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Et tu Zardari? (Opinion)

8,000 kilometres away from the country he ruled thrice, Mian Nawaz Sharif has some tough decisions to make. Primarily, who can he really trust in this game where almost everyone has betrayed each other at some point in time?

Zardari’s change of heart shouldn’t come as a big surprise since historically, Rawalpindi has its way with politicians. In the musical chairs of Pakistan’s power politics, everyone waits for their turn.

Asif Ali Zardari

But Mian Sab is looking for something different, at least this time. He’s done it all, from Mehrangate to Memogate to even Gen Bajwa’s extension, the PML-N has always shown an inclination to play ball, so what’s changed?

Perhaps Mian Sab has realised that power, control of the Federal and Punjab governments and the prime ministership is not what it takes to make Pakistan a fully functioning democracy run by the elected representatives of the people.

He tried three times and was kicked out of power as easily as he swerved into the plush offices of the Prime Minister House.

Compliance is what is needed, primarily, and Mian Sab doesn’t have the appetite for it. Not anymore, not when the same cycle is repeated every single time. What’s the point of being Prime Minister when you’re a prisoner of more powerful beings?

When someone who was a Colonel when you became Prime Minister for the first time treats you like a subordinate, the allure of the highest office in the land greatly diminishes.

Not for everyone though. For many, waiting in line is still the best option. Compliance comes naturally, and the faint promise of a government in the future surpasses all ideological conundrums.

This is what is happening to the Pakistan Democratic Movement, a promising opposition alliance that had the potential to ensure the sanctity of the vote. But the PPP, despite being the third-largest party in the National Assembly with a minimal presence in Punjab has other, more pragmatic ideas.

Yousaf Raza Gilani (left), Fazlur Rehman (center), Maryam Nawaz Sharif (right).

Since Day 1, the PPP did not agree with naming and shaming the most senior generals of the Pakistan Army. The PPP’s appetite for risk is diminished because they have benefitted from the current Hybrid regime. The Sindh government for starters, over 50 MNAs, influence in the senate, and Bilawal as a potential replacement batsman seems enough for Zardari to eschew any qualms of civilian supremacy.

And this might work too, for the short term at least. If Zardari seeks to transform the PPP into the establishment’s B team, then he has a fighting shot. Presently, it seems that both Nawaz and Maryam are unacceptable to Rawalpindi, Imran Khan has failed to deliver, so who’s left?

Becoming a part of a new politically engineered set up can grant power to the PPP in the short term, but what would be the impact in the long term?

Zardari’s political acumen has been praised a great deal. He is the first civilian leader to hand over power to another civilian government. He’s retained Sindh for the third consecutive time. He’s fought all his cases and is still wheeling and dealing in Pakistan. But what has happened to the PPP in Punjab?

From a powerhouse, the PPP has simply disappeared from the scene in the province which still has a deep romance with Benazir Bhutto.

Zardari’s wheeling-dealing might have retained him the Sindh government, but what about the number of PPP MNAs ever since the 2008 election in the aftermath of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s martyrdom?

Bilawal may enjoy the premiership due to this father’s deal-making skills but what would happen after that? Even the PML-Q elected their own prime minister, today they have 5 seats in the National Assembly. Is this the trajectory the PPP wants to follow?

There is some wisdom in delaying resignations though, at least until a fully formulated plan is on the table. The PDM’s success in the by-elections and the Senate shows that Zardari’s wisdom can be capitalised on. But the problem in the PDM isn’t about tactical disagreements, it’s about a fundamental question, has the PPP cut a deal with the establishment?

Sitting in London, Mian Sab is considering all options. Despite his poor health, sources claim that he is desperate to come back to Pakistan but his children have taken a stand. They’ve lost their mother, and Mian Sab had two heart attacks whilst in jail in Pakistan. A source in the Sharif Family claimed that they’re waiting for Mian Sab to become healthy enough to withstand jail and torture by the PTI government, and then he’ll come back.

Maryam is the game-changer. She’s still in Pakistan and has not only retained but multiplied PML-N’s support base by refusing to bow down to the most powerful forces of the country. And if the PPP formally ditches the PDM, it is Maryam who stands to gain as she will then become the only real opposition leader in the country who has the bravery to stand up to undemocratic forces.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif (left), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (right)

Bilawal will look like an establishment lackey in front of the lioness of Punjab if he chooses short term gains over long term political objectives. For a young man with an entire career of politics ahead, this might not be the most prudent move.

But despite his daughter’s success in mobilising the party, Mian Nawaz Sharif must have wondered about his foe turned friend who seemingly shared a similar revolutionary zeal, et tu Zardari?

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