Saturday, October 3, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Sept 14, 2015

Bilawal attacks After a long hiatus since his political career was launched in Karachi on October 18, 2014, during which the air was full of speculations about differences between him and his father Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari relaunched his long awaited political journey with an address to a PPP workers' convention in Lahore on Saturday, September 12. What was immediately noticeable about the tone and content of Bilawal's speech was the full frontal attack on the PML-N leadership and government. Forget the controversy about differences between Bilawal and Asif, this assault seemed to take its cue from the recent outbursts of the former president against the government. Bilawal launched into the Sharifs by claiming that the 'friends' of terrorists were ruling the roost in Punjab. Dilating on the change in the PPP's policy, he said there could be no 'reconciliation' with the sympathisers of the extremists or friends of dictators. He said the present rulers only realised the need for an operation against the terrorists after the Peshawar Army Public School bloodbath. Before that, they were attempting to hold talks with the terrorists. Bilawal questioned the attempts to paint the PPP in the colours of being involved in terrorist financing (a reference to Dr Asim Hussain's arrest and the allegations laid at his door) when the party was the first to take up cudgels against the terrorists. He reminded his audience that Operation Zarb-e-Azb actually started in 2008 under a PPP government when operations were launched in Swat and South Waziristan (both acknowledged to be successful in driving the terrorists out of those areas). How, he questioned, could such a party be put in the dock on charges of financing terrorism, and that too at the hands of a government that had betrayed signs of either being sympathetic to, or scared of, the terrorists. Lahore, the bastion of democracy, Bilawal argued, had been handed over to the sympathisers of the terrorists. On the economy, Bilawal lambasted the government for its anti-farmer policies, which were forcing farmers to commit suicide, burn their crops or dump them on the roads because they could not get a fair price for their produce. In contrast to his mother, Benazir Bhutto's attitude to the issue, when she once pledged to buy up farmers' crops in a crisis even if she had to dump them into the sea, the PML-N government was letting farmers die of hunger and rubbing salt into their wounds by diverting the state's resources towards showpiece projects like the metro bus. Bilawal warned the government that the common people would not allow you to rule if you do not solve their problems. He reminded Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif of his election campaign pledge to overcome load shedding within six months of coming to power or he would give up his name for some other. Bilawal wanted to know, more than two years down the road, what name the chief minister would like to be called by now. He castigated Shahbaz Sharif as neither a Khadim (servant of the people) nor Aala (great) (a play on the title the chief minister likes to be referred to as: Khadim-e-Aala). Describing the style of governance of the Sharifs as favouring only their friends and loyalists, some pertinent questions raised by Bilawal were why so many institutions were running without heads and others being led by visionless cronies appointed against merit; why the government has destroyed PIA and is unable to even pay the salaries of the workers of Pakistan Steel Mills; why the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was nowhere to be seen despite corruption being rampant on this government's watch, and why NAB was not investigating the Nandipur project scandal when the cost had risen from Rs 22 billion to 181 billion. Bilawal has come out in Punjab with both fists swinging and all guns blazing. This change of tack was becoming visible of late since the Punjab PPP's long standing argument that the 'reconciliation' policy was damaging the political prospects of the party in the most populous province that was once its main (ideological and political) base were clinched by the recent spate of arrests and cases against the PPP's leaders. What remains to be seen, despite the obvious enthusiasm of the PPP's workers to have their young leader in their midst at last, is whether the new strategy can succeed in overcoming the graph of the PPP's decline in Punjab over many years. If Bilawal's remarks are any guide, it appears the party is groping its way back to its original élan of a party of the poor, peasants and workers. The response of this constituency will be watched with great interest in the days ahead.

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