MULTAN, ever the moderate and the moderator, cannot help but act as a bridge between opposites. It facilitates the spiritual bonding of people with the Maker through the saints who have overseen the city’s progress for centuries.
It links the overbearing Punjab with the low-lying Sindh culturally and politically via the Seraiki areas.
And in recent times it has helped the Pakistan People’s Party ally with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for a coalition in Islamabad, providing in its very own Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani a prime minister acceptable to the partners in power. For now at least.
Last week, carrying the tradition of reconciliation further, Gilani emphasised the need for all parties and interest groups to come together in a push for national progress.
In fact Prime Minister Gilani’s remark in which he lauded the army for its contribution to the cause of democracy far surpassed any earlier attempt at winning over the generals by members of his pro-reconciliation PPP since the party emerged as the largest stakeholder in power in the Feb 18 polls.
The crucial question is whether this hand of friendship extends to the ex-general who commanded the military until recently.
To the party’s supporter who believes in moderation it is important that it doesn’t jeopardise the PPP’s old reputation.
The theory has its roots in the PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s – as yet unproven – ability to beat the masters at their own game. He is said to be stuffing his government with pro-America individuals who, we are told, would ultimately outweigh President Pervez Musharraf, thus convincing the Americans at some stage that with so many friends looking after their interests in the Pakistani establishment, they could afford to let one man go.
Given the backstage flurry threatening to overwhelm what is visible to the audience, Yusuf Raza Gilani’s is a tough act. He is required to handle in full public view the conflict raging within the PPP under the increasingly mystical leadership of Mr Zardari.
The prime minister has to stay close to the president yet maintain a kind of aloofness from him. He is under the microscope as millions look for clues to the future in the way he carries himself around. Also, and much more significantly, Gilani’s turn in the prime minister’s house has come at a time when the party is trying to formally introduce the basic changes in the power structure that its leaders had been arguing for long while in the opposition.
Not that she was ever averse to change and compromise per se but Benazir Bhutto spent the last few years of her life exploring a pragmatic and lasting solution to the problem of civil-military relations in Pakistan.
Asif Zardari himself is on record as having recognised the army as an irrefutable reality in the country’s politics. Gilani had joined Ms Bhutto’s PPP twenty years ago after the party had been summarily cleansed of many of the remnants of the old guards from the days of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Circumstances now place him in the party’s front office as Mr Zardari seeks to run shop minus Ms Bhutto and builds his own party. By all signs, regardless of how the old ideological PPP worker would justify a handshake with Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the co-chair may be inclined to forge closer links with the establishment.
What is more, he can find his own justification for his steps in the book left behind by the party’s last prophet, Ms Bhutto – until he can claim divine guidance for himself.
Through a re-juxtaposing of factors and actors, Yusuf Raza Gilani symbolises the returning of the old. His politics has come full circle.
Two decades and odd years ago, he challenged Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif as the leader of Punjab, and by virtue of that position, a potential leader of Pakistan, not as an outsider but as someone who was very much a part of the system.
Should he be allowed to continue, he may again come to represent that old, marginalised interest group in the country’s politics looking for resurgence through his good offices – albeit with a more favourable establishment and a stronger party cadre behind him this time round.
Source: Daily Dawn, 28/4/2008