Zardari’s declaration

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Confusion worst confounded

Things have taken a full circle. The PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, after making a vitriolic attack on the role of the military in civilian affairs, chose to go into self-exile in the middle of last year. Now, in a controversial statement, he has seemingly tried to placate the military establishment.

The statement has caused ripples in the media and in the party itself. Party stalwarts wondered at the need of the calculated comments to mollify the army leadership at this juncture, especially when Zardari downwards they have been opposing any extension in the tenure of the COAS, who is due to retire in November after completing his three-year term.

An Islamabad based journalist tweeting that Zardari never issued any statement, and later amending his earlier tweet that the PPP co-chairperson had not pleaded for extension in the tenure of the COAS added to the confusion. It became a matter of mystery as to who wrote the statement and issued it.

Zardari is in New York while his spokesperson Farhatullah Babar is travelling in Europe. The spokesman as well as top PPP leadership including Sherry Rehman, Khurshid Shah, Aitzaz Ahsan and Qamar Zaman Kaira pleaded complete ignorance about the source and veracity of the statement.

Apparently, according to some media reports, it was a hatchet job done by Senator Qayoom Soomro, a medical doctor who became close to the former president during his incarceration in Landhi Jail, Karachi. Apparently the former medical officer has taken upon himself to improve Zardari’s frayed relations with the military.

Notwithstanding the controversy over the authorship of the statement and the source of its issuance, there is no doubt that it represents Zardari’s views. The PPP co-chairperson, a very cautious person, must have weighed the consequences before going public.

An off the cuff casual remark made at a public meeting or in a live interview leaves room for a politician to back track. But a statement issued out of the blue is a different matter. Surely Zardari must have gone through every word being written on his behalf.

The more important question that begs an answer is what prompted him sitting in New York to review his earlier stance on the extension issue as well as make very specific remarks ostensibly to appease the military leadership? After all it was the same Mr Zardari who last year in June in a hard hitting speech had said that the politicians are here forever but the generals (without naming them) are for only three years.

As early as last year in August, while giving an interview to me in London, the former president very carefully and cautiously choosing his words had adopted a relatively placatory attitude towards the military leadership. But his current statement is much more categorical and specific.

What has changed in the past six months or so? Zardari remaining in self-exile is obviously a constant. Similarly, Dr Asim Hussain, his close aide, is incarcerated since then. Now a Rs460 billion reference for alleged corruption has also been filed against him.

Dr Asim, since his arrest in August last year by the Rangers, has been facing the wrong end of the stick. It is obvious that the ubiquitous establishment after dealing with the MQM is now sorting out the PPP. Resultantly, the party leadership feels abandoned and let down in its hour of travails by the ruling PML-N.

During the August 2014 dharna, Zardari, by advising Sharif to summon the Joint Session of the Parliament and by standing firmly with the PML-N rather than the belligerent Khan-Qadri duo, had literally bailed out the government. However, Sharif once out of the woods, knowing which side of the bread was buttered, quickly mended his fences with the military establishment. With an unsavoury history of never being able to cohabit with successive military chiefs, the prime minister quickly developed a good rapport with the khaki Sharif.

The PML-N government knew better when the PPP became the focus of attention of the establishment in Karachi. Why would Sharif intercede on behalf of the PPP as long as his bastion in Punjab was being spared?

The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah is obviously quite bitter at what the PPP considers double standards of the establishment. He sarcastically remarked the other day that that NAB (National Accountability Bureau) committed a mistake by taking action in Punjab and the Rangers were rebuked for saying that they wanted to move against the terrorists ensconced in the province.

Nawaz Sharif’s outburst against NAB in Bahawalpur last week was followed up by the younger Sharif and virtually every minister with the exception of Ch Nisar Ali Khan who struck a relatively placatory note. Superficially, it would seem that the NAB is on the rampage in Punjab as well. However, despite all the hullaballoo none from the PML-N in Punjab has been handcuffed a la Dr Asim in Sindh, as yet.

Through careful leaks NAB continues to give the impression that it is moving against an important Punjab minister, Rana Mashood. Interestingly the Rana has openly challenged the NAB claiming he is not guilty of any wrongdoing and was considering going to a court of law to clear his name.

It is in this context that Khurshid Shah says that all those living in Punjab are washed in milk while those living in the smaller provinces are a bunch of crooks.

Perhaps some amongst the former president’s close circle including Rehman Malik, Dr Soomro and Faryal Talpur inform him that the brief honeymoon between the khaki and mufti Sharifs is coming to an end and now is the time to act. Hence the statement to placate the army.

However, both the manner in which the statement was released and its substance have not served the PPP well. It has only added to the confusion as well as demoralised the rank and file of the party. Simply put, the party co-chairperson was badly advised in issuing it.

It puts PPP — quintessentially considered an anti establishment party, at least in a relative sense, by a considerable swath of its members – in a bad light. It might seem to some in the party and in the media that the PML-N government is about to receive the wrong end of the stick from the military establishment. However, such analysis stems more from wishful thinking rather than ground realities.

Instead of trying to play power politics, the party leadership should worry more about putting its house in order. It is in complete disarray in Punjab after its dismal performance in the 2013 General Elections.

Khurram Jahangir Wattoo, the scion of PPP Punjab President Manzoor Wattoo, moving a resolution in the Punjab Assembly calling for extension in the COAS tenure is symptomatic of the malaise afflicting the PPP in Punjab. While Zardari is in exile, he should empower Bilawal to fix things back home.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Chameleon is famous for changing colours. But the Politicians are even worst than the reptile who does not suck the blood of others like the Poli-tics do.

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