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The new leadership

June 18, 2019

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THE meeting between Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Jati Umra on Sunday is important in the context of long-term Pakistani politics, especially as the opposition parties try and build up momentum for a drive against the government. There was no press conference at the end of the luncheon meeting, which would suggest that the heirs of the two major political parties-cum-dynasties in the country initially want to pave the way for a meaningful partnership. It would make sense for both to sit together before the media soon to discuss joint strategies and aims once they have come up with them. It is not going to be a light challenge for the government. It was because of the latter’s refusal to play ball with the older established leadership of the two parties that Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Ms Nawaz now have the leading role. Many who desired a resurrection of the PPP had been hoping that Benazir Bhutto’s son would be allowed to try and breathe new life into the PPP. He has got a chance to prove his mettle as the head of a party that thrives on protest — and at a time when the PPP is in turmoil. For her part, Ms Nawaz has the opportunity to speak with the frequency she wanted to before she was silenced by the dictates of pragmatism for many months, which is a long period in politics.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Ms Nawaz are no Ms Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif who came together to sign the document they called the Charter of Democracy. Even if we disregard the official taunts that the endeavours of the two next-generation politicians result in, it is obvious that at one level theirs is indeed a campaign to rescue their respective fathers. They have talked quite loftily of the need to develop further the famous Charter of Democracy, but that agreement belonged to a different era altogether. It was relevant to a period in which the PPP and the PML-N took turns to govern and play the role of opposition. It was believed that this arrangement would continue forever. But that pattern has since been disrupted. There is another party in power, and it is determined to perform the old job of annihilating all the bad politicians — ie everyone except those in power. The period of agitation that the new leaders of the PPP and PML-N are entering is not aimed at securing power. It marks a battle for survival.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019