Bereft of a political majority and buffeted by a series of crisis, Asif Zardari developed a myth of political invincibility because he lasted out his full five year term as President. Keeping his cool finessing a policy of political reconciliation, he made a truth out of perception. Contriving a smooth political transition post-the 2013 elections, he went through with sharing power as agreed to with Mian Nawaz Sharif after the 2008 elections. Nawaz Sharif’s federal government reciprocated by giving PPP a free hand to carry out blatant excesses in Sindh till recently. Obligated by rampant violence to support punitive action against terrorism in Karachi, the PM is now seeking to reverse this Federal “patronage”, force-multiplied manifold by the Army’s reaction to Zardari attempting to frustrate accountability by his uncalled-for rantings targeting the Army.
Avoiding an Army takeover despite running the most corrupt Federal regime in history is Zardari’s most trumpeted achievement. His spin doctors successfully projected the farce of his sustaining what passes for “democracy” in Pakistan, looting the public till once you have “the peoples’ mandate” manipulating an extremely defective electoral system. The Army does need not to ever take over, they just need to make their presence felt as a deterrent to curb blatant corruption. Where (General Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani was badly compromised, Raheel Sharif has on the contrary been toeing the fail-safe line by a single-minded insistence about national security being threatened if organized crime’s money-laundering of the funds fueling terrorism is not targeted. Zardari just got lucky that he had a Kayani and not a Raheel Sharif around to contend with.
Notwithstanding many faithful followers, the attrition rate among PPP’s rank and file is high, accentuated by Zardari ruthlessly removing the Bhutto loyalists from the power structure unless they gave him their fealty. The PPP originals of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or those faithful to Ms Benazir Bhutto are missing among today’s PPP hierarchy, most Johnny-come-latelies have no knowledge whatsoever of the ideals PPP was created for, for that matter they couldn’t care less. Exceptions like Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Farhatullah Babar (a miracle his remaining honest in Zardari’s proximity), Qamruzzaman Kaira, Sherry Rahman, Taj Haider, etc are always there.
The agenda of the “immortals” surrounding Zardari is only to make money, that they can get away with it because no one can dare hold them accountable makes than arrogant. The fashion statement of the really corrupt in Karachi is the number of police mobiles escorting them. PPP’s debacle in the Punjab in 2013 aside, even in Balochistan and KPK they have become an endangered species with many party diehards all over deserting to PML (N) and PTI. Political meltdown in Sindh was only avoided by manipulating the electoral system. The ISI and MI both reported massive pre-polls rigging to GHQ before the 2013 elections took place. Kayani chose to ignore this and did not bring it to the notice of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), thus abdicating his responsibility to the Constitution for the “sake of democracy”. One humbly requests the Judicial Commission to take cognizance of these reports.
Zardari could not have carried out the loot and plunder by himself, he had to have help by those excelling in manipulating and politicizing the bureaucracy and the police. Zardari was coached how money can be made “legally” by bending/amending the rules and by putting the “right” people in the right places to do wrong. Can there be a more blatant act of criminality than Zardari using his Presidential powers to set aside the Federal Tax Ombudsman’s orders to recover tax billions owed to the government of Pakistan by Malik Riaz and Arsalan Iftikhar? Given his cozy relationship with Zardari one can understand about Malik Riaz, what reciprocity did former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry offer Zardari in doing his son Arsalan this favor?
Pressurized by the federal government, NAB and the Army (through the Rangers), good governance requires efficient, dedicated and honest functionaries in government. Those presently occupying important political and bureaucrat slots in Sindh are only interested in amassing a fortune for themselves and their political bosses, nobody asks them about taxes on their huge fortunes. Faced with accountability many have made a fast exit out of the country or attempting to (or taken) bail before arrest. The Sindh government symbolizes bad governance, not only exercising authority for nepotism and corruption but denial of responsibility allows them to feign innocence in wrongdoing. A typical example of atrocious governance is the heatwave in Karachi exceeding 1250 deaths till date. Where the Provincial government’s response was pathetic, the Army and Rangers came to the rescue by opening up dozens and dozens of heat exhaustion centers, not only in Karachi but in entire Sindh. The Qaim Ali Shah government busied themselves in shifting blame to the Federal government and K-Electric, symbolizing not only mis-governance but an enduring penchant for disseminating false information. Who will protect the citizens of the State when their rights to obtain good governance under the Constitution is trampled by the rulers themselves?
Soon after his “coming out party,” Bilawal fell out with his father and headed for UK. Zardari is certainly regretting his rush of adrenaline berating the Army. While he can count on many to remain loyal, many “loyalists” down the line will turn approvers to save their own skin. Despite all his public bravado, running scared he got his daughters to somehow get their brother back. In a desperate attempt to escape accountability, Zardari needs Bilawal to politicize the wide-ranging criminality he (and his colleagues) are guilty of. The availing perception is contradictory, that Bilawal is deadset against corruption through the broad spectrum of bureaucracy because of his father’s appointees and/or the appointees of his father’s appointees. Defending criminality would undercut his credibility and ability to keep the remaining party faithful to the Bhutto family.
Somewhere along the line Bilawal will face his acid test, will he influenced by his beleaguered father? Will he be content being a figurehead or will he be his own master to manage damage-control? As PPP’s only ray of hope, PPP is in real trouble if Bilawal proves to be a puppet-on-his father’s string. Without distancing himself from the criminals posing as politicians and purging them from the reins of governance, it is impossible for Bilawal to restore the mass confidence in this once great party. In a perverse way the Zardari outburst might be “the defining moment” PPP needed to re-invigorate itself as the dynamic force it once was in Pakistani politics.
In this summer of discontent, can Bilawal deliver?
The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org