By Razzak Abro
There is a general perception among commentators and analysts in Sindh that President Asif Ali Zardari has played his cards very well at key moments on every front since assuming power. The PPP’s alliance with the PML-Q – manufactured without even Prime Gilani’s knowledge, some claim – is another move to wipe off any democratic antagonism against the ruling party.
Ever since his first day in office, Zardari’s opponents had questioned whether he would survive and complete his terms. Despite various hurdles and challenges, not only has he survived three years but also had managed to achieve some major achievements – the successful passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, a consensus NFC Award, and keeping the majority of political forces close to him, to name a few. I do not want to go into the details of his achievements and hurdles, as that is not today’s topic. I only want to discuss his reconciliatory politics, future vision and developments in this connection observed during last week in Sindh.
The week started with an important meeting in Islamabad between President Zardari and his party leaders from Sindh. Around 70 people, including parliamentarians, gathered for what was the president’s first direct interaction with his party leaders from Sindh after the PPP shaking hands with the PML-Q. Many had thought that Zardari, who also leads the PPP in his capacity as the party’s co-chairperson, had convened the meeting to take party leaders from Sindh into confidence on the driving factors behind the alliance with the PML-Q.
Zardari definitely did do that, but he also has some long-term planning with respect to the decision. Despite some of the party leaders having serious reservations on the issue, not only did Zardari defend his decision but also went ahead to tell his key party leaders in Sindh that he wants to see the relationship with PML-Q blossom beyond the current tenure. The alliance with PML-Q was in fact a very bold decision taken by Zardari, given that he had termed them “Qatil League” after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and further, that Benazir had named one of PML-Q leaders among the possible conspirators in case she was harmed.
An alliance with PML-Q was also very difficult to accept and defend for many veterans of the PPP, who blame the elders of today’s PML-Q leadership for the hanging of the party’s founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. But Zardari managed to take into confidence his party cadres, perhaps citing the law of necessity, or maybe just another political move. Following the meeting, Karachi-based leaders met with PML-Q’s Karachi leadership, with a view to expand cooperation between the two parties at grassroots level and possibly, for the next local government and general polls.
On the surface, with the PML-Q joining the coalition government, there is no opposition left in the Sindh Assembly. There was little opposition even before the PML-Q teamed up with the PPP, but now, the Sindh Assembly is almost an Opposition-free legislature.
But beyond the obvious, President Zardari is working on a strategy of opposition-free general elections. All the political forces involved in parliamentary politics, including MQM, ANP, NPP and PML-F, are already allies of the ruling PPP.
Not only does President Zardari want to keep this formation intact, he is also interested in bringing on board influential individuals from various parts of Sindh – consider, for example, the Jatois of Naushero Feroze, the Sherazis of Thatta or even the Arbabs of Tharparkar. There will, in all probability, be a change of guard in the PPP in the near future; new faces will replace the old ones in party offices and the entire structure of the party will be reorganised. While leaders such as Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbasi were sidelined when Zardari took control of the PPP, there is now the Shah Mahmood Qureshi factor as well.
President Zardari’s strategy is to ensure that elements who co-opted deserters of the PPP in the past no longer do so. Keeping most parties in alliance means that the Shah Mahmood Qureshis of this age will have few political options, and fewer avenues to blackmail the PPP with. In the past, Farooq Leghari, Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (to name a few) parted with the PPP, but became restricted to their areas.
The real question is: how much space will President Zardari leave for anti-PPP elements to manoeuvre in? If President Zardari manages to remove any substantive opposition – either through seat adjustments or alliances – this will be another of his major achievements, especially in a country that has a long history of political enmity and victimisation.
The author is Chief Reporter at Pakistan Today, Karachi