Bilawal’s criticism

February 25, 2020


PPP CHAIRMAN Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has caught the PML-N by surprise. In a loaded statement, he said Nawaz Sharif was also ‘selected’ when he became the prime minister in the 1990s after Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power. Mr Bhutto-Zardari then trained his guns on Shahbaz Sharif and criticised the leader of the opposition for his long absence from parliament. This unusual criticism by Mr Bhutto-Zardari has received a muted response from the PML-N so far and as per reports, the party has communicated its reservations to Asif Zardari. The timing of the statement has raised many eyebrows. The PML-N and PPP had been cooperating with each other inside and outside parliament to build pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The PPP leader recently announced that his party would be launching an agitation against the government in March while JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has also threatened another dharna next month. PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, meanwhile, has said that Shahbaz Sharif would return from London next month and revive his role as leader of the opposition. It remains to be seen whether the opposition will forge a common front against the government and step up the pressure. Given individual party interests and political compulsions that have often led to divisions among them, the question that many have been asking is whether the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F are capable of joining hands against the government in a sustained manner.

However, if the intention is indeed a united front against the government then Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s criticism of the Sharifs is puzzling. It could have been driven by the PPP’s local political interests in Punjab but the larger cost of such remarks does not appear to have been factored in, otherwise there might have been an attempt at damage control to maintain the loose unity of the opposition. It is possible though that the PML-N has viewed the criticism as a one-off statement that could be brushed aside for larger gains. While the timing of Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s statement is baffling, its substance is not off the mark. It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif was supported by the establishment against Benazir Bhutto and he was the direct beneficiary of her ouster. Similarly, Shahbaz Sharif’s long absence from parliament also deserves to be criticised as an abdication of his duties as leader of the opposition.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2020