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Our political gridlock

Back in 2013 Asif Zardari was happy to count five years in power as his and his party’s singular achievement. That he had lived the tenure as president was the icing on the cake. In retrospect, he counts the achievement even greater than what his more notable wife Benazir Bhutto may have ever done in her political career; she never got to complete her tenure of government. This to him is a lasting legacy of his political formidability.

This and other qualifications show the political acumen of AZ but what remains blindsided is how the PPP turned into a cult under AZ when even the most perceptive and enterprising fold before him in a display of contrived submission. It is expected and so complied with. ‘The leader’ has adorned the look of a messiah, despite an almost universal knowledge of how malignance is associated with a party that once spelled hope for the downtrodden. There are deliberate attempts at building the persona of Asif Zardari in larger than life moulds of a Mao or a Kim whose personality cults transcended into a fascist order.

Zardari may be what has kept this party back and why this party has become unanchored. The PPP’s reinstitution as a party of faith will only occur when this fact is understood and accepted by its rank and file. The first sign of a party heading south is its conversion to a cult, which soon leads to a cull of what might remain.

Who can change this certain course towards disaster for the PPP? Bilawal Bhutto could but he is too beholden to his father. He also needs time to find his own footing and then transfer that to his party. Some of his party members who value ideological commitment beyond immediate returns through association will need to keep faith in him while Bilawal will need to shed his father’s brand and be more of his mother. That is tall asking from a young man of 28 who sadly seems to be bitten by the impatience bug, unable to comprehend how politics still needs to be learned in terms of programmes, policies and beliefs that become a creed over time. Mere sloganeering or dynastic entitlement does not cut any rope outside of Sindh.

The PML-N has practically locked the politics of this country in its iron grid, with little possibility that it can be dislodged from that mantle. There can be unexpected developments though, but these reside outside the pale of capabilities of the current opposition. Count a few: divinity, that is a pervasive reality – the PPP benefited from the tragedy of BB’s death in 2007; Panama Papers – the PTI essentially, and now the PPP after initiation of both AZ and BBZ in parliamentary politics, means that the window of opportunity based on a Supreme Court decision can open the space for others in Punjab. And a lot of hard work – built around the blemish from the Panama Leaks – by both Imran Khan and the PPP can create and exploit such a PML-N vulnerability. Imran Khan though will need to work some sweat there, having alone carried the crusade for probity in our political system.

Otherwise, the PML-N stranglehold is almost impenetrable. That tells you of the quality of politics in Punjab. The influential ‘electable’ leaves little margin for anyone else. The PTI was not even in the counting in the recent local bodies elections there. It is not a matter of ‘electable(s)’ alone in Punjab it is about who really has the right to contest, and these are the 500 or so traditional political families who dominate – from local bodies up to the National Assembly and the Senate. And these lie firmly in the Nawaz Sharif fold. Can they change? Will they change? Depends on how the electability culture portends for itself the future.

It is to this end that both the PTI and the PPP have their work cut out. What can they do to at least cause a stir in this elephantine stagnation that the PML-N lords over? Even a perception of a stir might work. It is a matter of creating perceptions of a political space that may just create the wriggle room for a shift. Any movement then opens up possibilities.

It is thus that AZ and BBZ’s almost sure induction in parliament at its fag end holds in it fulsome potential. Consider: were the Supreme Court to convict the PM on Panama forcing a replacement, Asif Zardari will simply dominate parliament with his persona as a former president of formidable political acumen – almost an elderly statesman. Even Imran Khan will appear juvenile against such presence if he attends. And Khan will be vilified if he abstains from attending, leaving the vultures free to pick on him, losing both his stature and eminence.

If Nawaz Sharif survives Panama, he would have been seriously tainted opening up some chinks in the PML-N armour, while kosher-ing AZ despite his vulnerabilities. AZ could at least claim having served a long sentence in retribution and may even appear better in relative terms. Also, the king of the deal that he is, he will be right in the midst in parliament with easy access to electables from all regions of the country to forge future bargains. This is the PPP hitting the PML-N and the PTI from within.

Out on the streets, Bilawal will continue his rants against both PML-N and the PTI, and in so doing hope to re-agitate some of his lost support base in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Balochistan and other regions will be the work of dad inside the House.

Should the PML-N be nervous on how these political movements play themselves out? Nervous no, cautious yes. More importantly, they need to consolidate their gains.

What of the PTI? It should not get overwhelmed by the PPP’s smart assault. One, it should watch for the PPP dominate parliament as the main opposition diluting the PTI’s position. Two, in their eagerness to rid NS off the political scene, any offer to join hands with the PPP will mean handing the  on a platter to AZ what the PTI has nourished over weeks and months in sustaining their crusade against corruption and for probity in politics.

If the PTI falls prey to its short-term agenda of seeing the back of Nawaz Sharif and of compromises with the PPP, it will have only given a chance to the PPP to resurrect. It will also have cooked its own goose, dissolving as a party of centrality in this game of thrones. It must thus continue to chart its own independent course with even more energy and engagement. Other than these manipulations, there is no way to break the gridlock of political stagnation in Pakistan as it stands.

Email: shhzdchdhry@yahoo.com

Shahzad Chaudhry, "Our political gridlock," The News. 2016-12-30.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political movements , Panama Papers , Political scene , Corruption , Leadership , Accountability , PM Nawaz Sharif , Benazir Bhutto , Sindh , Balochistan , PTI , PMLN