The jolt, the 10-party PDM received on 16 March from the hard and blunt talk of the PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari, was more severe than all the previous shocks in its 157-day journey on the thorny path of Pakistani politics. It symbolised the proverbial parting of ways and it may be difficult to reverse the tide it has unleashed. The uneasy coalition of so many parties with divergent agenda and cross purposes, has negligible political factors binding it together except the fear of imprisonment by the accountability courts; the loss of face and political decimation at the hands of the PTI or the ‘selectors’ – the refrain the PDM leaders revel to use for the security establishment.
The PPP had joined the PDM for taking the regime to task within the constitutional bounds. It had never subscribed to or reconciled with the proposals of torpedoing the system or leaving the parliamentary field open for the ruling party. It was unfair on the part of the coalition partners to exact so heavy a price from the PPP to resign from the National and Provincial Assemblies creating political vacuum in its home province to be filled in by the rival PTI. The PPP has learnt a lesson from its boycott of the party-less elections of 1985 which proved a springboard for the emergence of a new crop of leaders including the Sharif Brothers denting and finally eroding the PPP influence from the biggest province.
All the three main parties – PPP, Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – have been working for cross purposes. The PML leadership particularly the senior Sharif felt humiliated, blighted and politically humbled by the establishment. He had fallen from the summit of his political power into a dark alley. Seized with anger and anguish at this loss, he adopted an irrational hardline. Holding the establishment responsible for his political predicament and personal humiliation, he decided to fight his political battles in the streets of Punjab with all odds stacked against him. He remained bogged down in the accountability cases, and was finally imprisoned in corruption cases with his party narrowly losing the general elections. The superior courts showed unusual leniency allowing him to go abroad for treatment for his mysterious ailments.
Recuperating in the refreshing environs of London, the senior Sharif launched no-holds barred battles against the security forces naming the names. His purpose was obvious – to blackmail the powers that may be to withdraw their ‘perceived’ support to the political government, or, in other words, topple the regime, forcing new elections in the country. The PDM public meetings initially attracted reasonably big crowds in his home province which added fuel to his so called revolutionary enthusiasm. But sooner than later, the crowds responding to the PDM’s calls started thinning out fueling his frustration and anger.
The Maulana’s problem is not Punjab or Sindh. He has been fast losing his political clout in KP and Balochistan. He also has remained on the radar of the Accountability Bureau for the landed property unduly acquired in his home district during the General Musharraf’s regime. The abject failure of his solo long march to the capital followed by a two-week sit in was politically very unsettling. He was looking for an opportunity to regain his political limelight. He was quick to offer his shoulder to the PDM. He was the titular head of the coalition with the PPP supremo and the senior Sharif pulling the strings through their children. He kept following their diktats.
Asif Zardari, the cunning politician as he is in the opposition lot, was working with divergent purposes – keeping the PTI regime bogged down in political polarisation and saving Government of Sind from destabilisation; looking for a means to engage the establishment instead of fighting it; acquiring concessions in NAB cases; leveling the path for politics of his young heir within the existing political system. He successfully secured political advantages by this strategy winning all the by-elections in Sindh, one or two extra seats in the Senate including the hotly contested main Senate seat from the capital.
Had the PPP not been stabbed in the back by the coalition partners, it would have captured the main slot in the Senate rehabilitating its stalwart, Yusuf Raza Gilani. It is generally believed the Sharifs feared the reassertion of the PPP in the South Punjab through this political icon of Multan – the allegations of corruption against him notwithstanding. The right hand man of the Maulana also succumbed to this shameless political hypocrisy.
Asif Zardari also has no love lost for the Sharifs or their political rehabilitation in Punjab. This is manifested by his reluctance to resign from the Assemblies or make the long march decisive to derail the current parliamentary set up. He has brought in the question of the elevation of Chaudhry Pervaiz Illahi, the Sharifs’ bête noir, to the Punjab throne. The Sharifs would not surmount their repugnance to the junior Chaudhry of Gujrat. He has many a political trick up his sleeve if he is pushed to the wall by his coalition partners going ahead with PDM san PPP. What would happen to PDM if he switches his support to the system allowing PTI to complete its constitutional term? This may be difficult but not impossible if Prime Minister Imran Khan agrees to tone down his rhetoric against Zardari.
Zardari will prefer to swallow this bitter pill than derailing the system. This will make it easier for the PTI to fill in the parliamentary seats vacated by the PDM. Would the PML members be ready to resign from their hard earned seats and leave the field open for their rivals to step in the political vacuum? This moot question can be answered by PML leaders. Many believe the PML will fragment into two factions if the senior Sharif presses for the resignations. The PDM cannot achieve anything without PPP which is tightly controlled by Zardari. He would not be ready to commit a political suicide for the Sharifs given the PPP’s bitter experience with them since Benazir Bhutto. TW