Closing ranks


Jokes are often laughable. And here comes a funny one from the Information Minister: The PPP still considers the PML(Q) the Qatil league but the party with which we are currently negotiating is different from the one that was patronised by General Musharraf in the past. The problem is that it’s easy to make sweeping statements but once you say something like that you can’t help but invite ridicule. Musharraf and the PML(Q) were inseparable. The Chaudhrys of Gujrat did everything they could possibly do while in power in the Punjab to appease him. You can’t name a more submissive regime that was pliant to a dictatorship.

The Information Minister’s observation coincided with Ch Pervez Elahi’s assertion that the PPP would have to apologize for terming his party “qatil league” before seeking its cooperation in the formation of a national government. Probably, the Gujrati operators can’t extricate themselves from the patron-client syndrome after having served the despot for long.

As far as the PPP and the PML(Q) are concerned, they have always been at daggers drawn and were seen baying for each other’s blood during the last general elections. But there seems to be a fundamental change going on in national politics. The confrontation between the two parties that broke into the open four years ago over Benazir Bhutto’s murder now signals a major shift, bringing their long-strained ties to the point of resolution.

President Zardari had to work really hard to neutralise opposition within the party before asking the PML(Q) to join the proposed national government. It was a hard sell to the hardcore jiyalas. The likes of Qamar Zaman Kaira, Ch Ahmad Mukhtar and Nazar Muhammad Gondal were the biggest irritants and the President knew that the biggest challenge for him would be to overcome the local rivalries. But he managed to do it successfully by letting the core committee debate the issue in its two consecutive meetings.

Mr Zardari, who has been patching his coalition partners back together since taking office very rightly pointed out to his colleagues that if the MQM could be taken on board despite the fact that it had killed more than 100 PPP workers in the past, what’s the harm in embracing the PML(Q). And he came up with a reasoned argument that the Chaudhrys of Gujrat might have some grievance against the PPP rather than the other way round. This was an implicit reference to Ch Zahoor Elahi’s brutal murder which was blamed on Al-Zulfikar.

It was even harder for the Chaudhrys of Gujrat to sell the idea of joining hands with the PPP to their party, especially in the presence of those who might have tried to create confusion by reminding them of their claim to settle their long-running blood feud with the PPP. They have been encountering intra-party opposition at two levels: one, by the members who think that the only party with which they can have natural alliance is the PML(N); and two, by those who had defected from the PPP to join a motley collection of “the soldiers of conscience” and are now reluctant to return to their parent party.

Those who believe that the PML(Q) leadership has accepted the PPP’s offer to become part of the proposed national government just because it is inspired by the concept of reconciliation must be reading far too much into the ongoing process of negotiations between the two erstwhile political rivals. The fact remains that having faced too many revolts in the party since its rout in the last general elections, the Chaudhrys understand that getting back into power through fair means or foul is the only way to keep the party intact. At this stage when they are still making an effort to overcome intra-party dissent, the members of the Forward Bloc have started contacting them for rejoining the party.

The PPP and the PML(Q) had a reason to eschew politics of bitterness and make a new start. There however remains a long way to go before the national government is put in place. The PPP is desperate to take the PML(Q) on board not only to ensure smooth passage of budget but also to get rid of the constant blackmailing of the MQM which has been resorting to arm-twisting to exact concessions from the federal government. That the extended coalition will also isolate some smaller groups earlier allied to the government explains why Maulana Fazlur Rehman is trying to throw a spanner in the works.

Perhaps the major impediment in the formation of the national government is the PML(Q)’s demand to extend this power-sharing to the Punjab. If that means dislodging the PML(N) from power it won’t be acceptable to Mr Zardari; there’s no point in creating sympathy wave for the Sharifs when they are bound to fall victim to their own shenanigans.

The writer is Executive Editor, Pakistan Today.