By Dr Ghayur Ayub
The elections of February 2008 yielded unexpected results. Musharaf’s buddies, belonging to Q league were disgusted and angry with the outcome. Its stalwarts privately accused hidden hands of selectively rigging the elections. But soon their resentment appeared to fade and they became mellow. Their placidity became obvious in the first speech by Pervez Elahi in the National Assembly, where he supported the PPP candidate for premiership. Pervez Elahi and Ch Shujat remained unruffled even when PML-Q, which had gained the majority vote in Baluchistan, was sidelined by minority PPP. Later, Pervez Elahi even vacated the position of opposition leadership in the parliament without a fight. In a private gathering when this point was raised, a stalwart of Q league acknowledged that the then-president Musharaf had played his role, advising them to lie low on issues which flared anti-PPP sentiment and also on the topic of elections. During the discussion, it became clear that Musharaf, having been their leader for the past ten years, still had a hold over them. What he said later was eyebrow-raising. He asked a seemingly simple question, “Why and on whose instructions Asif Zardari, after assassination of BB, decided to take part in elections on the name of reconciliation instead of boycotting them and weakening Musharaf at that crucial time in history?” It was a very meaningful question. According to reliable sources, Musharaf wanted to stick to the agreement he had made with BB later revived with Asif Ali Zardari. The hidden hands which played an important role in those agreements also wanted to give continuity to Musharaf’s presidency and his policies agreed upon with the US.
Asif Zardari tried to use his charm on Nawaz Sharif and started flying the kite of friendship with him. Nawaz Sharif based this relationship on the CoD which was the main theme of politics between PPP and PML-N. Frequent meetings between them added a personal touch to their political closeness. Their friendliness and warmth reached an unprecedented level previously not seen between the two old rivals. In a press conference, AZ promised to extend the friendship to the next generation of their families. The rival forces, which looked at the close political relationship between the two parties as unnatural and unmaintainable, were snubbed outright by die-hards from both sides. It was a new chapter of politics in the history of Pakistan. Politically speaking, everything in the political arena was unnatural. Here were a President hated by PML-N but supported by PPP; a sitting PCO CJP not recognised by PML-N but supported by PPP; and an actual CJP supported by PML-N and disliked by the PPP. To sort out the judiciary issues, a clock was set for 30 days, ticking fast for PPP but slowly for PML-N. Many analysts believed the friendship was not going to endure because the leaders of both parties were riding different horses in opposite directions.
It was during that period of friendliness, in one of the cordial meetings between Zardari and Sharif, that the issue of the arms-race in Karachi was brought up. One of the participants raised the issue of MQM bringing sophisticated weapons to Karachi in containers on the instruction of their leader, Mr. Altaf Hussain. It was said that Mr. Hussain wanted to arm his party-members against the growing presence of Taliban and the alleged arming of members of their rival parties. Nawaz Sharif looked at Asif Zardari sitting next to him to see his reaction. AZ smiled and nodded his head in affirmative. NS kept on looking at him for his opinion as to what was he going to do about it. In those days, MQM had not joined PPP in the centre. AZ looked into NS’s eyes and replied with a smile on his face. “Mian Sahib, you live in Lahore and I live in Karachi. You don’t have to face them every day of the week as I do. So, I have to look the other way sometimes”. The message Asif Ali Zardari gave then is clearly reflected today by the frequent outbursts of Zulfiqar Mirza’s anger and frustration in Karachi politics.
People generally weigh Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari in the same scale because of their politics in the past. Emotionally, it makes sense, but logically it doesn’t. After reaching a new understanding on the future of politics in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto signed CoD on certain principles. Neither of them got a chance to prove to the sceptics that they had changed. One was eliminated physically from the scene, the other was disabled by the Dogar court, forbidding him to take part in elections. The only logical way one can presume how Nawaz Sharif would have acted politically had he come to power by observing the actions of Shehbaz Sharif. Both the brothers walk an identical political path. In other words, it would be fair to say that the mindset of Nawaz Sharif is reflected in the actions of Shehbaz Sharif. Whatever one may say about the the style of Shehbaz Sharif’s governance (he is known to prefer bureaucracy over executive for running government), nobody can blame him or his friends for corrupt practices. If this point is taken on face value,one can easily say that Nawaz Sharif has changed. Asif Zardari, on the other hand, has shown by his recent actions that he has not; he is the same as he was in 1980s and 1990s.
This fact became apparent when the friendship between the two hit a snag at the end of one month agreement in 2008. Zardari asked for more time which was granted. At the end of repeated extensions and failed results, Nawaz Sharif took the PML-N out of the coalition in the centre and asked Zardari to do the same in Punjab. AZ declined and NS accepted his wishes readily. Most of the political analysts considered Asif Zardari a better player in politics and accused NS of losing the political game to Zardari. In reality, they failed to see what Nawaz saw in Zardari. He realised that Zardari was least interested in fulfilling the articles of CoD – the then pinnacle of politics. Keeping Zardari’s unchanged appetite for corruption in mind, Nawaz Sharif played a clever political move and kept PPP in Punjab against the wishes of many around him. Three years later, NS proved to be right on two accounts. First, when the PPP ministers in the centre and other provinces were busy in alleged corrupt practices, he, through Shehbaz Sharif, kept the ministers from PPP in Punjab in check and as a result not a single finger was pointed at them. Second, governance in Punjab remained far better than in any other province and the centre as confirmed by independent surveys,
After achieving his goals vis-a-vis PPP and knowing that the next elections are just around the corner, Nawaz Sharif played another shrewd game by breaking coalition partnership with PPP in the Punjab. Now, while the PPP is going down the drain because of Zardari’s political short-sightedness and his habit of recruiting non-desirable corrupt friends, Nawaz Sharif is concentrating on reorganising and strengthening the PML-N all over Pakistan. His steady politics proved wrong all those political gurus who thought Asif Zardari would defeat Nawaz Sharif in the political arena.
Those who defend Asif Zardari argue that he follows the policy of conciliation as opposed to Nawaz Sharif’s policy of confrontation. They miss a point raised by many disgruntled PPP members who were loyal to late BB. According to them, AZ is following conciliation policy for two reasons. First, when he made an agreement with foreign and local hidden hands, he was told to follow the policy of conciliation to nurture democracy in Pakistan. Despite this being against his nature, he had to follow it. Second, he thought that by following a conciliatory policy, he would be able to avoid making political enemies whilst saving himself from pressure to reveal the enormous wealth he had amassed through illegal means and hoarded in foreign banks. He was determined to save his wealth at all costs. Assuming presidency was one of the ways through which he could remain safe from the jaws of the judiciary.
The question most of the public ask is this: who, amongst Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, has learnt from past mistakes and changed for the better? All they have to do is to look at the politics of the two during the past three years. A typical case scenario appeared after Raymond Davies’s court case and his sudden flight out from Pakistan. To put NS on the same mat as AZ, the proponents of the latter linked Nawaz’s visit to London with this case creating suspicions in the minds of the public while in reality he (NS) was having treatment in a London Hospital. Overall, the news reports of the last three years show that AZ’s principles of politics are linked to personal monitory gains through his cronies with corrupt reputation and NS’s are not.