By Mohammad Malick
It is bad enough being a reporter for it turns you into a cynic and an incorrigible snoop who tries finding the hidden curve even in a straight drawn line. It gets even worse when that reporter turns into a columnist and gets the opportunity to add his views and opinions to an otherwise straight story. And, in case, you are wondering why I have presented this long winding prelude, the answer is simple; I have been trying to find that hidden curve in what was otherwise a straight blistering and blasting speech delivered by the parliamentary opposition leader, Ch Nisar of the PML-N. That Ch Nisar spoke passionately and vehemently to the visible discomfort of the senior and seasoned treasury wallahs, like Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman and a handful of thinking others, is a straight fact. Why he chose to serve the notice in the manner he did, and the choice of timing of his going starboard with all guns blazing is that invisible elusive curve that I mentioned earlier.
After spending all these years around our political-power elite, I have realized that in parliamentary power politics there is no such thing as an ‘emotional outburst’ by a seasoned leader of the opposition opening a major debate. Every criticism is deliberate, every barb calibrated. And even in moments of apparent ‘emotionalism’ there is that fine method to madness. Every move of the present has a reason, even if that reason may be planted in the future. So after enjoying the excellent speech of Ch Nisar, there I was cynically asking myself about why would a leader of a lukewarm political ally (after all PML-N still calls itself a friendly opposition influence on the PPP and only a few days back Mian Nawaz Sharif also broke bread with Asif Zardari) turn on the political temperature to the point of making everyone sweat? Is Nisar going off on a tangent of his own (according to one conspiracy theorist) and literally forcing the hand of his own leadership in changing its blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with President Zardari .
By now, all of you know what Nisar said, the question remains, why? Was his unforgiving mannerism an end product of him just getting caught up in his own emotionalism, but then this would be very alien to his own personal nature as he is a man of extremely composed countenance (read: cool cat) and is known to get even, but never mad. So what really happened on Wednesday in the National Assembly? Could it be that the first serious notice has been served on President Zardari’s government (remember Nisar alluded to the prime minister as being merely ornamental) by the second largest party which is apparently getting tired of all the games being played with it, with the onus of the blame clearly being laid squarely and exclusively at the president’s door step.
He even went to the extent of trying to drive an ideological wedge between Asif Zardari led political dispensation, and the “real People’s Party” as he extolled the ruling party to act “like the true People’s Party of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and not what it had become today”. Whoa! It couldn’t get any tougher or more direct, now could it. So where was he going by trying to make a distinction between Zardari led PPP and the ‘real PPP’? An interesting yet inexplicable curve, wouldn’t you agree.
Nisar’s entire discourse could be summed up in one line that either the president changed his tune or the entire equation changes. Barring the initial couple of minutes where he praised President Zardari for reviving the tradition of presidential address to the joint parliamentary session, he spent the other 70 minutes or so blasting away at ‘Zardari’s government’ and ultimately ended up raising serious question marks about the personal intentions and conduct of the president, even to the point of painting him as a “plain liar”. In fact, he rubbed in the point of the worthiness of the president’s promises to no end, much to the squirming discomfort of many a PPP MNAs. It would not be wrong to say that while he used the customary word of the government, essentially his was a Zardari centric tirade.
He warned the president about claiming to have sent 225 friends on an Umra freebie “from his own pocket” arguing that the financial statement submitted by the president did not show him to be a man of such means and intoned “rest assured all facts shall have to be verified”. At one point, he even sarcastically griped about the presidency being used for holding lavish wedding receptions, party cadre meetings, and a host of other things. And if there were any doubts about his Zardari bashing strategy, then they stood removed by his verbal whip lashing of the president’s brother-in-law Munawar Talpur, who had chipped in a remark during his speech. “I will respond to remarks of a politician or a minister and not to those of relatives,” he added almost contemptuously to the obvious delight of his desk thumping lot. It was clearly an over-reaction, or was it?
What we have on our hands is an interesting power-politics conundrum. In the Punjab (which has to be the main vote bastion for anyone wanting to rule Islamabad), we have a PML-N government while both its top leaders Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif roam around with a judicial Damocles sword swinging over their heads and coming down a bit too close for comfort. An ultimate power showdown in the Punjab, which is bound to spill onto the streets, is undesirable but not unavoidable as power has its own deciding dynamics. The content and mannerism of Ch Nisar’s speech is a clear harbinger of the things to come, maybe even the beginning of the end of what everybody had termed an impossible political marriage. It is clear that after today’s speech, notwithstanding Nisar’s insistence on the treasury not taking his comments personal (yeah sure!) but in a “positive spirit”, things will never be the same again.
The only curve that I am still trying to figure out is whether this was the initiative of some ‘friends’, the boiling frustration of just one man, or did this charge sheet in the making also enjoy the covert blessing of his leadership duo. Either way, the future does not bode so well for this alliance. And this is just the beginning because as chairman of the powerful Public Accounts Committee, Ch Nisar has no plans to let anyone rest on their haunches, least of all the government or the president.
Come what (or who) may. Of late, he has fast started emerging a little taller than his other colleagues and could be the man to watch if by any chance the Sharif brothers were felled by an adverse judicial decision. Another interesting curve to some seemingly straight developments, wouldn’t you agree?