Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2738

PPP still under legacy of Bhuttoism

Asif Haroon Raja

Zardari who had thoroughly soiled his image and reputation has been comprehensively dry cleaned in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) machine invented by President Musharraf. While cleansing Zardari, Musharraf got himself grubby. The unethical NRO had actually been carved out for Ms Benazir but Zardari drew maximum benefit from it. The tragedy which befell upon the PPP as a consequence to unfortunate assassination of Ms Benazir was overcome to a great extent after the victory of the PPP. The victory shifted Zardari from the rear seat to the front seat and he become the super star. As the co-chair person of the largest political party of the country, he is now in a position to call all the shots in spite of the fact that MakhdoomYusaf Raza Gilani has taken over as the new PM with a thumping majority. He was chosen by Zardari after ditching Amin Fahim since he did not want a rival source of power in his home province that could have threatened legacy of Bhuttoism.

It is for the first time that the party has offered the seat of PM to a person outside Bhutto family and that too to a Punjabi. Zardari is from Sindh but does not hail from Bhutto clan and despite his enviable authority over party affairs; the party is governed by the ghosts of Bhuttos?. Having judged the significance of Bhuttoism in party affairs, Bhutto has been added to the name of Zardari?s son Bilawal who has been named as the new party chairperson and is being groomed to take over the reins after the current parliament completes its five-year tenure. No PPP stalwart can afford to make a speech without paying homage to the soul of departed Benazir.

Amin Fahim was admonished for failing to make a mention of her during the oath taking ceremony of Speaker of National Assembly on 17 March. On 24 March the newly elected PM as well as Fahim ensured to make a special mention of sacrifices rendered by Benazir towards the restoration of democracy. In order to appease the Jayalas, Gilani not only stressed upon seeking an apology for the judicial murder of ZAB but also pressed for a probe of BB’s murder by the UN. This practice of eulogising Bhuttos’ has been repeated in all the recently formed provincial ministries. The UN probe that has been sanctified by the federal and provincial assemblies will take a very long time to unearth the real culprits and yet would remain inconclusive; but the futile exercise will help the PPP leaders to keep the party intact by paying lip service to the departed soul.

During the inaugural sessions the Assembly Halls resounded with slogans of “jeeay Bhutto” “Charon soobon ki zanjir, Benazir Bhutto” and quite a few were seen with tearful eyes. In Sindh Assembly the PPP women legislators sobbed loudly with tears rolling down their cheeks when someone recited a poem composed on Benazir. The old Jayala culture was once again in full display. The winning party got so emotionally carried away with Bhutto phobia that its leaders forgot to make any mention about the sacrifices rendered by the lawyers, media and civil society for independence of judiciary and for restoration of true democracy. PPP workers in Sindh are often heard raising slogans “Bhutto family hero hero, baqi saray zero zero”. It indicates a particular trend and it appears it will take considerable time before the party comes out of Bhutto spell.

However, one good thing that has happened is that the junior leadership and workers of PPP in Sindh have become more vocal and begun to express their views and record their dissent more vociferously.

There were dozens of cases against Zardari and his late wife lingering in courts of law for over a decade but not a single case could reach its logical conclusion because of delaying tactics adopted by the couple. Unlike the lacklustre performance of local courts the courts in Geneva and Madrid proceeded with promptitude and as they reached the final stage of delivering the verdict, the NRO issued on 5 October came to their rescue. The joys of PPP stalwarts and MQM turned into sorrows when the Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar held the actualisation of NRO in abeyance. The NRO that was to expire on 4 February 2008 was given fresh lease of life for four months. After receiving a wink from the architect of NRO, the PCO-2 judges and provincial review committees hastened to clear Zardari and thousands of leaders and activists of MQM of all corruption and criminal cases.

Gilani is a feudal lord from southern Punjab and has sterling human qualities. He is gentle, soft spoken and has pleasant manners. He is humble and cool and does things in his own time. Born with a silver spoon, he is deeply romantic and prefers life of comfort and grandeur over simplicity, austerity and piety. His performance as minister and as Speaker of the Lower House during two stints of Benazir was quite satisfactory. However, he is neither a trend setter nor a go-getter. He would certainly not take dictation from the Presidency and behave like Jamali, Ch brothers or Shaukat Aziz, but he would also not like to lock horns with the President.

He seems quite happy with Zardari controlling all levers of powers since he is beholden to him. His 100-day relief package was more of a political gimmick since after passage of half the time; things have worsened rather than getting any better. He might be able to bring some cosmetic changes but is not cut to introduce revolutionary changes. He is otherwise among the believers of status quo. He played the right notes for the Americans when he said that there will be no talks with militants who refuse to surrender arms.

