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Opinion

June 23, 2015

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From reconciliation to resistance

Once tagged as the ‘king of reconciliation’, Asif Ali Zardari stands alone all of sudden after his hard-hitting speech – made mainly to cover-up the black holes within his courtyard and around. His desperate and threatening tone was quickly reversed back within hours. This time around, he lacks the moral ground to fight against the ‘mighty’ military establishment.
Zardari seems to be fast losing control on the state of affairs. His party has stood behind him, clarifying that he never aimed to target any national institution. This has all raised two very vital questions. Why did Zardari give such a hard-hitting and desperate speech? Is he so cornered by the actions taken by the Rangers and NAB against the wide-scale corruption promoted in Sindh? The answer is also very loud and clear, which made him launch such a frontal counterattack, which unexpectedly has pushed him further into political wilderness.
Zardari largely faces a three-fold crisis. At the top is the leadership crisis, which started with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. This crisis is still not settled and can erupt with the loosening of his grip on power politics. He calculatedly lobbied to take over the vacant seat of PPP chairperson for his young and inexperienced son, with de-facto powers in his own hand, partly delegated to his sister Faryal Talpur, for operational purposes.
The move was much resisted initially by the old guards of the party but later everyone quietened as he tightened his grip, with the federal government in his one hand and the Presidency in the other. Lately, his alleged differences with his son, whose mysterious absence from the country, made the crisis more obvious.
Within the PPP, Zardari has seen two phases of his political posture – during and after the life of Benazir Bhutto. Till her death, he remained more a background figure. With her departure, he became a central figure, sidelining other key, top stalwarts within the PPP. His

legitimacy to lead has always been a question mark. For the days to come, it may trigger more, as during the last Central Executive Committee meeting reportedly many people insisted on the largely silent and reserved Bilawal taking over party matters before it is too late.
In the absence of an appealing and charismatic leadership – a key trait of Bhutto politics – another crisis within the PPP and mainly for Zardari has been to counter terrible electoral defeats in all corners. His party is losing with big margins, except in rural Sindh, which may not remain intact as the next local government elections in Sindh and Punjab are also scheduled within the next three months.
Already, defeat in almost all by-elections in the country tried to serve a strong notice to the PPP, but went unnoticed. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa LG elections also made the PPP almost non-existent, as it had outsourced the province to its partners, the ANP and JUI-F, much before the formation of triparty electoral alliance to win over the political ground. Strangely, nobody from the top leadership of the PPP even bothered to visit and address any large gathering in the province.
Moreover, the PPP could get only a single seat in Gilgit-Baltistan, where it ran a full-fledged five-year term government, with first-time decentralised powers, accredited to the PPP’s own efforts. All over, top leadership has been missing in the party, possibly due to security threats or probably due to a lifestyle where Zardari prefers to push the political strings. Resultantly, a party which was once the largest, strongest political force in Pakistan stands no more as a top electoral entity in the country. It is not even positioned second, if one archives the results of the May 2013 elections.
Lastly and more critically, Zardari is stuck and encircled in Karachi, which is already riddled with several mafias that operate under political, ethnic, sectarian and criminal patronage. Over decades, crime has been politicised and politics criminalised in this largest city and financial hub of the country, with no long-term remedial signs in sight. The Karachi Operation offered some hope, by controlling petty crime and target killings.
As the operation has entered into a decisive phase of cutting Karachi crime’s financial pipelines, its politicisation was expected as an inbuilt counter-reaction. This is where Zardari and his close courtyard is encircled and is being fixed with a hard-hitting reaction by him.
The Karachi operation cannot and should not be avoided or politicised anymore. All sitting parliamentary forces had mandated the Rangers a year ago, under the National Acton Plan to control and root out terrorism including cutting off the financial nerves that nurture the black market of Karachi.
Zardari still has the option to improve governance in Sindh and maintain a distance from the mafias operating in Karachi, by realigning and readjusting with the changed realities. Otherwise, the third phase could a decisive and final one, where his home political ground may get de-seated through a political crisis, generating not only the option of Governor’s Rule but an in-house change too. Therefore, instead of resistance, reform should be the agenda – if the much-talked about reconciliation is no more an option.
The writer is an anthropologist and
freelance analyst based in Islamabad.
Email: [email protected]

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