Where all shades meet

December 19, 2011

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EGG prices have risen to around Rs100 a dozen since the Mall road traders converted them into missiles in their defence against the agitating, anti-business nurses a while ago.

In place is a truly egalitarian order where activists of all hues are able to demonstrate their prowess in relative security.

This December the politicians are as active in Pakistan as an NGO whose funds are about to lapse. The banner makers are doing roaring business in Lahore and next to the traffic muddles caused by public rallies, the use of city streets to advertise a rally in violation of rules is a favourite story with newsrooms.

Last Sunday was special as it crammed much activity into a few hours. The upper parts of the country were turned into a virtual Hyde Park before Karachi reacted to the sudden return home of President Asif Zardari. jalsa ghaib

The Jamaat-i-Islami staged a in Peshawar and Imran Khan took his show to Pindi Gheb, a town that exists far enough from the media radar to be confused with the Arabic-Urdu '' in the ever-running tickers on television screens. 'Pindi' plus 'Ghaib' did make for some tell-tale reading for those who must paint the PTI's Please Turn to Imran campaign as being officially sponsored.

In Rawalpindi, it was Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri's turn to discuss his reform plan in public. Frustrated by his isolation, the Allama had resigned his Lahore seat in the National Assembly that he had won in 2002. After a few years in hibernation, he is back to test the waters at a time when the country wears a pre-election look. He chose for his rally a day when a grouping of religious parties was holding a 'conference' of its own at Minar-i-Pakistan.

The Allama's may have been an attempt at flaunting his credentials as the alternative. In the event his solo in Pindi was liable to be viewed as the less poignant of the three shows by religious groups in comparison to the Difa-i-Pakistan meeting in Lahore and the Jamaat display in Peshawar.

Gen Pervez Musharraf took the long-distance route to addressing a gathering in Nasser Bagh the same day. Also as the PPP under Governor Latif Khosa made its first murmurs in Punjab after a long time in a hidden Lahore park, the Naheed Khan group managed its own little party in the city. It was no derby given the star billing of the Difa-i-Pakistan rally.

As expected Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Samiul Haq and Co won the local competition in Lahore hands down. The Difa-i-Pakistan meeting was significant on many counts. It was a giant step in continuation of the current Jamaatud Dawa policy to establish Hafiz Saeed in the political mainstream. The policy has been in place for some time and the Dawa chief has drawn strength from the company of like-minded politicians of late in a build-up to some kind of a joint front.

The Minar rally was supposedly bound by a code. That was obviously just a formality. The jihadi slogans were loud and it was clear that the council was seeking to capitalise on the anti-India vacuum created by the 'main' opposition parties' inability to effectively take on the PPP government over the most favoured nation issue.

The PPP as a party in power that is obsessed with completing its term is relying on politics away from the streets. It has been keen to use ties with India as a plank likely to please foreign friends. Bound by the prospects of taking power under international supervision, neither the PML-N nor even the PTI has been able to cash in on India — as yet.

The PML-N has in fact come to be regarded as an emerging champion of good relations with India on the basis of statements by Mian Nawaz Sharif over the last few months.

Domestically speaking, Nawaz was faced with a dilemma when a Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) team led by old benefactor Hamid Gul called on him a couple of days before the Minar rally.

The PML-N leader is experienced enough to recognise the real potential in an anti-US and anti-India campaign run by Messrs Gul, Saeed and Samiul Haq, but he finds it difficult to mesh jihadi politics with the reconciliatory brand he is currently known for.

The PML-N leader could not accept the invitation to attend the Minar rally on Sunday and true to form chose to play the elder statesmen of politics in the country. jalsa

The DPC sources were quoted as saying that Nawaz praised their campaign against the Nato attacks which he said were the result of wrong government policies. But ultimately, he found refuge behind the old and selectively used argument, saying he could only commit to participation in the DPC after consultation with party colleagues. The PML-N did not attend the meeting.

The tacit Nawaz endorsement of the defence of Pakistan fuelled allegations about PML-N's two-faced politics. Also, the PML-N absence provided an opportunity for some others to curry favour with the radical '40-party' front put up by the DPC.

Sheikh Rashid was there, eager to enlist as a true Dawa follower. Ijazul Haq was in attendance as was Jamaat's Liaqat Baloch. Most significantly, Imran Khan dispatched a close associate of his to read out a message on his behalf.

This was not the first time PTI had been spotted at such a meeting. In the circumstances, the message took on stronger meaning. As Gen Musharraf spoke to another set of people on Sunday, news came in that a large group of politicians formerly associated with him were about to jump on the Imran bandwagon.

Imran's argument may have changed as the prospects of some earnest power politics persuade him to process turncoats in his dry-cleaning unit. His popular appeal is rooted in the undying Pakistani belief that the two Pakistans represented by generals Musharraf and Zia are yet reconcilable if a leader tries hard enough.

The writer is  Dawn's resident edit in Lahore.