Presence of turncoats in Pakistani political life

ByNabeel Zafar

Works in the private sector


July 30, 2022

Presence of turncoats

Nabeel Zafar delineates the hazards of changing political loyalties

Pakistani public representation suffers from the Presence of turncoats who are considered instrumental in upsetting the normal flow of political activity, and by extension, the overall governance process. It is widely acknowledged that one most obvious sign of maturity of any political system is that it gets rid of turncoats but Pakistani political milieu actually thrives on the dubious loyalties and partisanship of politicos changing sides on drop of a hat. The ever present political opportunist harms the political process enormously but the unstable political aptitude in Pakistan not only lets him survive but he is considered a very valuable commodity in political hay-market.
It is very obvious that Pakistani political system badly lacks ideological undercurrent that creates political groupings and political goals are defined according to the tenets of such ideological beliefs. This crucial lack has given rise to a regular and professional class of opportunists who manage to get elected to representative bodies from their constituencies and then offer their support to any political party willing to pay their price.

The turncoat is a shrewd practitioner of the game of politics and enters the electoral field from the lowest rung though he usually belongs to the influential segment of the area he hails from. This practice is not limited to people from established political families but quite a good deal of social workers also graduate into politicians and work overtime to assure guaranteed success in their respective areas of operation such as Shaikh Rasheed from Rawalpindi who has made a career out of changing loyalties. Many such operators are sponsored by official elements and some come from student politics. Trade union politics also assists in such figures assuming considerable influence and playing role in electoral politics.

The habitual shifting of political groupings bestows on the turncoats a specific ability to smell change in the air and they are very active in deciding their future course of action. Currently their exodus is towards PMLN, and to some extent, PPP as they both currently are managing the coalition government. They always remain in touch with all political groups and are, in turn, entertained by both the parties in the government and the opposition.
Right after the inception of Pakistan the political process had to endure the pressure of local political forces trying to wrest their place within the political spectrum as the higher political positions were occupied by politicians who struggled for freedom and did not have much clout in the areas Pakistan inherited from the British. The lack of a centre compelled the ruling party to assemble a cohort of political figures who could stand up to the pressures exerted by the locals. The political opportunist was egged on from then onwards to throw its weight behind the highest bidder.

After the democratic political process was wrapped up by the military junta, all credible central and provincial leadership was thrown out of the political arena that helped institiutionalise the resurgence and role of the turncoat. Successive political groupings did not feel the need to curb such practice as it suited them without realising the long-term hazards associated with it. Even a sharp political operator like ZAB fell into this trap when he co-opted local influentials such as Sardar Taman to manage his disastrous electoral campaign of 1977 that resulted in his ouster.

Slowly the turncoats perfected their art and they became indispensable both for political as well as military regimes. The highest point of their career came when Gen Ziaul Haq decreed holding non-party based polls in 1985 and the opportunist politician reaped high reward for his loyalty. The subsequent political activity became dependent upon the whims and demands of such opportunists.

The shifting political loyalties of opportunist political elements have been the sole cause of preventing Pakistani political process to stand on sure footings. They always ditch all political groupings even as strict disciplinarian outfit like MQM. At times, it was considered impossible for the politicians of MQM to break rank but they did and did it with flourish.

Pakistani politics have come to accept the role of an opportunist politician and accept their leaving any party en-masse. It is now an accepted phenomenon that politicians will change loyalties and it is no more frowned upon. Instead of condemning such self-defeating practice, the recent exodus towards the parties in power was actually hailed as representative of the powerful position of the party. Political elements do realise that such practice facilitates political engineering but they are constrained to resort to it again and again.

The practice is so well-entrenched that an extremely popular political party like PTI that had to stoop low to welcome a host of turncoats in its ranks despite strong negative reaction shown by its diehard supporters is now facing the hard truth of the same turncoats leaving it. Like its predecessors PTI failed to appreciate that an opportunist politician represents status quo and will vehemently resist any change and will fight against socio-political reforms. There appears to be no way of containing this menace unless very strict rules are made to stop this nuisance. TW

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