Thursday, December 29, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 29, 2016

Zardari’s ‘surprise’ Former president and co-chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari’s return to the country after a self-imposed exile of a year and a half set tongues wagging as to what the return portended. Zardari added fuel to the fire by announcing on his arrival in Karachi that he would deliver some ‘good news’ at the commemoration of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Larkana on December 27. All eyes were therefore on him amidst heightened expectations of some ‘surprise’. However, the way things transpired, the ‘surprise’ turned out to be a damp squib. If there were expectations that Zardari would, in the light of his blood curdling cries against the government on his return, endorse Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s call for a long march on Islamabad after the deadline of December 27 had passed since the government had turned a deaf ear to the party’s four demands, these expectations were in for a disappointment. Instead of an all out agitational assault on the government as the long march proposal implied, Zardari pulled two rabbits out of his hat, announcing that both he and Bilawal would enter the National Assembly through by-elections on seats held by the PPP in Nawabshah and Larkana respectively. While the announcement was unlikely to set the house on fire, some conclusions can already be drawn from it. First, there is the speculation, unconfirmed, that some discreet agreement was reached on the eve of Zardari’s address in Garhi Khuda Buksh on December 27 between him and the government, which led to a ‘postponement’ of the long march proposal and instead, Zardari opted for carrying on his ‘struggle’ in parliament and, if necessary, outside it. Second, the former president’s decision to enter parliament was a message to the establishment that he could not be kept out of politics indefinitely despite his close colleagues and friends being targeted by the Rangers in Karachi, the latest episode of which occurred just hours before his touching down in Karachi. Third, it could be a signal that Zardari was positioning himself in the run up to the 2018 elections. Fourth, analysts are reading this development as Bilawal being relegated to the position of a ‘political intern’ to learn the art of parliamentary politics, meaning he will continue to play second fiddle to his father in a reversal of the recent trend where Bilawal seemed to be asserting himself in a militant fashion against the government. Last but not least, there may be hopes that Zardari’s entry into parliament will help lift the dwindling morale of his party workers. It appears now that the shape of the PPP’s political strategy in the run up to the 2018 elections is premised on avoiding a direct clash with the government while keeping up the pressure inside parliament and, if necessary, outside it for ‘consideration’ being extended to the party’s concerns and complaints. The all out assault option is probably considered too risky for the still fragile democratic system, in which all parties with a presence in parliament have a stake. This consideration draws a line of demarcation between the PPP and the PTI, since the latter has shown in its agitational mode in recent years a recklessness towards the fate of the democratic system. Does this mean no alliance is possible between the two main opposition parties? This conclusion may be premature since Imran Khan has indicated he could contemplate such an alliance. The government on its part has ‘launched’ its not-so-secret-weapon in the shape of Maulana Fazlur Rehman to mediate between the government and the PPP and thereby prevent any alliance between the PPP and PTI emerging. It remains to be seen whether Asif Zardari’s gambit will yield the results expected from it. If not, the option of agitation, or at least the threat of it, could once again be trotted out. We must wait and see.

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