In a world away from Afghanistan, Pakistani politics is picking up pace. Parties and individuals are making moves, big and small, some in the full glare of publicity and some quietly. But they are all aimed at the same deadline – two years from now.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement reconvened recently and decided to pick up its life exactly where it had left it some months ago when the Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party upped and left. A long meeting ended with the decision that there will be jalsas and a long march – there is not even a pretence of reinventing the wheel. But the absence of excitement surrounding its recent awakening from hibernation indicates that few are hopeful this time around.

Election chessboard

The Pakistan Peoples Party is not looking back at the Pakistan Democratic Movement but has its own list of activities planned. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is in south Punjab this week and will be travelling to a number of places, with the aim of reviving the party in its erstwhile stronghold.

At the same time, the party is also setting its eyes on Karachi, a prize it considered out of reach till now. But now that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has weakened and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s performance in the city has been lacklustre, the party can smell blood.

The victory of the party during a recent by-election was just the first step. Those in the know say the party is aiming to win a considerable chunk of the city’s seats in the coming election. This is why it has made Murtaza Wahab the administrator of Karachi. It hopes the urban background of the young politician as well as his media-friendly appearance will be able to counter the party’s image as a non-doer in Karachi.

Karachi and south Punjab, it seems, is where the party has pinned its hopes to add to the total seat tally (which since 2013 has been dependent on rural Sindh), and becoming a bigger stakeholder in the coming election, be it as the leading opposition party or as a member of a coalition government at the Centre. Though of course, the date is too far off to say which way the winds will blow at that time.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf too is aware of the same D-Day.

Ahead of polls, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's government is trying to roll out its signature programmes. Photo credit: Saeed Khan / AFP

The party is trying to roll out its signature programmes – the health card has been introduced in Punjab but the Kamyab Pakistan programme appears to have run into some hurdles. Media reports suggest the micro loan programme has been scaled back for the moment.

The party has also in its trademark, haphazard manner tried to aim for Sindh, by talking big and taking on board a has-been politician whose moment of glory lay in the long-gone Musharraf era. In addition, the significance of the efforts to push ahead with electoral reforms in the face of an uncooperative – to say the least – opposition have not been lost on anyone.

Elsewhere too, sleeves are being rolled up. Some of the more politically inclined among the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and erstwhile Awami National Party leaders have also launched a new political party.

On the other hand, individuals have ended their “chup ka roza” (broken their silence). This weekend, Nisar Ali Khan, gave an hour-long interview to Geo. For a man, who was known for his lengthy media talks as interior minister, the former (or is he?) Noonie was rather economical with his words. But he did make it clear that he had now decided to become active politically, adding for good measure that he did not want to do the politics of iqtidaar (power).

Power struggle

Indeed, two years before an election is time enough for individuals and parties to start studying the chessboard and future possible moves. Planning cannot be delayed anymore.

But there is one exception to this, it seems. The Pakistan Muslim League (N), the biggest opposition party.

While the rest are planning their election moves, studying the chessboard and its pieces, this party is busy with its version of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. Dubbed the great war of the bayanias (narratives) in its earlier reincarnation, the tussle now seems reduced to a family squabble, which is intensifying as time goes by. It is the only long-term game (or power struggle) being played by the party leaders. And those at the top are not even hiding it.

Just months earlier if Maryam Nawaz was at pains to receive her uncle and cousin when they were released from jail, now they are not seen together to present a united political front. If Maryam was present for the entire Kashmir election campaign, Shehbaz Sharif was missing. If he turned up for a Pakistan Democratic Movement meeting, Maryam attended it on Zoom.

And then the Karachi trip happened after which it seems Shehbaz Sharif had been corrected or guided one time too many by the powers that be in his party. His statement on a national government were not just clarified but also deemed his personal views in a clarification issued by the party – as if the party president can have personal views in our party systems. Soon after came the news that the soft-spoken Malik Ahmed Khan, who does not blow hot and hotter during talk shows like many of the more radical or short-fused Noonies, had been appointed as the spokesperson of the former chief minister of Punjab.

Question of narrative

Only the hapless Noonies whose fate it is in life to deny the family rifts will deny the cause and effect of what happened in Karachi and Malik Ahmed’s appointment.

Hence, the entire country wonders about the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s fortunes in Punjab and Karachi, and its deeds, misdeeds and inaction. Similarly, there are debates about the Pakistan Peoples Party’s possible revival outside

But when it comes to the Pakistan Muslim League (N), the only question is about who will lead the party and what its narrative will be. There is nothing else to discuss or judge, for there are no other strategies electoral or otherwise in place.

Party and politics await the family. How this will end or play out in the next two years, is anyone’s guess. But in the meantime, the chessboard has been laid out and the moves are being planned.

This article first appeared in Dawn.