During off the record, one on one meetings, Sardar Akhter Mengal has consistently been cribbing and complaining for the past nine months. Not many in Islamabad perhaps know that he and Imran Khan developed familiarity with each other during their time at the elitist Atchison College of Lahore. That connection motivated Akhter Mengal to vote for Imran Khan in August 2018.

In spite of emerging as the single largest party after the general election held in the month of July that year, the PTI desperately required clear cut majority in the house of 342 to get its leader elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. After managing the support of various parties and weighty “independents,” the party remained short of at least two votes. Mengal and his Balochistan National Party (BNP) had four and they opted to go for him. After a 3-party contest, Imran Khan finally managed to prove the support of 176.

The BNP’s support for Imran Khan had surprised, rather shocked, many commentators. Akhter is the political heir of Attaullah Khan Mengal, considered an iconic leader of a powerful movement assiduously struggling for the “rights of Balochistan” since 1948.

Often, like the rest of many towering leaders of this movement, Attaullah Khan was also sent to jail and bravely faced the charges of “sedition and armed rebellion.” Not for once, however, he ever identified himself with the so-called secessionist trends. He always pressed for the real execution of promises, committed through the written constitution of Pakistan, regarding the question of “provincial autonomy.”With the same intent, he also became the first elected Chief Minister of his province in 1972. His government was not allowed to complete its term. It was rather dismissed on trumped up charges.

Akhter Mengal didn’t feel discouraged by the accumulated frustrations of his father. With good intent, he rather agreed to become the Chief Minister of Balochistan during the second government of Nawaz Sharif after the election of 1997. He was also not allowed to complete his term. Like his father, he also felt bitter and frustrated, but sincerely hoped that “Naya Pakistan” of Imran Khan would treat him differently. His hopes have proven false or unworkable Wednesday.

Participating in general discussion on budgetary proposals, he delivered a passionate speech. For more than 40 minutes, Mengal read a data based litany of grievances he and his party continued to endure in spite of being a firm ally of the Imran government. He finished by announcing the switch to opposition benches.

On a visibly dull day, most parliamentary reporters felt excited with his speech. Swayed by sheer excitement, some of them rushed to speak ‘live’ for their respective networks. That triggered anxious speculations, spun around the question whether the Imran government would still be able to get its second budget passed, after losing the support of BNP. I would prefer to say “yes” to this question.

The four votes of the BNP surely look “make or break”, if you consider the reality that the PTI does not command the majority on its own in this house. To survive, it needs to pamper a disparate group of “allies.” Some of them, like the PML-Q of Chaudhrys of Gujrat had already been playing hard to get.

Although sitting on the treasury benches, the MQM can still not forget and forgive that the PTI had hijacked their vote bank in Karachi. The Imran government would be forced to think twice, before asking for the head count on its budgetary proposals, if either of these two parties also announces to leave the ruling coalition.

The cool managers of the PTI government may not be enduring the panic attacks, even after the sensational announcement by Sardar Akhter Mengal. To fathom their comfort, we should first consider the contingency-challenges, the opposition would need to address, if serious and determined to “reject” the second budget of the Imran government.

The opposition usually proves the lack of majority for a sitting government during clause-by-clause voting on budgetary proposals. This stage comes during the last two sittings of a budget session. During these two days, the opposition would require to ensure around-the-clock presence of its numbers.

During the frightening season of an ongoing pandemic, however, even some diehard loyalists of the opposition would hesitate rushing to Islamabad and keep themselves available in Parliament building for around three working days.

Even if you disregard the contingency-connected hurdles, the real question remains, i.e., whether being the largest opposition party, with 84 members, the Shahbaz Sharif-led PML-N is really keen to remove the Imran government, at this point in time. 

I have it from highly reliable sources that Nawaz Sharif has categorically conveyed to his loyalists that for the moment they must adopt the strategy of “masterly inactivity.” Being an ardent player of power games, he seriously believes that the full impact of COVID-19 would only surface by the end of September 2020. The possible attack of locusts to our agriculture and the potential disaster, above average rains of monsoon might bring could certainly aggravate the gloom on our economic scene.

The PML-N, Nawaz and his key group of loyalists suggest, must avoid behaving as if “power-hungry” in such times. It should rather try hard to show it to friends and foes that in spite of being “pushed to the wall by a vindictive government,” the PML-N refrained from “destabilizing” the Imran government.

Being a cynical watchers of power games, your truly seldom trusts the “noble intents” of game-driven politicians. The plain reading of hard and obvious realities rather compels me to insist that overwhelmed by the ongoing pandemic, the opposition remains completely clueless about how to run the government, once Imran Khan is forced to leave the Prime Minister’s Office. Its strategists viciously want him to expose his limits, when it comes to dealing with a huge pile of unmanageable-looking problems. That’s about it.

To my humble mind, the Imran government seems set to get its second budget passed without much ado. Things would yet not turn honky-dory for it, though. As the blowback of the reference it had filed against a senior Supreme Court Judge, the Imran government should rather start preparing itself to deal with a latest version of the crisis, the so-called “Panama Papers” had created for Nawaz Sharif with the advent of April 2016.