Shahbaz’s Punjab Vs Zardari’s Islamabad

By Muhammad Malick

ISLAMABAD: Chaudhry Nisar of the PML-N has a tendency to fly solo at times and dangerously too, with scant regard for the collective consequences of his individual diatribes. And once again he made his little contribution by adding to the perennial confusion galore over the judgeيs issues. He has been a judicial-hawk in the PML-N camp and arguing for a zero sum strategy but all said and done, his rather indignant sounding rejection of the expansion clause (adopted yesterday as a part of the finance bill) is more intriguing because of its timing, then for its content. Why now when the matter was not even a part of the dayيs agenda? Was it a personal view that he felt compelled to bring on the assembly record, or is his party inching towards a final cut-off from the coalition on the judgeيs issue?

I know it for a fact that Chaudhry Nisar has always known that this clause was authored by Ishaq Dar in a bid to break the coalition deadlock over the reinstatement modalities for the disposed judges, so why now this public and rather unwarranted rejection? He must surely also realise that it appears inconceivable to believe that Ishaq Dar would have designed such a bold inclusion without the prior tacit approval of his party supremo. That sires another question of why then would Chaudhry Nisar publicly denounce a clause penned in by a senior most party colleague who not only enjoys the extreme confidence of his party boss but the two are also closely related. Could it be that PML-N has had enough of Asif Zardariيs dilly dallying over the judges issues and has decided to go for a show down either way and that Chaudhry Nisar is just a willing messenger of the new unsaid message?

If that were the case then there could not have been a better messenger than Chaudhry Nisar, who has made no serious effort of masking his privately held apparent belief about PPP not being sincere in the judges restoration issue. To be fair to the man, he has never said anything to this effect but then at times certain gestures and meaningful bouts of silence speaks louder than words. Maybe an incident is worth a mention here.

According to an insider, minutes after Farooq Naek had left Nawaz Sharifيs Raiwind farm after presenting the proposed judicial package, the PML-N chief had called a meeting of his top lieutenants and wanted a threadbare assessment of the package to be completed on a war footing. Committee was formed on the spot with the direction to meet daily in Islamabad to hammer out every word and comma. However, the only person visibly not so keen on a fast track movement was Chaudhry Nisar and ostensibly for no other cause but because he apparently does not share Nawaz Sharifيs assessment of Zardariيs sincerity of purpose. If what Chaudhry Nisar said today purely reflected his personal views then it is a simple matter but if the statement proves to be a harbinger of more to come then the coalition could be heading for some stormy weather.

But hopefully matters will not come to a head. In fact, knowledgeable insiders are already claiming that the final settlement may well be the formula of all PCO judges to be replaced by a spanking new lot. That would mean bye bye Justice Chaudhry, bye bye Justice Dogar, bye bye all. Well let us just wait and see if this interesting scenario remains a mere conjecture or translates into another complex reality.

And we are indeed living in strange times of interesting paradoxes. Ours must be the only democratic polity in the world where the countryيs two largest political parties, with the largest share of parliamentary seats, are both led by unelected leaders. And the firsts do not end here. Zardari has surely earned another possible first in political history by literally ىinheritingî a democratic political party bequeathed to him through a will. And so far, he has also ruled it to everybodyيs exclusion like his due inheritance. Nawaz Sharif too rules his party with an equally firm hand but no inheritances here for him. He had to reinvent himself during his negotiated exile, and returned as a changed man leading a transformed party. When he was brought down by General Musharraf in 1999 his popularity was arguably at its lowest ebb, today it could not be higher. Life moves in strange ways, does it not?

Talk of strange. Throughout its existence the PPP had been identified as being the bad boy of politics, forever challenging khaki-politics, forever seeking the revamping of the establishment-led status quos. And during the same period one Muslim League concoction after another had been viewed as the lapping toady of whoever-whatever powers that be. And today the roles, or at least the perceptions, stand totally reversed. While Nawaz & Co are winning hearts for appearing to be boldly revolutionary, PPP appears to be losing out on mass popularity for its perceived sin of acting too pragmatically evolutionary (read: more closer to the establishment than to the people). In baseball speak it would be tantamount to PML-N having stolen PPPيs base plate.

But there is more. Another clear difference is starting to emerge; that of governance, or lack thereof. Ultimately this difference of different governance styles may lead to a real change of political moods amongst the coalition partners and sire new political equations and relations. The PPP government in the centre has yet to create the semblance of an outfit being in charge. The ministers may have a prime minister in name but he has yet to prove himself their administrative boss in essence. Simply put, it is a team without a coherent game plan and sans a hands-on captain.

The contrast could not be greater in the PML-N-ruled Punjab. There is no doubt there about the undisputed stewardship of Mian Shehbaz Sharif. Unlike the centre where everybody knows the strength of the individual team players but not the captain, in Punjab there is no such ambiguity. In fact, the man had already started administering the province even before his formal election as the chief minister. Policies are being made, priorities being defined, and whatever the reality may be, the perception is already that of government machinery being put in full swing. And we all know that in matters of politics and formation of public opinion, perceptions are far more real and mightier than the reality itself.

There in Punjab, rules are clear about Nawaz Sharif running politics and Shehbaz running the administration. And the formula seems to be working just fine. Unfortunately in the PPP camp, no one is aware of the dividing line of influence (if any) and responsibility between that of Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. It is already clear that all appointments are being made at Zardari House but whether the prime ministerيs office even has meaningful operational functional authority is hard to tell.

To be fair to Asif Zardari, once you cut through the grandeur of his absolute power, he is in a bit of a fix as well. He has surely emerged an immensely mature person- a far cry from the impetuous Zardari of the eighties- from his long incarceration. But while his person may have matured his politics never got the same chance, or direct exposure. Remember, he was never meant to even share the leadership let alone exclusively exercise absolute power. But Benazirيs assassination changed all that. Today, he is bound by the tough conditions that BB surely agreed to with certain guarantors secure in her knowledge that with her personal stature and clout she would rewrite the entire deal once back in power. But with her removal from the scene and his stature nowhere near to hers, he simply does not have the muscle to arbitrarily change such undertakings.

But all said and done, while Zardariيs hands may be tied in matters involving the president, the US approved anti-terrorism policy, nuclear programme etc, nothing prevents him from shaking his federal government out of its present comatose condition. People know that magic solutions cannot be had in a matter of few weeks and are willing to give a lot more time, provided they sense a government with a sense of direction and purpose. Now, there will also be a clear comparison between the working of Islamabad and Lahore and once this factor comes into play, patience of the patient masses may wear thin rather quickly.

PS: Talking of patience, one has to give full marks to the speaker national assembly, Dr Fehmida Mirza to sit there patiently, listening attentively to hours and hours of boring budget speeches by equally dull speakers. In the ongoing budget session over 229 members have already exercised their right to speak, though the number who actually made sensible contributions is way lower. Not bad because I recall the times when sitting on the opposition benches in this very house, Dr Mirza herself had to scream, yell and shout just to get a five minute speaking opportunity. Maybe, the good doctor knows that when it comes to parliamentarians, giving a few minutes a day keeps bad tempers away.
Source: The News, 24/6/2008

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