Asif Haroon Raja
For over six months, Asif Ali Zardari has been confidently claiming that the PPP will form governments in the Centre and all the four provinces after next elections in 2018. He has assertively reiterated this stance several times particularly after he was cleared of all corruption charges by the courts. Almost everyone is wondering as what make him so confident when seen in the backdrop of dismal track record of PPP, especially the last tenure which was termed as the blackest. All records of corruption and mis-governance were broken. Nepotism and favoritism had sidelined merit and only the crooks were given lucrative posts due to which all the state institutions and state corporations were in shambles and economy was at the brink of collapse.
Zardari had been elected president of Pakistan in August 2008, and he held on to the august chair for five years despite his notoriety and umpteen cases of mega corruption against him. It was owing to poor governance and policy of loot and plunder adopted by him and his party leaders in collusion with MQM that the PPP suffered a humiliating defeat in the June 2013 elections and was reduced to a regional party. The PPP could have bounced back had Zardari and his confidantes learnt lessons and brought about radical socio-economic improvements in Sindh which it is ruling. Alas! The state of affairs in Sindh is shoddier than all other provinces and nothing is in order due to politicization of police, bureaucracy and civil administration and culture of corruption which has been institutionalized.
In the face of these ground realities, the boastful claim made by Zardari sounds strange and out of context. Chiefly so because of high graph of popularity of PML-N in Punjab due to its performance and that of PTI which is aspiring to replace PML-N in next elections. The only possible reason for his over-confidence could be that some quarters might have given him this hope. This magic had happened in October 2007 when all corrupt leaders of PPP and criminals of MQM were dry cleaned by infamous NRO and it enabled PPP to return to power. Zardari might have been told that by the time 2018 elections are held, PPP’s two chief rivals would be out of race owing to disqualification of key figures of PML-N and PTI on charges of corruption or contempt of court. Or else, having seen the trend, Zardari might have assumed that the demise of his political foes is certain, thereby giving a clear run to his party to race towards victory stand almost uncontested. This idea germinated into his mind after the apex court decision against Nawaz Sharif (NS) on July 28, 2017 and filing of three references against him and his family for trials by the accountability court. NS offensive against the judiciary and the establishment must have further reinforced his perception that NS goose was cooked for good.
Zardari’s spirits soared further when similar charges were levied against Imran Khan (IK), and disqualification of his right hand man Jahangir Tareen. Ineligibility of IK would have made him happier. His spirits rose further after he successfully engineered a political coup in Baluchistan in January 2018. Glitter of wealth brought a sudden in-house change and the baton was snatched from chief minister Sanaullah Zehri and handed over to PML-Q legislator Bugti who was elected in 2013 after securing 550 votes. He undertook this unpalatable act merely to secure some Senate seats from that province where the PPP at the moment has none. This change took place two months before Senate elections due on March 3 and six months before general elections. Change of command has brought no change in the Sardari Raj and in host of inherent flaws in governance in the troubled province.
Bolstered by his successful venture, Zardari is now boasting that he can bring similar changes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab as well but will not do so to prevent derailment of democracy. To please the Punjab PPP leaders that have gone through a long period of dejection owing to Zardari’s policy of reconciliation and friendly opposition which they felt was at their cost, Zardari came hard on NS during his public speech at Moch gate Lahore on February 5. He termed him as a beast and a cancerous predator who must be chucked out so that the PPP is given a chance to rebuild Pakistan in accordance with the vision of Quaid e Azam. PML-N leaders have also never missed any opportunity to hurl invectives on Zardari.
IK on the other hand aspiring to rule the roost has all along chanted the slogan of establishing corruption free Naya Pakistan with equitable justice for all. He dubs the ruling regime and PPP leaders as parasites eating into the vitals of the nation. He had launched his crusade against NS in June 2014 on charges of state sponsored rigging in 2013 elections. After failing to boot out the regime, he then focused his attention on corruption and declared it as the mother of all ailments, lying at the very core of all of misfortunes of Pakistan. He stressed that Pakistan will not survive unless the looted wealth is brought back and Pakistan pays back its creditors.
