By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari is bound by the pre-election deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf to develop a working relationship with the president, it is learnt.
A key PPP source, who is among those who played a role in bringing the two sides together for this much-condemned deal, told this correspondent that there were important people based in Washington and Dubai who acted as guarantor to this agreement between the two sides.
However, PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar when contacted admitted that the present situation is creating doubts in the minds of the people, but assured that Musharraf is not going to have the last laugh. He hinted that the next few days are really important. He said foreign capitals also change their minds when they see the ground realities changing in the country.
Generally it is believed and also endorsed by the PPP source that the most controversial legislation of our history — National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) — was part of the same deal that was struck days before General Musharraf’s bid for his re-election for another term. The NRO was promulgated on Oct 5, 2007, while the presidential election was held on October 6.
Farhatullah Babar, however, argued that during those days there was a general talk of some quid pro quo to the Musharraf’s NRO. He said that he thought that Musharraf had issued the NRO to get some concessions from the PPP after realising that there was nothing in the corruption cases against the former ruling couple. With this in mind, he revealed, he went to Benazir Bhutto and expressed his apprehensions.
To this, he recalled, Benazir Bhutto reacted, “Why do you think like this? If such a thing is possible? How can I accept President Musharraf in uniform in deviation of what I have been long struggling for?”
Contrary to Babar’s claim, the PPP source said that Benazir Bhutto had sought the promulgation of the NRO and engaged Frooq H Naek, at present the law minister, for the drafting of the NRO in consultation with the government. Babar insisted that the greater beneficiary of the NRO is MQM.
The PPP source, however, said that the party’s reservation was only against the president in uniform and not against civilian President Musharraf. He said with the blessing of the foreign guarantors, the PPP had agreed to develop working relationship with Musharraf. He said the present days politics of the PPP has strong connection with the NRO and the conditionalities agreed at that time.
The PML-N is dying to get Musharraf removed from the presidency but the PPP has developed a working relationship with the top man. The two sides have discussed a few times the question of President Musharraf’s impeachment but Asif Ali Zardari is not eager to such a move apparently for the sake of system. However, many suspect that things are unfolding as were agreed in the last year deal between the two sides.
The NRO though remained the most controversial piece of legislation during those days, after the Nov 3 martial law-cum-emergency and following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto it was sidelined altogether. The pre-Nov 3 judiciary had also stayed the NRO but the post-Nov 3 judiciary vacated the judicial restriction on its operation. It was the NRO because of which almost all the corruption cases, even those in the foreign courts, filed against Asif Ali Zardari have been withdrawn.
What is even hard for many PPP leaders to absorb is the continuation of key Musharraf’s players in the present PPP-led government. The most conspicuous is Attorney General Malik Qayyum, who even a few days back said that the judges could not be restored through a National Assembly resolution, which is the commitment of the two leading coalition partners — PPP and PML-N.
It is the prime minister’s authority to replace the attorney general through an advice to the president but it has not yet been done. It is said that the PPP co-chairman wants him to continue till the time all cases filed in the past against him are withdrawn.
Questions even within the PPP are being raised as to why did the government appoint Musharraf’s buddy Maj Gen (R) Mahmud Durrani as prime minister’s national security advisor. The PPP leaders also wonder why all the key appointments made by the military regime are not yet reviewed.
The people generally feel and the PPP leaders agree that other than change of faces in the prime minister’s office and those of the ministers, the business is as usual in Islamabad. A PML-N minister while quoting a foreign journalist said that as against the post-Feb 18 election expectations things have not changed in Islamabad.
President Musharraf, who was expected to leave anytime after the Feb 18 elections, seems to have regained his confidence as now he resolves to be there in the presidency for the next five years. To his support, Secretary General for Foreign Affairs of the European Union Javier Solana during his recent visit to Islamabad also said that Musharraf would stay in his office for next five years.
A leading journalist from Karachi said that the recent visit of US State Department officials — Nagroponte and Boucher — and their meetings with Zardari are not meaningless. Just notice how many times Zardari met the US ambassador and other US diplomats and officials during the recent months. He said that it would not be easy for Asif Ali Zardari to ignore what was agreed a few months back with the facilitation of the international players.