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One man, two parties

February 09, 2018

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THE campaign for clues to the old PPP has not yet been abandoned. The latest search party arrived in Lahore on Feb 5, Kashmir Solidarity Day, with Mr Asif Ali Zardari at its head. His auspicious presence in the city provided an occasion for the PPP flags to flutter in the Lahore air after a long time. So rare has been the sight in recent times that in this case an onlooker had to strain to confirm that these were actually PPP colours, and not the PTI’s green and red.

It is not just the old Bhutto voters that Imran Khan has secured for his party here. His PTI hogs — or is in the process of monopolising — the vivid shades in the forms of banners and flags that take on the rather laidback, sometimes even staid, PML-N declarations from the poles.

This was an exceptional day and somehow, the jiyalas managed to come up with a show in Lahore that could not be easily dismissed in this age and pre-poll period of big rallies and generally anti-PPP media. The choice of the day, like the venue, was commensurate with Mr Zardari’s map to rediscover Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP. Just as Lahore, the city where the PPP was founded and nurtured, had to feature prominently in this redemption plan, there was no way any issue other than Kashmir could occupy the central position around which the party had to be recreated and restored to its original shape.

He has been coveting a partnership with the army right from his days in jail during the late 1990s.

Kashmir is convenient. It is by all signs the meeting point for the two Zardaris, who might be in conflict with each other over other affairs. There is a Zardari who is subjected to all kinds of slogans and even taunts for not doing anything or not doing enough to revitalise the old 1970s’ PPP. And then there is the one who is often spotted by the side of the establishment, to the great chagrin of the Bhutto lovers’ society.

There is this Zardari who tries to come up with some kind of revival scheme, maybe too late in the day to inspire hope for any quick resurrection of the dying party in Punjab. On a good day, this good Zardari would be coerced by the old PPP ghosts to do a deed by the people. Like nominating a couple of truly deserving people to the Senate.

It would appear to some well-meaning, surviving PPP sympathisers that it is this strain precisely that compels Mr Zardari to choose the anti-India refrain and to champion Kashmir, for this is the theme that had brought the PPP its original appeal. But then, it is also something which would — hopefully — place the PPP supremo in line for a fast alliance with the hardliners in the establishment, something which is not new. He has been coveting a partnership with the army right from his days in jail during the late 1990s.

There is then much merit in pursuing the Kashmir cause. Mr Asif Zardari, perhaps finally living up to his billing as a clever politician apt at striking the best bargain deals, might want to congratulate himself on this masterstroke. He can well get credit from the old-timers for trying to reorganise PPP along the ideals cherished by its charismatic founder ZAB. But at the same time what Mr Zardari would actually be doing would be aligning the party in accordance with his own considered views which would take it closer and closer to the establishment.

It is clear that Mr Asif Zardari is not shy of sharing credit with the powers that be. To the contrary, he has shown no embarrassment in claiming applause for developments and outcomes which were, initially at least, difficult to link in any way with the PPP in its present state of disrepair nationally. An example is Balochistan, where the ‘engineered’ collapse of the PML-N is being cited by democrats as the ultimate lesson in how not to play with elected governments.

Mr Zardari isn’t quite perturbed by the mourning that has entailed the fall of the PML-N façade in Quetta and is ready to naughtily celebrate the development with his customary grin. He reminds the audience that he means it when he says he is going to shoot down a particular government. His posturing and his promise that he will ensure that the Senate gets another PPP member as its chairman after the forthcoming polls in March indicates that he may be up to some tricks again. They may turn out to be in vain, besides most certainly damaging the ostensibly sought-after party of ZAB if not so much Zardari’s own PPP.

The kind of response various subjects in Mr Zardari’s speech draw is quite an education in itself. Even though he might have more than one reason to pursue Kashmir, it is his bold announcements about making and breaking governments in the country and using the magic wand to cause an upset in the Senate election that get more public attention. This is a totally changed crowd, not reacting to the Kashmir chants the way someone reapplying the ZAB formula for popularity might have simply thought it would.

This is sad for Kashmiris, struggling for a genuine cause, against not just India but against an entire world that is in a hurry to impose a solution of its own choice on the Kashmiris. This despite the latest reign of terror unleashed by the Modi government on the occupied valley which has, again, failed to lead to unqualified, widespread condemnation across the globe. Pakistanis also appear to be somewhat afflicted by this apathy or their protests and demonstration for the Kashmiris’ right to decide their own fate would have been more coordinated and vociferous.

In the circumstances, then, Mr Zardari’s forced attempt at rediscovering the original PPP looks a little out of sync with popular politics. On the other hand, his stress on Kashmir will likely take him closer to where he wants to be by the establishment’s side. Asif Ali Zardari seems in no imminent danger of being overtaken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2018