

Now, Punjab is a prized province for the party. It is primarily due to this that Imran Khan was advised, by both Qureshi and Tareen, to accept electables and turncoats into the party folds. Without them, Khan would not have been able to form a government in the centre and in Punjab. The flip side is that now the PTI is too dependent on these smaller parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Q and Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz. And with the public squabbling, these smaller parties will strengthen their hand, and demands in the province.

The PTI should not forget its origins. It was launched 22 years ago in Zaman Park, Lahore. Back then, there were hardly 20 to 25 people in the party. When Imran Khan addressed his first press conference, as a political leader, of the men who stood with him only Naeem ul Haque remains today. The rest have left.

Imran Khan is still the hope for millions of his followers, who expect him to set good examples, not only in the government but also in the party. How then can he side with a person who has not only been disqualified by his party's election commission but also the supreme court?

The choice is yours, Mr Prime Minister. Would it be wise to make someone your weakness?

Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO