Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Qureshi Gamble

Deng Xiaoping famously said, "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice."

It is with this sense of pragmatism that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf welcomed Shah Mehmood Qureshi into their fold.

The PTI have been pining for a political heavyweight for some time now and their prayers have been answered in the form of Qureshi. He brings with him over 20 years of political experience and has been head of the Punjab chapter of the PPP.

How does his arrival bode for the PTI's future?

I have written earlier about why bringing on any member of the old political class - not just Qureshi - may do the PTI more harm than good.

Qureshi is a Sajjada Nashin. A Makhdoom. He is guaranteed votes largely on the basis of his inherited title. In this sense, he represents the very dynasticism that Imran Khan says he is against. By bringing him on, the PTI is sacrificing at least part of their vision. For a party which sees itself as energizing the youth, such a sacrifice may have severe long-term consequences.

As well, Qureshi has been awarded a senior post within the PTI. There is speculation that the awarding of the post may have helped seal the deal to bring him over. If this is true, it will likely not sit well with at least a few PTI members who have been with the party since the beginning.

Having said that, there are a number of ways that the PTI can play this to their advantage.

Qureshi's inherited power may very well be the antithesis of what the PTI claims to stand for. But barring a seismic, overnight shift in social values, inherited power will remain a fixture in Pakistan for a long time to come. Bringing Qureshi in is less a betrayal of vision, and more an acknowledgement of the prevailing social norms that one needs to operate under. It demonstrates that the PTI is aware of ground realities in the less urban areas of Pakistan.

As well, the PTI can rightly point to Qureshi's actions during the Raymond Davis affair and offer him as an example of a politician unwilling to compromise on his principles.

Qureshi's political rival in his Multan constituency is Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, a senior leader in the PML-N. Given Qureshi's success in securing a National Assembly seat in 2002 and 2008, there is a strong chance he will defeat Hashmi again and be re-elected in future elections. This would significantly undermine the PML-N and is in line with the PTI positioning itself against Nawaz Sharif.

Finally, Qureshi may offer the PTI a path into Interior Sindh, an area where they haven't been able to make inroads. How might this occur?

Ever since his resignation from the Foreign Minister post, Qureshi has been unequivocal in distancing himself from Asif Ali Zardari. Recently, he termed the PPP a "Zardari" league.

However, Qureshi has always spoken approvingly of the Bhutto legacy.

Leading up to his announcement to join PTI, Qureshi met with Ghinwa Bhutto and Mumtaz Bhutto. That Qureshi chose not to hold the rally in his Multan home constituency, but rather in Ghotki, Sindh is another indication that Qureshi's long-term strategy may be to ally himself with PPP dissidents - like Ghinwa and Mumtaz Bhutto - who want to promote the "true" Bhutto legacy. Regardless, this may be one of the only ways the PTI can extend into Sindh.

It's too early to tell whether this gamble will pay off. What is certain is that, for the time being, the PTI is holding all the aces.

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