Tuesday March 28, 2023

BBZ’s ‘dissenting’ note

February 11, 2023

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has been compelled by circumstances to send a message to the International Monetary Fund just when the mighty and omnipotent lender is about to decide the fate of his country. Pakistan’s foreign minister’s reminder solicits special treatment for the flood-hit people in Sindh (and slightly less vehemently in the rest of the country)

In his message, BBZ has given some details about what his party’s government in Sindh has been and plans to do to provide relief to those shaken and uprooted by the last year’s devastating deluge and towards the end of it, he expresses a desire to have the federal government in Islamabad – which his party is a part of – display empathy for the flood-hit elsewhere in the country.

Apart from giving the no-nonsense lender some food for thought at a very critical juncture, BBZ’s stand-apart message reveals some brutal realities the popular politicians in Pakistan are faced with today. They cannot do without aid from the IMF, yet while this fact is acknowledged in their acceptance of the inevitable economic bailout package for this crisis-ridden homeland of theirs, they must appear to behave in a pro-people manner. They must try and somehow create the impression that they hold their constituents’ interests as supreme – over and above the din which blames these very politicians for bringing disasters upon Pakistan as if by habit.

Even without the political dynamics unleashed by the IMF intervention, in the PPP’s case, the urge to distance itself from the PMLN-led coalition has been quite pronounced and it has manifested itself starkly at crucial moments. Right at the beginning, when BBZ chose the foreign minister’s post for himself in the coalition, this was seen as an attempt by the PPP to keep its leader away on missions abroad and at comfortable distance as possible from the cabinet lest he appeared to be unduly subservient to his boss, the prime minister.

This choice of portfolio by BBZ and his mentor-father could hardly be faulted for thinking that as the head of a political outfit with claim on power, he could lose precious points if he were to be seen taking orders from Shehbaz Sharif. The foreign ministry was viewed to be existing in the establishment’s domain, sufficiently removed from the prime minister’s purview and notwithstanding Shehbaz Sahab’s penchant for undertaking foreign expeditions of his own.

Alternatively, BBZ could choose to sit out of the cabinet and he could have instead nominated someone from his party, such as Hina Rabbani Khar, to wear the foreign minister’s mantle. But, one, this would have been against the Asif Zardari logic of not unnecessarily conceding vital territory to others, and two, this was a big opportunity for someone with a prime ministerial hope to establish his credentials in international capitals.

This was an ideal position that brought BBZ in close contact with the establishment at home and potential sponsors abroad. Another proof of the fabled Zardari genius. However, in time this could not provide the PPP immunity from the bad publicity that had come the way of the struggling setup that had been shaped under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Indeed the PPP leadership’s effort to pose as if the party did not approve of certain policies of the setup under Shehbaz would have been hilarious but for the grimness of the situation the country finds itself in. No matter how hard the once distinct and distinguished party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto strived to maintain its separate identity within the fold, the dirt that has blown the way of the current rulers in Pakistan has stuck to the Zardari camp.

There have been moments when the PPP has emerged from the PML-N shadows to actually appear dirtier than their prime coalition partner. There is no bigger example of the Zardari camp living up to its status as allegedly a model corrupt party than the one recently provided in the runup to the vote of confidence held in the Punjab Assembly just prior to the disbanding of the house. It was an out and out PML-N issue. It was the Sharifs who were being challenged in their kingdom, the PPP having been over time reduced to a minor player with only a handful of seats in the province. But everyone would have us believe that it was a certain Asif Zardari who was prepared to spend the fraudulently acquired zillions to buy the loyalties of MPAs to unseat Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the chief minister of Punjab.

Similarly, despite the best efforts by the PPP to act aloof from proceedings that could incriminate the party, it was who else but Zardari Sahab who came under vociferous attacks over the selection of a ‘partisan’ interim setup for ‘holding the polls’ in Punjab. Video footage of the PPP supreme commander with the caretaker chief minister was all over the media to further establish him as someone who had been reduced from being the leader of a national party of merit to someone who was ready to use any fair or unfair means and methods to stake his claim on power, the ultimate buyer of loyalty. In their fight against Imran Khan, the Sharifs could not have hoped for a more capable benefactor.

The writer is a senior journalist.