After the PML-N rejected the PPP’s offer to rejoin the federal cabinet
Meanwhile, key western capitals continue to talk up Nawaz Sharif as a serious player on the national stage and it appears they are pushing, or at least hoping, for a reunion at the centre between the PPP and the PML-N. Is that likely? Never say never in Pakistani politics, but there is a preliminary question that needs to be asked: would a so-called grand national government, with representation from all the major political parties, be in the national interest at this point? There are certainly some merits to the idea.
Today, rising militancy is the main threat to national security, but the political class is divided on what is the best response. The PPP has shown itself willing to support military action, but the PML-N has baulked at supporting the option. Perhaps cleverly the PML-N has discerned that the electorate is not ready to support the military option because it causes unacceptable losses to local populations without seemingly being able to defeat the militants. And therefore, while sitting in the opposition, the PML-N can cleave to the populist line and not bear the burden of devising a credible and effective counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism policy which will inevitably involve a long-drawn-out and messy fight.
But what is good for the PML-N’s popularity is not necessarily what is best for the national interest. If the PPP and PML-N are nudged, or themselves agree, to join hands at the centre, they can form a formidable political alliance. The PML-N’s popularity in Punjab is unquestioned and Mr Sharif’s bona fides as the representative of the political right and conservative Pakistan are formidable. With the PML-N on board, the government will genuinely be able to claim its position on militancy represents the national will.
Moreover, statesmanship requires the PML-N to look after the long-term interests of its base. There are disquieting signs that the next wave of militancy may wash over Punjab itself. If the province’s towns and cities are in fact the next target of the militants, the PML-N must not forgo the opportunity to be part of the strategy at the centre to fight the militants. But will there be a grand national government? The problem of militancy aside, there are serious political and ideological differences between the PPP and PML-N. It remains to be seen if they can overcome them.