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Opinion

March 12, 2018

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Farewell to Rabbani

The Pakistan People’s Party deserves a nice epitaph. No political party can claim to have struggled and sacrificed more for democracy. No political party can claim to have achieved more political, constitutional and legal gains for people. A party that lived like a lion is dying like a jackal. It does not deserve this end.

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I feel hurt and wounded at the insult Asif Ali Zardari has hurled at Raza Rabbani. A People’s Party with a mind in its head and a soul in its body cannot treat Rabbani like this. Only a zombie People’s Party can speak such language. Even the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami knows how to address the North Star of Pakistan’s politics. It was because of him (Rabbani) and a couple of other people that the PPP could make the false claim of continuity of its heritage.

Zardari had no need to be the great trader of the 2018 Senate elections if he were aiming at Rabbani’s re-election. He is clearly working on a different script, one that has no place for people like Rabbani and which does not aim at political consensus. Rabbani is perhaps the only politician who can mediate a political consensus in parliament and who enjoys the credibility and possesses the courage to mediate a consensus among state institutions. It is not Rabbani who needs the office, it is Pakistan and its democracy that need him in that office so badly.

What does Zardari want? If Zardari wanted the office of the chairman Senate for his party, it was already his – thanks to Raza Rabbani. We know that the office will not make much difference to the dwindling fortunes of the PPP. It will remain a minority party in the Senate anyway. With Rabbani as the chairman, the PPP had something to boast about to the people. Without him, it will be merely an office gained through clever scheming and suspect deals.

It appears to me that Zardari wanted to use the Senate elections to make a statement about himself. He wanted to prove his cleverness to the world once again. He wanted to show that he was still ‘sab par bhaari’ – though he is bhaari on the PPP alone. It was a desperate attempt to show that he is not the one responsible for the decline in fortunes of the party.

His attempts have only shown that this PhD in politics is merely a charlatan who has come to occupy the office because of the sudden death of an academic. He appears to be blundering because of his lack of understanding of politics and the heritage of the party.

Zardari succeeded where Benazir had failed and he failed where Benazir had succeeded. He is far cleverer than the Bhuttos but far less wise than they were. What sets wisdom apart from cleverness is not IQ. Intelligence, after all, is an amoral raw material. The difference between cleverness and wisdom lies in the scale and scope of the application of intelligence. Wisdom applies intelligence for the greater good of community, humanity or even the planet for a time frame that is often longer than the lifespan of an individual. That is why we celebrate the wise and curse the tacticians. It is wisdom that turns a politician into a statesman.

Politics is the art of the possible. Politicians can’t be expected to be wise all the time and not every politician is a statesman. However, all good politicians must have an element of wisdom and every statesman must be wise.

Manipulation requires cleverness. An appeal to the people requires both cleverness and wisdom. This is because before they follow you and want to see the proof that you are willing to go beyond your self-interest. People can be manipulated for a short period, but they can’t be manipulated long. That’s what Lincoln meant in his famous statement that all of the people can’t be fooled all of the time.

Our politicians have been too tactical, too clever by half, behaving like those monkeys in Aesop’s fable who end up giving their own share to the cat. Throughout the 1990s, democracy suffered due to the attitude of Mian Nawaz Sharif. Since 2013, we have Imran Khan who has been intent on chopping the branch he sits upon. Now we have Asif Zardari joining him with his own saw.

In a rare moment of wisdom, our politicians tried to set things right through the Charter of Democracy. They tried to set fences and agree upon the rules of the game. It required the brilliant legal mind, statesmanship and huge credibility of Raza Rabbani to turn that into the 18th Amendment. A good part of the credit also goes to Zardari who extended his full support to the initiative. However, it appears that it was the steam of Benazir’s PPP that pushed the machine for some time. It is only now that Zardari’s PPP has been fully shaped.

On a tactical level, Zardari failed to understand that the rules of the game and the game are two different things. By setting the rules of the game, you become free to play the game to your best advantage. He refused to play the anti-Nawaz game at a time when politics in Punjab was about the pro-Nawaz or anti-Nawaz sentiment. He ended up handing the anti-Nawaz vote bank to Imran Khan. In his farewell speech as the president of Pakistan at a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he delivered these pearls of wisdom: “We will work in your leadership and do politics (only) after five years. We will do politics after you announce (2018) elections.”

Now that he has realised his mistake, he is attacking the very rules of the game. This will push away the core pro-democracy, pro-people constituency of the PPP. It has also deprived Pakistan’s democracy of its main defender. All along, Zardari has failed to create any chemistry with the people and thwarted any attempts by Bilawal to do so.

The PPP cannot be revived through these clever moves. It needs a direct appeal to the people. This appeal cannot be created by Zardari, even if he is truly possessed by the spirit of Z A Bhutto. Bhutto’s soul must be struggling to wriggle its way out of the unlikely embodiment. And Bilawal Bhutto is losing his chance to reincarnate the party. Asif Ali Zardari has infantilised him, and Bilawal has allowed his father to do that.

If there is one thing that Bilawal needs to learn from his mother, it is the way she saved the PPP from her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, and her brother, Murtaza Bhutto. As the Mughal King Babar wrote in his famous memoir: “We, the kings, have no relatives”.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

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