Saturday, June 20, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 21, 2015

PPP’s retreat After co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s adventurism, the PPP has been forced to retreat, always an uncomfortable and embarrassing exercise. Putting away the ‘guns’ that Asif Zardari had whipped out to whip the military establishment, the PPP is talking ‘peace’ with the army, emphasising that it has the greatest respect for COAS General Raheel Sharif and that Zardari’s remarks were aimed at past military chiefs who had imposed draconian dictatorships. This ‘charge’ in retreat is being led by two former information ministers of the PPP, Sherry Rehman, recently elected a Senator, and Qamar Zaman Kaira. Retreats from exposed positions are always tricky. The two articulate former information ministers, despite all their eloquence and way with words, are not having an easy time of making sense of what Zardari spouted or dress it up to disguise the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Kaira tried to spin Zardari’s remarks as an attempt to define a line in civil-military relations. While there is little doubt the fracas has focused attention once again on this ticklish subject, the real issue (and context) is the campaign by the Rangers in Karachi against big fish allegedly involved in corruption, crime, and even terrorism. This campaign has the explicit support of the military. The dragnet is slowly but surely widening to bring within its fold officials and others allegedly linked to Sindh’s ruling PPP. Having stuck his neck out a mile with his intemperate remarks, Asif Zardari is in danger of having it metaphorically lopped off. There has been nothing but adverse reaction across the board to Zardari’s vitriol. Fearing isolation if not worse, the co-Chairperson attempted to gather the leaders of other political parties at his Iftaar dinner in Islamabad. Unfortunately, the gambit only partially succeeded. The ANP, MQM, PML-Q and JUI-F attended; PTI, JI and the PML-N ignored it. Chaudhry Shujaat of the PML-Q, in remarks to media after the dinner said the statement should be withdrawn and that the ‘consultation’ with political parties should have preceded the issuance of such a statement. The PPP spokespersons however, knowing what a loss of face that would be to add to the initial disaster, refused to countenance its withdrawal. Meanwhile the PPP is said to be mulling over a counter-strategy to the campaign against it by the Rangers and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). A legal recourse is being considered, which includes approaching the courts as well as passing a law by the Sindh government that the Rangers and NAB be bound to ask the chief minister Sindh for prior approval before arresting any bureaucrat or high profile figure. Even if the Sindh government manages to pass such a law on the basis of its majority in the Sindh Assembly, such an unprecedented restriction on the functioning of the law enforcement agencies is likely to be legally challenged and even struck down by the courts. Even to contemplate such a course shows the panic and desperation permeating the PPP leadership in the face of being targeted for alleged corruption and worse. A close friend of Zardari, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz too is said to be having kittens these days and unable to have access to the powers that be to fend off any adverse action against him. All does not appear well within the ranks of the top leadership either. At the very moment when the PPP Central Executive Committee was endorsing Zardari’s statement, two former prime ministers, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf reportedly tendered their resignations from top slots within the party. This annoyed Zardari and is being treated as rebellion. Zardari’s leadership of the party is increasingly coming into question, implicitly if not openly. Meanwhile the Sindh government has suddenly woken up to an army application for forest land to be allotted to the families of military martyrs near Shikarpur, a request lying pending since 2001. Whether such a ‘sop’ will extricate the PPP’s chestnuts from the fire remains to be seen, but given the present mood and determined pressing of the campaign against corruption and other misdemeanours in Sindh, it may not be enough. The best advice Zardari and the PPP have received lately is the view of the Iftaar guests to return to the policy of reconciliation. Whether this is still possible remains an intriguing and open question.

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