By Tariq Butt
The talented sons and daughters of political heavyweights are bracing up to find their niche in Pakistan’s political landscape with some currently playing a supporting role, often forced to defend the deeds or misdeeds of their illustrious fathers in the murky political arena.
Their growing political ascendance is basically because of their hereditary politics in South Asia. They are relishing the official patronage that their elders have at their disposal to offer; are ensconced in the commanding power corridors like the presidency, the prime minister’s house or chief minister house; and are enjoying the protocol and protection at the official expense.
A veteran observer of the political scene, Rawalpindi leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has said it publicly repeatedly that the next generation of the existing leaders is more corrupt than their peers. This is, however, yet to be established about most of the sons and daughters joining politics.
Mariam Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Fizza Batool Gilani, Syed Ali Musa Gilani and Salman Shahbaz are the rising stars, who were waiting in the wings for quite some time, now shining in the political sky. Gifted sons like Hamza Shahbaz, Abdul Qadir Gilani and Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, born with golden spoons, already occupy the parliamentary space.
“Since Begum Saheba” (Begum Kalsoom Nawaz) “is no more active to extend a helping hand to Nawaz Sharif in the political field due to her post-op back problem, Mariam has been launched to do her bidding,” a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader told The News. “This is Mariam’s soft induction in politics.”
He said that she would be representing the party at several functions that the PML-N chief could not preside due to his hectic engagements. For the moment, he did not believe that the young lady whose husband, Capt (Retd) Safdar, is member of the National Assembly, would contest elections. “Since there is no other female member of the Sharif family, who is active in politics, Mariam has been formally introduced.”
The PML-N leader said Begum Kalsoom though always a housewife had made a mark in politics during his 15-month stint from October 1999 to December 2000 when Nawaz Sharif and several other members of the clan were jailed. Although it was a totally new field for her, she had conducted herself gracefully and never faltered, causing any embarrassment to herself or the party, he recollected. “She turned out to be a powerful campaigner.”
However, other PML-N leaders believed that Mariam would be PML-N candidate from a Lahore constituency in the next parliamentary polls. They said the basic idea behind heractivation was to attract young voters that Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) was charming.
They pointed to somewhat taking the limelight from Hamza Shahbaz after the famous Lahore rally that was no match to Imran Khan’s show at the Minto Park a few days later.
Mariam has started with a clean slate, another PML-N leader said and added that her occasional political comments that she made when Nawaz Sharif and others were incarcerated were highly incisive against the Musharraf regime. She was politically silent for the past one decade. Nawaz Sharif’s two sons, Hussain and Hassan, are apolitical young men and are more focused on their businesses while his other daughter, Asma, who is daughter-in-law of Ishaq Dar, is disinterested in politics.
While Hamza is relatively quiet now, his younger brother Salman made an appearance in a recent Geo talk show a couple of weeks back in which he defended his family’s expanding business empire. The young man was impressive for the mere fact that like a true politician he did not list the family factories or any business but just provided its details (right during the live programme through email or fax) to the anchor to recite if she willed. That was Salman’s debut in defending his family businesses. He, however, did not unfold his political plan.
Facing young Sharifs in the political field is Bilawal, who has been deputed by his ailing father, President Asif Ali Zardari, to mind things in the PPP and learn the tricky art of statecraft while working closely with Yusuf Raza Gilani in the vaulted environs of the Prime Minister House, in his absence from Pakistan. His name and remarks now often find space in the official statements issued by Gilani’s office.
Unlike Mariam, the 23-year old Bilawal is under age and thus ineligible to contest a national or provincial seat. He has still two years to go to qualify for an electoral fight. Although he has lived abroad most of his life and is not much acquainted with local traditions and customs, he is trying to give looks of a Pakistani politician and a local touch at least from his attire as he is, at times, shown, in officially released photographs, wearing shawl and Sindhi cap.
A few months back, Prime Minister Gilani activated his only daughter, Fizza Batool, in politics, and she was quickly made Goodwill Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women. Insiders say she was launched well before the forthcoming election to half of the Senate in February next with a view to induct her in the Upper House. Her statements are also issued by Gilani’s office. President Zardari has not deemed it proper to seek the presence of his daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, who are studying abroad, in Pakistan to take care of the party affairs in his absence. It is not yet known whether or not he would want them in politics.
Gilani’s son, Ali Musa, is all set to contest the by-election to NA-148 Multan that was vacated by former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Another son Abdul Qadir is already member of the Punjab Assembly.
While Mariam, Ali Musa and Fizza Batool start their political stints without a blemish on them, others have skeletons in their cupboards, which will continue to haunt them in future. Salman, who is yet to take political start, also has no taint to suffer.
Abdul Qadir was accused of taking a bulletproof jeep as a gift in the notorious Haj scam, which was still before the Supreme Court.
Bilawal jointly owns the Park Lane Estate with his father in whose name 24,00 kanals (300 acres) of land near Sangjani, Islamabad, which is subject of a corruption reference, still pending with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), was quietly transferred after the present government came in place in 2008. The land frozen due to the reference was unfrozen on the force of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), and then transferred in the name of the Park Lane Estate. However, after the quashment of NRO by the Supreme Court it was again frozen by the Islamabad administration on the NAB direction, which is its present status.
Moonis Elahi was recently acquitted from the scandal of opening of fake bank accounts in which a portion of the defrauded National Insurance Company Limited (NICL) money was deposited. The case is still before the Supreme Court. Hamza was massively embarrassed, humiliated and maligned by the outbursts of Aisha Ahad Malik, who claimed to be his (third) wife.