Rabbani’s ‘fall’ from grace

Asif Ali Zardari is a man on a mission. Though it is hard to see how this is to benefit either the PPP, its vote bank or, indeed, democracy itself. The party co-chairperson and former President has this week let it be known that two PPP stalwarts have fallen out of favour. The first is Farhatullah Babar whose farewell speech is said not to have sat well with Zardari given that he did not spare the party when he lambasted those who had last year backtracked on moves to bring the judges and the generals under the accountability ambit. Just a day later and Babar was ‘removed’ from his position as both the PPP and Zardari’s spokesperson. The second is outgoing Chairman Senate. The PPP co-chief says he does not wish to see him return for another tenure. After all, Raza Rabbani famously refused to become a federal cabinet member when the PPP swept to power in 2008 on the grounds that then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani took oath under President-Gen (rtd) Pervez Musharraf. He also set an unwelcome precedent for many when he called Gen Bajwa last year to an in-camera briefing to the Senate Committee of the Whole House where the COAS assured lawmakers that the military establishment supported the democratic process. All of which may or may not lend credence to claims that the military establishment cautioned Zardari against backing a ‘maverick’. Interestingly, it is Nawaz Sharif, the deposed Prime Minister, who is supporting Rabbani. So, what is going on? Some pundits have made much of the fact that, with all eyes firmly on this summer’s elections, the PPP and the PMLN appear to have swapped traditional roles. Meaning that as things currently stand Nawaz and all his men are doing their best to recast themselves as an anti-establishment force. But while the PMLN has been on a collision course with the security apparatus since it secured the Centre back in 2013 and moved to have Musharraf tried for treason — it has only come out publicly against all hidden and unhidden hands since the King’s dethroning. Which opens it up to charges of nothing more than narcissistic posturing. Zardari, for his part, has undergone a reinvention of his own. Indeed, he is hardly recognisable from the rebel who dared to take on the security apparatus in a (one-sided) war of words some three years ago. For after a not so brief 18 months in so-called self-exile — that saw him return only after Gen Raheel was no more COAS — he is a changed man. This has seen the PPP co-chairman on occasion join hands with the PTI. Whether or not this means that there was some kind of done deal with the deep state that precipitated his return we cannot say. But what we can say is that both the PPP and PMLN are doing the citizenry a disservice. In so much as backroom wheeling and dealing or self-serving confrontation with the all the powers-that-be should have no place in a modern democracy; especially one that is gearing up for its second transfer of civilian power. What Pakistanis should be seeing from the two ‘godfathers’ of national politics is just that: a national agenda. Meaning a broadening of vote bases outside traditional centres. Such as fully getting behind the nascent Pashtun movement or reaching out to Baloch nationalists. Yet both seem to be dependent on certain positioning to bank a few seats here and there in non-stronghold provinces. And this simply will not do. * Published in Daily Times, March 9th 2018.