Politics of expediency

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Confusion worst confounded! It all started with PML(Q) Chief Ch. Shujaat Hussain in a surprise move visiting Kingri House, the abode of octogenarian Pir of Pagara in Karachi and announcing the merger of his party with PML(F). Later on, this enthusiasm for unifying the Leagues somewhat waned when the Pir cut a separate deal with the PML (Likeminded), a breakaway faction of the PML(Q).

Ch. Shujaat, through his emissary, made it plain to the Pir that the Likeminded were part of PML(Q) and hence there was no question of the Pir dealing with them as a separate entity. The PML(Q) supremo later confided to his party men to forget about the Pir, as it was only a one-time visit.

It is not hard to guess what prompted the Chaudhry to visit the pro-establishment Pir, who years ago had insulted him when he visited him, as an emissary of Musharraf. The Pir, true to his style, on the occasion told off the Chaudhry by saying that he was one of those politicians who had not stolen a piece of cake but the whole bakery. At the time, the Chaudhry had vowed never to meet the Pir again.

In the meanwhile, the Pir has not hidden his enthusiasm for an alliance with PML(N). He announced a visit to Lahore that was indefinitely postponed when Nawaz Sharif chose not to reciprocate the gesture. Despite his increasingly belligerent tone, Nawaz still seems reluctant to take the plunge and be part of an anti-PPP alliance.

Unfortunately his younger brother, the PML(N) president Mian Shahbaz Sharif is more hawkish. He seems willing to cross the Rubicon and get rid of PPP in Punjab despite the fact that, as Chief Minister of the province, he has more to lose by upsetting the applecart.

His meeting the second grade leadership of the PML(Q) with leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Ch. Nisar, Ishaq Dar and Khawaja Asif in tow could not have taken place without a nod from his elder brother who was in London at the time. Apparently Khawaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar told off Messers S.M. Zafar and Tariq Azeem. But it unleashed a chain of events that could possibly destabilise not only the Punjab government but also the system.

The PPP hawks who till now had been unable to convince their leadership to go for Mian Shahbaz Sharif have succeeded in getting a green signal from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to initiate talks with the PML(Q) leadership for a possible alliance. Law minister Babar Awan, who has never hidden his disdain for the PML(N) Punjabs leadership, wasted little time in meeting Ch. Pervez Elahi. An alliance with PML(Q) will also buy the PPP an insurance policy against MQM moves in the Center.

The meeting has sent jitters not only amongst the PML(N) but also in the PPP and the PML(Q) itself. Naturally, an alliance between these two parties takes political expediency to new heights. After all, the late Ch. Zahoor Elahi used to take pride in the fact that he coveted the possession of the pen which was used by the late dictator General Zia ul Haq to sign the death warrants of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. And it was not long ago that the PPP including Asif Ali Zardari used to refer to PML(Q) as qatil league.

Chaudhry Shujaat has always blamed the PPP for bumping off his father. But such are the exigencies of realpolitik that it can attract strange bedfellows. If the PML(N) could enter into a coalition with its traditional adversary, the PPP what prevents the PML(Q) from doing the same?

Pakistani politics today are a living example of the maxim that morality and politics do not mix. These so-called Likeminded had shown no qualms in joining an anti-Sharif set up under the tutelage of General Musharraf. After enjoying the perks and privileges of power during his long rule they now want to bail out the same Sharifs, in the national interest.

Likeminded is an oxymoron, as they have hardly any unanimity of views. With the possible exception of a few most amongst them, they will have truck with anyone who is the highest bidder? Some of them are die-hard supporters of Musharraf. But despite their not too infrequent sojourns to London and Dubai, are reluctant to join his version of Muslim League, the APML. Then there are others like Humayun Akthar Khan, Ijaz-ul-Haq and Salim Saifullah, who would love to join Nawaz Sharif, provided he is willing to admit them in his fold.

Suddenly, politicians of the establishment have found a new ally in the Pir, who in the past decade or so had become virtually marginalised. He is back with a bang and is enjoying every bit of it. It is almost surreal to see stalwarts like Mir Zafarullah Jamali, Khurshid Kasuri and Humayun Akhtar courting him.

The Likeminded, in the meeting with the Pir, were upset by the presence of Rashid Qureshi as an emissary of General Musharraf and made it plain that they would not have any truck with APML. Mr. Qureshi was politely told to leave. Ironically, these moves are directed against Yousaf Raza Gilani who, despite being closely related to the Pir, is estranged with him.

Both the PML(Q) and the PML(N) were conspicuously absent from the grandstand held in Karachi yesterday at Kingri House. Nevertheless, the PML(N) having no presence in Sindh could benefit from an alliance with the Pir. Its immediate priority, however, is to secure itself in the Punjab from the impending joint onslaught of the PPP and PML(Q). This would mean cementing its informal alliance with the Likeminded in the Punjab Assembly headed by Atta Maneka.

In the end analysis, the opportunism and expediency being demonstrated by politicians of all hue and colour will further damage their credibility amongst the masses. Bringing down opponents by hook or by crook is nothing but mutually assured destruction. Nawaz Sharifs newly unveiled so-called 25 years Charter for Pakistan will remain mere empty words if not followed by deeds. It would meet the same fate as the much-touted Charter for Democracy (COD).

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today