Panama leaks scandal came as a blessing in disguise for him which he pursed with utmost vigor and tenacity. He was mighty pleased when NS was shown the door by the five-member bench of Supreme Court. He and his cronies felt confident that with the fall of the Goliath, and that of the financial wizard Ishaq Dar, his party will crumble but it didn’t happen as they expected. PTI, PPP, PML-Q, Jamaat-e-Islami, PAT and Sheikh Rashid are still struggling to topple the ruling regime. The last ditch effort was made by an amalgam of all opposition parties under the banner of Tahirul Qadri at Lahore last month, but it badly backfired due to personality clash between Zardari and IK, both refusing to sit together. The flop show animated the spirits of PML-N which till then was feeling the mounting heat of the judiciary, NAB and the opposition parties.
PK’s party which is ruling KP since mid-2013 under Pervez Khattak has not been able to change the complexion of the province and none of the tall claims made have borne fruit. IK’s popularity that was at its peak in 2013 has gradually declined and he has not been able to dent the popularity of NS in Punjab or to expand his vote bank in urban Sindh, or gain a toehold in Baluchistan. Several scandals together with entry of electable political leaders from other parties, some with tainted past, have marred the reputation of PTI that was generally seen as a panacea to the existing political malaise. PTI is pinning hopes on apex court to disqualify as many PML-N leaders on charges of contempt of judiciary and on the accountability court to convict/punish NS and his family on corruption charges by end February, which in its view will enhance its chances of success in elections.
Although NS is down but much to the chagrin of his opponents, he is not out and is still calling all the shots in the capacity of party president. NS is on a warpath and since his disqualification, he has been wailing and lamenting that he had been wronged by the judiciary and that his abrupt ouster on flimsy charge of Aqama (work permit) had slowed down the phenomenal development and growth of Pakistan. During his public addresses, he has not minced his words in criticizing the judiciary and in highlighting the track record of judiciary wherein it always legitimized the illegitimate acts of dictators and military takeovers. He blames the judicial-military complicity for impeding the growth of democracy.
He along with his daughter Maryam is inciting the crowds by underlining his string of achievements in his 4 ½ years tenure and asks as to why he was removed from power. He is urging the people to return PML-N to power with the heaviest mandate so that he fulfils the dream of making Pakistan an Asian tiger and also clip the wings of higher judiciary that has disrespected the sanctity of votes. Although NS’s aggressive posturing has put the judiciary on the defensive, he is playing a dangerous game by pounding the judiciary and the establishment. Chief Justice Saqib has however assured that he will not derail democracy. He must be watching the developments in Maldives.
Taking into account the current trends and the pulse, PML-N still holds better chances of winning 2018 elections and will sweep the polls in Punjab. Shahbaz Sharif will be the next PM. While PPP will retain its hold over Sindh, with Bilawal possibly appointed as CM, it will be difficult for PTI to hold on to KP where there is a strong possibility of PML-N, JUI-F, ANP, JWP grouping. NS held largest ever PML-N rally in Peshawar on 4 February. In case MMA is reincarnated, it will pose a challenge to traditional parties in KP and Baluchistan. PTI leadership must be ruing for having wasted time in fruitless sit-ins and politics of agitation rather than focusing on KP and in pressing the government for carrying out crucial reforms.
Notwithstanding the gusty 2017 during which Pakistan had to face political unrest due to political polarization and fallout effect of dismissal of NS, dwindling economy due to uncertainty and rising debt, insecurity due to ongoing foreign abetted terrorism, USA, India and Afghanistan breathing fire, the silver lining within the dark clouds hovering over the horizons of Pakistan is that the government under Khaqan Abbasi is intact and is running the affairs competently. It has faced the belligerence of Trump boldly, and has let the development projects and healthcare including the most vital CPEC project move on unhindered. Pakistan has overcome energy crisis after adding 11000 MWs to national grid, controlled terrorism to a large extent and has upped the GDP to near 6%.
While civil-military relations are smooth, armed forces are well-poised to take on foreign threats, and China has become the most reliable partner of Pakistan, ready to protect Pakistan’s security interests. Above all, rumors of early elections or a technocrat government lay buried after the issue of census was sorted out, without which elections could not have been held, and date of Senate elections announced. Hope of peaceful and orderly transition of democracy in August 2018 has brightened up. Politically strong and united Pakistan can only face the internal and external challenges squarely.
The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. [email protected]