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What’s a Dost among friends?

August 28, 2012

SIRDAR Zulfikar Khan Khosa has just returned to his exalted position in the PML-N after taking everyone on a crash tour of Punjab politics.

This must have been the veteran’s intention. For how could someone with his experience and worth be guilty of getting a simple sum wrong? Sirdar Sahib would be the man the PML-N would dispatch to the by-election venues. He won some and lost a few crucial ones.

The losses may have been used against him as evidence of his waning influence but this hardly appeared to be the reason for the rift between him and a chief minister his son had not long ago filled in for. Khosa continued to act as the substitute for Shahbaz Sharif at events the flying-about chief minister had no time for.

The problem arose when Sirdar Khosa’s son, Dost Muhammad Khosa, began to rival Shahbaz Sharif for television time, and for the wrong reasons.

Dost Muhammad’s nomination in the alleged murder of stage actor Sapna put Shahbaz’s good government in an awkward position. The chief minister couldn’t possibly be seen to be siding with a man accused of murder, friendship apart.

Shahbaz could not be blamed if he assumed that it was a serious case which would remain in the media for long, unlike some of the minor legal matters the PML-N lawmakers had been involved in and had emerged from unscathed.

This was not a mere jumping of customs which could be downplayed. It was not an incident where an MP had stolen a credit card, for her to be reinstated in her assembly seat. This was alleged murder with ugly details and could entail a long court and media presence.

The circumstances left Dost Muhammad uneasy. His patience finally ran out and he exploded during a Punjab Assembly session a few months ago. He lent his voice to what many others had been saying for quite long: Shahbaz was wearing too many hats at the same time and this adversely affected the working of the government. This was a hiccup but not for someone as sure of himself as Shahbaz.

The chief minister continued unhampered in his customary style and refused to be drawn into any intra-party argument. Dost Khosa’s was quickly dismissed as a vain attempt at attention-seeking. Sirdar Khosa did not as yet join his son’s cause.

At least he chose not to do so in public. The public outburst came much later, and when it did, Shahbaz’s treatment of Dost featured prominently in Sirdar Khosa’s complaint. The PML-N leadership was guilty of allowing the conflict to brew rather than engaging the Khosas early in finding a solution to their problem.

As the rumours about the conflict between the Khosas and Shahbaz first made the rounds, not even the staunchest opponents of the N-League found too much promise in them. Not many were prepared to believe that the Khosas who had stood by the Sharifs during their worst trials could bring themselves to indulge in more than an occasional show of annoyance at Shahbaz’s style of work.

As the rumours matured, confusion set in. Sirdar Khosa first went uncharacteristically silent for a considerable period of time, perhaps hoping the inherent message would reach its intended address in Raiwind. That did not happen and the Sirdar was forced to speak harshly against Shahbaz — before he switched back to silent mode.

Amid all the freak incidents taking place around us, the Sirdar had rebelled against the PML-N chiefs. Once this information was digested, there was this question as to which party the Khosas could fit in now.

Dera Ghazi Khan beckoned with its own peculiar realities. The PTI had already drawn to its fold from D.G. Khan old PPP sure winners, the Legharis, and local logic said the Legharis and Khosas could never coexist in one outfit.

The governor, an expert in factional politics at the bar who has a knack for oversimplifying so many other things, was the only man in Punjab who could foresee Sirdar Khosa returning to the PPP. This at a time when few from among those in Punjab who are looking for a party are willing to risk their future with the PPP. The PTI remains a preferred platform for the anti-Sharif lot.

The Sirdar had been at Z.A. Bhutto’s side in the distant 1970s. He had since drifted apart from the Bhutto brand in proportion to local rival Farooq Leghari’s rise within the PPP, and in reaction to the allying of other important DGK tribes such as the Mazaris with the PPP.

What could once have been a position arising out of local political equations had since developed into a standard of an anti-PPP political creed, if not ideology.

This happens to be a strong creed with not only political connotations but powerful social tones. Consequently, the most imaginative alliances that brought the Khosas and the PPP together over the last few weeks did so not on the basis of their politics but on that of the gossip about the extravagant lifestyle of Dost Khosa. Sarcasm placed him in one party that could bear the weight of his twirled-up new image: of course the PPP.

In the real world, suddenly, Sirdar Khosa had no party. He is a powerful politician but a man dependent on party affiliation to edge out scores of other tribal heavyweights in the running. Over time he has emerged as the most trustworthy member of the party, a member of PML-N’s core group.

The reports which said Sirdar Khosa may decide to go independent than join an anti-PML-N camp were a reflection of a lack of party choices more than it being a recognition of his powers to pull it off on his own. Sirdar Khosa’s politics, the interests of PML-N locally and province-wise, are best served by his return. The party has avoided a repeat of Javed Hashmi.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.