ISLAMABAD: Beginning of the end for the Chaudhrys of Gujrat?

Mohammad Malick

Thank God for the never ending conspiracies and political intrigues for without them Islamabad would lose its reason to exist. With Musharraf gone, Marriott gutted, Zardari enjoying official protocol routes while Nawaz appearing to have been routed, we were fast running out of chatter fodder. Enter the latest move to take away the PML-Q throne (or whatever little is left of it) from the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and life is back to normal.

For the last few days, midnight oil is being burnt by PML-Q rebels comprising ambitious young and the miffed oldies (what else do you burn during load shedding anyway). And today, the midnight manoeuvres continued straight into the Senate session as well.

The Senate proceedings got off to an insipid start with the typical half baked questions being answered with over cooked evasive replies but then a little stirring in the rear of the hall created the real buzz when in-walked a sombre looking Salim Saifullah who was immediately swamped by Mahmood Ali Durrani, Jan Jamali and Tariq Azeem (yeah! You read it right. It was Tariq and yes it is the same gentleman who would not tire of praising the wisdom of Ch Shujaat and the acumen of Ch Pervaiz. But then he was also in love with Shaukat Aziz, the banker-turned-prime minister-turned absconder. But times change and so do options and opinions. The quartet immediately got into a huddle but then probably desiring greater privacy went inside the member’s lounge, away from our prying eyes.

The reason I shared this political huddle is because the rebellion against the Chaudhrys has now come out fully in the open. The PML-Q parliamentarians belonging to Sindh, Balochistan, and Frontier provinces have let it be known that they want nothing to do with Ch Pervaiz Elahi in particular while still appearing amenable to the option of allowing Ch Shujaat to serve in some other important sounding position but only if he were to voluntarily resign his party presidency (he still has about five months to go in his second and final term as party president).

One such position being touted is that of Chairman parliamentary Board/Party (whatever that means). Already 14 parliamentarians had come out of the political closet as PML-Q forward block, and now at least 28, and by another account 32, parliamentarians are said to have handed over their signed nominations for the new PML-Q parliamentary leader in the national assembly to President Zardari.

Of course the space for the nominated new leader has been kept blank for now. At this stage we don’t know whose name is going to magically appear in that prized parking space but what we do know is that it’s definitely curtains for Pervaiz Elahi nominated Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat.

Things are moving at an alarming pace (from the Chaudhrys perspective at least) and the original plan had been to convey the finality of matters in an earlier scheduled Friday night meeting in Islamabad between Ch Pervaiz Elahi and Senator Salim Saifullah, which was then rescheduled for today (Saturday) owing to Ch Pervaiz’s expected late night arrival. (Can’t blame the man for not rushing to hear the bad news now can you).

Senator Salim Saifullah, according to sources, is going to ask the Chaudhrys to step aside gracefully as put by source, “they have had a long leadership stretch and now the party needs fresh leadership” and to make it clear that even if the Chaudhrys decided to fight it out with a clear prospect of the party being divided, the challenge was there to stay. As of today, in the event of a successful challenge Ch Hamid Nasir Chattha and Salim Saifullah are favoured to become president and general secretary respectively, but it is not a foregone conclusion yet.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes another wheel within wheels has started to turn slowly; that of evaluating the ‘possibility’ of bringing in former president Musharraf in some key role five or six months down the road. No one is admitting to it yet but a lot of dos and don’ts are being discussed.

One group is of the view that after Ch Shujaat, the party does not have any national level big-ticket leader and that despite all his controversies Gen Musharraf is a nationally and internationally known leader who may have his many enemies but he also has his admirers. It is also being reasoned that bringing him on board would “create the impression of the khakis having created a standby alternative to the present power dispensation as already a lot of people believe that the only reason he enjoyed a smooth abdication and a continued exalted status is because of him enjoying the army’s support and respect”.

It is also being argued that in the coming months, and particularly so if IMF conditionalities are accepted for financial bailout, the country shall be in the midst of a sever economic and energy crunch and therefore despite all his other negatives Musharraf could still evoke a nostalgia for the good-old days of perceived economic boom, reality be damned.

Right now it’s just a tentative discussion involving a near impossible possibility, but in Pakistan you never know and one can only hope that this option never sees the light of the day. The coup leaders insist that their action is sired purely by their desire to keep the party parliamentarians from leaving the party because it is believed that virtually all dissention has been caused by the unsavoury attitude of Ch Pervaiz Elahi while in power, and his abject dismal (non)performance during the post election period. There is an added sense of urgency also because of the fact that in another four months PML-Q led opposition would lose its present majority in Senate and with the national assembly numbers also flying in the wind, the party desperately needs to find its new political moorings within the next sixteen weeks.

But going back to the personality clash, interestingly one does not witness a similar degree of personal animosity against the person of Ch Shujaat and it would not be wrong to suggest that were the fall of the House of Gujrat to take place in the coming days, the lion’s share of the blame must rest with the younger Chaudhry. But having said all this, Ch Shujaat still has a few cards up his political sleeve and we should expect a lot of action when the wily politician returns to Pakistan on Sunday.

For starters, he is extremely cosy with the ruling PPP government and by one account, he has a lot to do with the repeated postponement of the federal cabinet expansion. In an earlier discussion with me, Ch Shujaat had also argued that while he did not have any serious differences with the PPP government he nevertheless wanted to stay in opposition because he did not want PML-N to be perceived as the only significant opposition party in the near future and more so in Punjab.

His logic made sense a few weeks back but now he might have to reverse his tactic and rethink his priorities. His challengers clearly apprehend that Ch Shujaat could cause a serious damage by pre-empting any move to dislodge him by simply teaming up with PPP both in centre and in Punjab and cut a nice deal involving federal and provincial ministries, minister of state slots, this and that committee chairmanships, a few corporation stewardships thrown here and there, and all said and done it would not be that difficult for him to win-back the loyalties of a few dozen presently disgruntled colleagues.

But judging from the present mood it does appear that even if he were to manage a last minute turn around, he would have to ask Pervaiz Elahi to ‘warm the bench’ for a while, to borrow a phrase from football. The next couple of weeks are going to be action filled for sure.

Source: The News, 25/10/2008

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