"All politics is local" House Speaker Tip O’Neill (in his memoirs)
Forget high shenanigans. Forget doom and gloom. Forget even the Niagara Falls. For a taste of real political excitement these days make the golden journey to holy Chakwal. More bizarre somersaults would be hard to imagine.
Musharraf in his heyday, when master of all he surveyed, had three favourite district nazims: Major Tahir Sadiq of Attock, Farrukh Altaf of Jhelum and my dear friend Ghulam Abbas of Chakwal.
Abbas had the added advantage of being a hot Pervaiz Elahi favourite. He had a free run not just of his office but his house, thanks to Hafiz Ammar Yasser of Talagang who was a Pervaiz Elahi confidante and whom Abbas had the good sense of keeping on his right side. Anything Abbas wished, including huge development funds, he instantly got.
And, since wonders will never cease, this Abbas is being readied for entry into the PML-N, his cause advanced principally by the all-powerful cement mafia which has such a strong presence in the district...this mafia chewing up the hills of the Salt Range, one of the wonders of creation, in order to meet the development needs of Afghanistan and India.
If at the higher level it was Musharraf’s magic wand which allowed the installation of these infernal factories, the prime facilitator locally was friend Abbas. Now the same mafia – no names please, let discretion be our watchword – is pulling might and main to get him into the party whose loudest election slogan is ‘We will change Pakistan’. If this is change, stagnation sounds sexy.
The deal has yet to be clinched but Abbas’s supporters are on a roll. On opposite sides of the PML-N for the last 27 years (1985-2012), they now think they are about to take over the enemy camp. They are smacking their lips already.
Friend Abbas’s dexterity and flexibility I find fascinating. At the time of Musharraf’s referendum in 2000 governor Punjab, Lt-Gen Khalid Maqbool, came to Chakwal to canvass support for his boss. Mounting the stage and in a rush of excitement Abbas declared that he had come across many leaders but never anyone like Musharraf, so boundless were his qualities of head and heart.
In 2001 Abbas became district nazim, thanks to official support and some help from Lt-Gen Majid Malik who had gone over to the Musharraf camp. In 2005 Gen Malik had an eye on the district nazimate for himself but Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi came out decisively in Abbas’s support. And that was that.
But when the Imran Khan bandwagon seemed to get going after the October 30, 2011 jalsa in Lahore, Abbas lost no time in inviting Imran to Chakwal and announcing his support for the Tehreek-e-Insaf. Barely a year later, his sudden love affair with the Tehreek has waned and the bright lights of the PML-N are beckoning. Trust a good man never to stay down, at least not for long.
After a newspaper report suggested that Abbas was in touch with Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the latter’s personal assistant rang up to say that the report was false and Ch Saab had nothing to do with Abbas. Chaudhry Nisar communicates with the outside world only through his PA. When the Towers of Jericho come down spare a thought for the angels. Any questions they would like to ask Chaudhry Nisar will have to be routed through his PA.
Anyhow, this latest piece of artistry says less about Abbas than it does about the PML-N. What has got into it? Roping in so-called electables and winning horses is fine politics, and may even be necessary in some places, but too much of this exercise betrays not strength but fickleness of mind and purpose. And the PML-N is hoping to change the destiny of Pakistan.
In the run-up to the 1977 elections Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his aides thought salvation lay in getting hold of winning horses. Feudals defeated in 1970 were brought into the party fold “with lakhs of their supporters”...as it used to be said. What the party gained was doubtful. What it lost was its élan and distinctive appeal. In 1979 every political hopeful in Pakistan, including Nawaz Sharif and Aitzaz Ahsan, made a beeline for Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s Tehrik-i-Istiqlal. When Gen Zia banned all politics and imposed a harsher brand of martial law these hopefuls vanished, leaving not a trace behind.
What took the wind out of the sails of Imran’s Khan tsunami? Electables and winning horses again. Had Imran stuck to his anonymous students and workers who had put faith in him when all was dark and hopeless around him, both the PML-N and the PPP would have had a run for their money. But he lost the plot, his ship nearly sunk by the cargo it took on board. And now the PML-N, learning little from this experience, is embarked on the same course. Verily, whom the gods would destroy they first put to a useless gymnastics routine.
On the party grapevine I heard the other day that there had been a serious discussion about giving the Nankana ticket to Brig Ejaz Shah, Musharraf loyalist and head of his Intelligence Bureau. I think a non-starter but gives one an idea of the new mood in the party. But then if Amir Muqam and Marvi Memon and fetching Sumera Malik, why not Ejaz Shah?
The PML-N wants to have a majority in the next National Assembly. Impeccable logic – no majority, no government, and no PML-N government means the danger of five more Zardari years, a prospect enough to break the stoutest heart. But the pursuit of power shouldn’t mean unholy desperation. It shouldn’t mean throwing out a lifeline to every time-server and opportunist who has lost his old political bearings and is eager to make a new beginning.
True, there would be places where the party is weak, such as Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and pockets in Punjab, and could do with the support of the politically relevant. But Chakwal is not an orphanage. It has consistently returned PML-N nominees to the assemblies since 1985, barring only the Musharraf years when the sense of expediency of local stalwarts drove them into the warm embrace of the Musharraf regime.
Does this sound like a plea for self-preservation, for keeping your humble servant as local MNA? If it does, some clarity is in order. I could be discarded tomorrow and the sun would still rise in the east. It would make not the slightest difference. But imposing an outsider, someone whose politics has been consistently anti-PML-N, on PML-N voters – and Chakwal is by and large PML-N territory – is hardly fair to the people of Chakwal. What have they done to deserve this?
So to repeat, of what account is Ayaz? The splendour of Mahmud’s court will not diminish. But mixing fire and water, what alchemy is this? And for what purpose? The party is not dead in Chakwal.
As for myself, my temperament is less political and less flexible than I have often wanted it to be. (Maybe I could take some lessons from Abbas in this respect.) I have made many mistakes, no doubt, none greater than seeing to the unseating of Advocate Ziaul Hasan Zaidi, the most respected member of the local bar, as district PML-N president. I wish there was a way to make amends.
But life must go on. So in the end let me just say that we have parties which cut corners and tread shoddy paths and yet hope to capture the moon and the stars. Saving Pakistan is indeed the current rage but seeing some of the saviours one can be forgiven a touch of cynicism.