LAHORE - Leaders of some “tiny” factions of the Pakistan Muslim League are holding meetings these days with the main objective of unifying them into one entity, proposed to be named as United Muslim League. The only thing common among them is that they are all Sharif haters. They think the UML will be able to compete with the ruling PML-N which observers think is a gross miscalculation. The leaders who plan to get united are, of course, known politicians but they lack the public support which is needed to make them a force to reckon with.

Gen Pervez Musharraf, Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Pir of Pagara, former Sindh chief minister Syed Ghous Ali Shah, Punjab’s ex-governor Zulfikar Khosa (who is a sitting Senator on PML-N’s ticket), Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and PML-Chattha chief Hamid Nasir are making efforts to raise an anti-PML-N party.

Unifying the splinter PML groups and then parting ways after some time has been a favourite hobby of the leaders. A similar exercise was carried out when Gen Musharraf was in power. A party called Pakistan Muslim League was set up under the leadership of Mian Muhammad Azhar before the 2002 elections. (And when Mian Azhar was defeated on both the NA seats he was a candidate from, Chaudhry Shujaat took over the party). At a later stage, Hamid Nasir Chattha, Ejazul Haq, Pir Pagara, Arbab Ghulam Rahim and even Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari merged their parties with the PML, then sarcastically called king’s party. Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo (who is now Punjab president of the PPP) was then head of the PML-Jinnah and had had also merged his party with the PML.

The king’s party which enjoyed the backing of Gen Musharraf had effectively cornered the PML-N because its leadership was in exile at the time.

But a similar effort now is not likely to yield the same results. Now the PML-N is in power and claims to have the best-ever relations with the army. In such a situation there is a need for an effective third party that can be alternative to both the PML-N and the PPP, which have been alternating each other in power for several years now. But before discussing the composition of the proposed third force let’s see why any group to be cobbled together by the above-mentioned leaders will be a non-starter.

Gen Musharraf, undoubtedly, is a capable leader but he has no political feet to stand upon. He can lead a party but can’t set up an effective force of his own. The All Pakistan Muslim League that he heads exists only on paper.

Hamid Nasir Chattha has also played his innings and, apparently, stands no political future because of the strong rivals who have replaced him in his constituency.

Chaudhrys of Gujrat are now confined to their district, plus a few constituencies elsewhere. Opportunists around them have taken flight to other destinations.

Zulfikar Khosa, once the strongman of Dera Ghazi Khan, is left with no option but to join some anti-PML-N force because his political rivals – the Legharis – have joined the Sharifs’ camp and are as close to Raiwind as their father was away from them. As a matter of principle, after parting ways with the Sharifs the former Punjab governor should have resigned as a Senator. But he didn’t, because he knew such a step would amount to his complete disappearance from the political scene, a situation he could not afford.

Syed Ghous Ali Shah is like a bird out of nest. Discovered by Gen Ziaul Haq, he had played an effective role during the life of his mentor and then because of the support he had from the Sharifs.

So far, he has failed to show his following in Sindh. Sheikh Rashid is a one-man party, confined to his own constituency. Pir of Pagara has following in some areas of Sindh. His party is non-existent in any other province. If these leaders join hands with some other effective forces, they can brighten up their own future and can be a good alternative to the PML-N and the PPP. To bring such a third force into existence, PTI Chairman Imran Khan would have to be more pragmatic in his approach and join hands with other leaders/parties. He will be making a serious blunder by assuming that the PTI alone can compete with the PML-N and the PPP. He is a common enemy to both the major parties and will be needing allies to confront them politically.

If PTI, Pakistan Awami Tehrik, the above-mentioned PML leaders join hands, they can emerge as a force to reckon with. The inclusion of the MQM will make it a still more effective entity.

But the question is whether these parties will shun their egos, forget their past bitterness and work for the greater good of the country? In case they didn’t, they will be serving the interests of the very two parties they should be working against.