KARACHI: Around 24 hours after Asif Ali Zardari’s TV interview, while fantastical speculations about his relationship with Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari were swirling in the media, the father and son were enjoying “quality time” over dinner in the UAE, where a long-awaited family reunion seemingly laid all gossip to rest.

Although no one was willing to go on record, no one Dawn spoke to in background interviews viewed the latest disagreement between father and son as “a serious threat to the party”.

“Call it a difference, not a rift, and take it as a father-son disagreement and not a tug-of-war to retain party leadership. And yes, it’s [a difference of opinion] a genuine one and not a game of ‘good cop, bad cop’,” one senior PPP leader said.

It all started the previous night, when Mr Zardari, in a TV interview, seemed to undermine the political maturity of the PPP chairman, calling him “emotional and inexperienced” and putting himself above everyone when it came to the question of general elections and distribution of tickets among candidates.

Some called it “the fall” of the house of Zardari, others termed it “an explosion” that may rip the party apart just weeks before the general elections. But within party ranks, the situation wasn’t being viewed with any degree of alarm, and later developments would indicate the reason for this calm.

After the PPP chairman left for the UAE on Thursday afternoon, Mr Zardari joined him on Friday in a gathering at his daughter Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari’s residence for a “joyous family get together”.

“What Zardari Sahib said was nothing new,” said another leader.

“Yes, you can question the timing, that why did he choose to be so candid in a TV interview when his son was on an election campaign in KP. But you know, as a senior member of the party, it was not surprising for me. I am witness to a number of occasions when they disagreed on any point, even in front of others.”

Apart from party members, the fresh difference of opinion between Mr Bhutto-Zardari and his father is also not entirely new for those who have followed his politics as he has openly challenged the old rules of business and compromises over legislative affairs.

Only a couple of months ago, when Mr Bhutto-Zardari was questioning the role of the ECP and demanding a date for general elections, his father was favouring a delay in polls due to fresh delimitations in light of the census.

Even as foreign minister, the PPP chairman implored his father and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif to make decisions that will make politics easier for the younger generation, which he said was losing hope in the country’s future.

In his parting remarks on the floor of the National Assembly in August this year, he had asked his father that they should make decisions in a way that makes politics easier for the younger generation, but they failed to do so.

But what was different this time was the reaction, given in gestures, by the PPP chairman, leaving even his closest circles guessing what he actually meant to convey.

Some media outlets even read into Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s simple act of changing his display picture on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), where he put up a new photo depicting his mother Benazir, placing her hand on his back.

To be clear, Mr Bhutto-Zardari has used this photo as his DP in the past as well. But given the circumstances, many observers seem to be jumping to conclusions.

“There are two messages we can take or only guess,” said another leader.

“One is to reflect one the line from Mr Zardari’s interview where he called the PPP chairman ‘short-tempered like his mother’. The other one is a little harsh.

“Zardari Sahib in his interview tried to establish an impression that it was he who was trusted by BB [Benazir Bhutto] for party leadership in her will. Chairman Sahib, through that photo, I think just shared his side of the story.”

The most interesting part of this entire development is the reaction of “comparatively younger lot” of the party members, who are believed to be close to Mr Bhutto-Zardari and his political strategy.

“They [the younger lot] see Zardari Sahib’s interview as a blessing in disguise,” said a young PPP leader.

“People may think that he’s undermined chairman Sahib’s standing. But it has actually made it public how anti-status quo his son is. How he wants to bring an end to traditional politics and how he wants to change the course of this decades-old rotten exercise.

“You may term Zardari Sahib’s interview damaging for chairman Sahib for the 2024 election, but he has brightened his prospects for 2029,” the leader said.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2023

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