Instead of abolishing the unethical NRO that has given a licence to indulge in corruption and criminal acts without any fear of accountability, the new PM has chosen to abolish NAB.. Whatever its shortcomings, it had succeeded in recovering over Rs. 223 billions from the looters which is unprecedented. In the past the corrupt had never returned the ill-gotten wealth. Since NAB had gained sufficient expertise to investigate and haul up the corrupt elements in relatively much less time than other agencies, it should have been refurbished instead of scrapping it altogether and that too without an alternative edifice. The huge housing scam in Karachi worth Rs.450 billions is being pushed under the carpet under pressure from the MQM.

Ignoring the strong reservations of PPP workers and second tier leadership in Sindh as well as PML-N and ANP, Zardari opted to woo MQM and make it a coalition partner both in Sindh and in the centre. His desire to win over MQM was not motivated by his fondness for the party but because of president and US wish and to enhance his political clout over PML-N. Although the PPP-MQM honey-mooning ended in a fiasco, however, Zardari and his team made frenetic efforts to once again win over the MQM on its terms since they know that peace in Karachi without MQM?s blessings will not be possible. Meanwhile, the PPP has taken some emergent measures to prevent recurrence of 9 April like situation in Karachi. It includes revamping of police structure under IG Suddle, reactivation of MQM Haqiqi and appointment of new IB chief.

Although Fahim has reconciled with the ground reality and overcome the anguish he suffered when his dream of becoming the PM remained unaccomplished, nonetheless his yearning to fulfil his ambition at all cost lowered his prestige. His threat to play the Sindh card compelled Zardari to go for a riposte by seeking accommodation with MQM. Neither Benazir nor Zardari wished the seat to be going into the hands of Makhdooms of Hala since it would have endangered Bhutto’s legacy. Fahim would not easily forget and forgive his tormentor who ditched him after making a firm commitment to nominate him for the slot of PM.

Although the unconditional support rendered by the MQM to Zardari took the wind out of his sails, however, he still has a strong following in Sindh and elsewhere who feel that he was the most deserving candidate. His son having not been given a cabinet seat in Sindh has added to his resentment against Zardari. In case Zardari tries to win back MQM at a heavy cost and becomes a cause of resentment among Sindhis, Fahim might exploit the situation. He will strike whenever the Federal or Sindh coalition start getting wobbly or Gilani fails to be as obliging to the Sindhis as Fahim.

Already there are bickering among those who have been sidelined after the death of Benazir. New faces have occupied their berths on which no one could dare to sit on as long as Benazir was alive.

They had been looking forward for huge rewards after PPP?s victory but the whole scenario changed with her sudden demise since Zardari has his own preferences. His appointment of controversial figures on important posts has evoked sharp criticism from many quarters.

While he pursues policy matters of her late wife which are to his advantage, he ignores those which do not suit him. The ones who have been left in the lurch could also pose problems for him whenever opportunity comes their way. Ghinwa Bhutto and his children have not digested the hijacking of Bhutto legacy by Zardari?s son Bilawal and might up the ante in the foreseeable future.

A good beginning was made by the new PM by ordering the release of deposed judges who remained in illegal detention in their houses for about five months. The surging crowd that gathered at the residence of CJ Iftikhar in Islamabad and his historic welcome in Quetta once again highlighted the depth of respect and affections the people have for him. Zardari?s dithering and disinclination has however given rise to apprehensions that he may not honour his commitment given first at Burbhan on 9 March, then at Dubai on 31 April to restore judges by 12 May. He reluctantly agreed to restore the dismissed judges but with lots of ifs and buts.

He prefers constitutional package through which he could not only punish the deposed judges by way of reducing their tenures and powers but also reward the PCO-2 judges who removed all the hurdles placed in his way of saddling the coveted seat of PM. By indemnifying all the judgements of PCO judges given after 3 November, he indirectly desires to validate the illegal and unconstitutional acts of Musharraf.

Although Zardari has played his cards so far sensibly, his real test will be how he goes about tackling the issue of judges, relations with the president and USA, and policy on war on terror.

Notwithstanding that Zardari is now seen as a reformed and mature person, it will be difficult for him to adequately fill the void left behind by Benazir. He lacks the charisma, mental shrewdness and acumen which Benazir was blessed with to keep the party in his total grip and also command full respect of the party workers.

In case the judges issue does not get settled in accordance with the wishes of the people, the entire blame would be put on Zardari and he will become the chief butt of ridicule. In his bid to save his skin Zardari, his adoption of dual faced policy to keep both sides happy is fast eroding his credibility and it will not be long before all the guns instead of pointing at Musharraf are trained on him.

Asif Haroon Raja is a defence and political analyst based in Rawalpindi and author of four books.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this