MULTAN, March 10: What prompted a diehard PPP stalwart like Bahawalpur District Nazim Tariq Basheer Cheema to desert the party is a hundred-million-dollar question being discussed in political circles here and Bahawalpur.
Scion of the Cheema Jat clan, he was said to be a staunch supporter of the Pakistan People's Party since his days at the Punjab University in 1980 as an activist of the party's student wing (People's Students Federation).
He was also suspected to be the part of Al-Zulfiqar which, according to the claim of the then Zia regime, was a terrorist organization formed by Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto to avenge the execution of their late father.
He was among the 52 people who were released from various jails of the country on the demand of some alleged terrorists who had hijacked a PIA Boeing. Cheema was in the Lahore Central Jail at that time for being accused in various cases instituted against him and his comrades - Azam Jat, Asif Butt, Arshad Awan and Kamal Ahmed - at the behest of ruling IJT (Islami Jamiat Talaba) of the Punjab University.
Except Kamal, the other three pals of Cheema were also among the people released as a trade-off to rescue the passengers of the hijacked plane. The released people, including Cheema, had slipped to Afghanistan and the successful hijacking was credited to the AZO by the military junta.
However, Tariq Cheema staged a comeback within months on the assurance of his distant relative Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi of Gujrat, who had cordial relations with Gen Ziaul Haq.
However, after the assassination of Zahoor Elahi he once again left the country. The regime on the other hand registered a number of cases against him on terrorism charges.
A PPP veteran from Bahawalpur, Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain Azad said he was in possession of a statement of Tariq Cheema which the latter had submitted to a military court, accepting the existence of AZO in order to save his skin. But, some other PPP workers refuted the claim of Mr Azad.
"Cheema's statement had inflicted miseries to a lot of PPP workers who were incarcerated in the notorious torture cells of the Shahi Qila," Mr Azad stressed and told Dawn that he was going to present copies of the statement to media on Thursday (today).
Cheema remained in exile till 1989 and returned when all the cases against him were withdrawn by the then government of his party. After his return, he took active part in Bahawalpur politics from the PPP platform.
But, after his defeat in the 1990 general elections, he reviewed his strategy and started banking on the Jat-Arain divide in his native Yazman tehsil.
The strategy paid dividends and he returned MPA in the 1993 elections and later on became provincial minister for food and agriculture. In the 1997 general elections, he failed to make a come back. However, he became district nazim in the 2001 local bodies polls as analysts attributed his success against the Abbasi Nawab family of Bahawalpur to PPP.
After becoming the nazim, he time and again expressed his love for his party but, according to insiders, his relations with the powers that mattered in the country had started growing.
He was in the good books of Governor Khalid Maqbool when the latter was all in all in the province and when the largest province was put in the lap of his former benefactors - the Chaudhris of Gujrat. After the 2002 general elections, Cheema became closer to the present ruling regime.
It may be added here that he had welcomed Gen Musharraf in Bahawalpur during latter's campaign to get himself elected as president through a referendum. Party insiders say that Cheema remained deceptive until recently when Benazir Bhutto's close aide Naheed Khan and her husband Safdar Abbasi paid a visit to Bahawalpur on Feb 2 last and held a breakfast meeting with him.
Cheema had reportedly refuted the rumours that he was hatching a conspiracy against party and took oath of allegiance by showing a large-size photo of him with BB mounted on the main wall of his drawing room.
Zafar Warraich, who resigned as MNA and PPP member on Tuesday, is said to be a close aide of Tariq Cheema. Recently, Cheema was removed from the post of divisional coordinator of the PPP for opposing BB's decision of fielding Taj Langah for the by-election to the national assembly seat of Yazman vacated by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan (also a Warraich Jat).
After being removed, Cheema wanted to get the slot of divisional coordinator for his confidant Zafar Warraich but the party leadership refused to oblige him and instead awarded the slot to his rivals Afzal Sandhu and later MNA Mian Mumtaz Ahmed Mattiana.
Likewise, his arch opponent advocate Riaz Dahar was nominated the Bahawalpur district president of the PPP. Therefore, the PPP sources said that mistrust between Cheema and the party leadership had grown to such heights that it could not be brought down to avoid what now had proved inevitable.
However, political analysts in Bahawalpur said differences with the party was one of the reasons working behind Cheema's plotting conspiracy against the PPP in the districts falling under former Bahawalpur civil division.
Among other reasons, they said, leading were the Jat connection with the Chaudhris of Gujrat and Gen Musharraf's confidant, National Security Council secretary Tariq Aziz Warraich, charges of massive financial corruption against his brother and Chistian Tehsil Nazim Tahir Basheer Cheema which were said to be the subject of NAB at present and the National Assembly seat of Haroonabad lying vacant after the death of Abdul Sattar Laleka.
Cheema's brother-in-law Sajjad Jathol was defeated by late Laleka with a very narrow margin in the last general elections and now the Cheema clan wanted the ticket of ruling PML for Jathol.