MIAN Raza Rabbani would have become Senate chairman six years ago if he were in the good books of then president Asif Ali Zardari. Although he is still not the most trusted confidant of the Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman, this time Mr Zardari nominated him as the opposition’s consensus candidate for the Senate office knowing that it would be hard for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to oppose the nomination of a politician of Mr Rabbani’s stature.
For Mr Rabbani and people at large his elevation is yet another feather in his cap, but for Mr Zardari meant killing two birds with one stone. His election as Senate chairman is definitely a victory for the opposition PPP and for sure another proof of Mr Zardari’s political acumen as he retains the control of the upper house for a third consecutive term.
But, other than that, Mr Zardari is to benefit in a different manner. As Mr Rabbani resigned from the post of additional secretary general of the PPP having been nominated as the opposition-government consensus candidate, the move allows Mr Zardari to tighten his grip on the party by appointing one of his trusted lieutenants in his place.
It appears that by nominating Mr Rabbani, Mr Zardari has cleverly removed a thorn in his side.
Mr Rabbani was among the PPP’s old guards who faced problems in adjusting with Mr Zardari and his politics of reconciliation following the Dec 27, 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
He was very vocal at meetings of the PPP’s core committee — a forum which overshadowed the party’s central executive committee, especially after Mr Zardari became the country’s president — and had dissenting views on certain matters with the top leadership, including the latest issue of supporting the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that allowed the establishment of military courts.
He was not a yes-man and, therefore, never enjoyed the same level of confidence and trust which Mr Zardari once had in Babar Awan or still has in Rehman Malik or his younger sister Faryal Talpur.
At recent sittings of the party held to finalise its Senate candidates, he, being the additional secretary general of the PPP, put Mr Zardari in an awkward position when he questioned granting party tickets to certain individuals considered to be loyalists of Mr Zardari and not of the party.
Born in Lahore and raised in Karachi, Mr Rabbani, 61, has been elected a senator for six times since 1993. He was a close aide to Ms Bhutto who had appointed him the party’s deputy secretary general in 1997 and leader of the opposition in the Senate in 2005.
Widely considered a man of principles and a “Mr Clean” of Pakistani politics, he also had differences with Ms Bhutto over striking a deal with then president Gen Pervez Musharraf and the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2007 as, he believed, it was against the spirit of the Charter of Democracy signed between the PPP and the PML-N.
A staunch opponent of not only military dictatorship but of any role of the army in civilian affairs, Mr Rabbani struggled against the dictatorship from the platform of the Grand Democratic Alliance and then the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy.
He was the leader of the opposition in the Senate when the PPP won the 2008 general election and formed its government at the centre. He initially refused to become a part of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s cabinet as he did not want to be administered the oath by then president Gen Musharraf.
The PPP made him leader of the house in the Senate and after Gen Musharraf’s departure he became the federal minister for inter-provincial coordination.
But in March 2009, Mr Zardari chose his lawyer Farooq H. Naek and nominated him as chairman of the Senate. A dejected Rabbani resigned from the cabinet and as the leader of the house in the senate.
Three months later, Mr Rabbani, who has expertise in constitutional, legal and parliamentary affairs, was made chairman of the parliamentary committee for constitutional reform — a panel that made recommendations which ultimately resulted in the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010. After the amendment was passed, he was made chairman of the implementation commission on the 18th amendment.
He was inducted into the federal cabinet again but he resigned in May 2011 in protest against Mr Zardari’s decision to forge a coalition with the PML-Quaid. And in March 2012, he was once again ignored for Senate chairmanship, as this time Mr Zardari nominated Nayyer Hussain Bukhari.
He was also chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security.
After the PPP lost the May 2013 general election, Mr Zardari made him additional secretary general of the party and assigned him the task of reorganising the party across the country. He was also the PPP’s presidential candidate in 2013, but boycotted the election after the apex court changed the schedule on a plea of the PML-N.
Known for his love of expensive cigars, Mr Rabbani is adored by the country’s labour class for his anti-privatisation and anti-downsizing stance.
A son of Mian Ata Rabbani, the ADC to Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the younger Rabbani completed his graduation and obtained an LLB degree from Karachi University. His association with the PPP’s students’ wing began in the 1970s. He was jailed for his struggle for democracy during the Gen Zia regime.
After completing studies, he started practising law and was made president of the Karachi chapter of the Peoples Lawyers Forum and then president of its Sindh chapter.
He was made an adviser to the chief minister on cooperatives in 1988. He became senator for the first time in 1993 and was later appointed state minister for law and justice.
He is a recipient of Nishan-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civil award, for his parliamentary work. He has authored two books.
Published in Dawn March 12th , 2015