‘Your interpretation is false’ - Hussain H Zaidi - Monday, March 21, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=37234&Cat=9

“What’s your take on the allegation that the Pakistan People’s Party is playing the Sindh card?”

“Such allegations are levelled by anti-people and anti-democratic forces and must be dismissed as totally baseless. In point of fact, the PPP, being the only political party with nationwide appeal and an across-the-country base, has always looked down upon the politics of ethnicism.”

“True, but the PPP’s powerbase remains the Sindh province, particularly its rural part. Its top leadership has also come from that region. Even in the last elections, the PPP emerged as the single-largest party only from rural Sindh. In urban Sindh and all other provinces, it finished second or third in the electoral race.”

“The party would have made a clean sweep in the regions you indicated had the electoral exercise been totally free and fair. But the cards were stacked against the party from the word go to prevent it from bagging a comfortable majority so that it would have a weak and instable government. On top of that, the PPP lost its great leader just before the polls. The intense trauma that its workers and supporters underwent also bore upon the party’s performance.”

“You’re putting the cart before the horse. The common view is that Ms Bhutto’s assassination contributed to the party’s victory by arousing public sympathies. You’ll agree that our voters are easily swept off their feet by emotional considerations.”

“Tut, tut! That’s absurd, to say the least. The PPP without a Bhutto at the helm was like Shakespeare’s play Hamlet without its protagonist Prince Hamlet. Therefore, the death of Ms Bhutto was nothing short of a catastrophe for the party. The fact that the PPP won the electoral race in spite of that only testifies to the tremendous popularity that it commands.”

“I’m not calling into question the PPP’s populist credentials or its all-Pakistan character. My point is that, notwithstanding such characteristics, the party conveniently takes to ethnic politics when it finds this to its advantage. On other occasions it beats the drum of nationalism. It’s like running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Take, for instance, the argument that whereas a Sindhi prime minister (Z A Bhutto) was sentenced to death, a Punjabi prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) received only life imprisonment, and that too was suspended.

“The argument rests on the ridiculous proposition that the only notable difference between Mr Bhutto and Mr Sharif was their domicile, and that if the former were a Punjabi the establishment would have let him off the hook. I believe, and you’ll second me, that the two former prime ministers were poles apart in their calibre and stature. So even if Mr Bhutto were a Punjabi, Baloch or Pakhtun, his fate would hardly have been different. Not only that, international politics had also a lot to do with the dismissal and execution of Mr Bhutto, as one of the superpowers of the time wanted his head. Such factors didn’t exist in the case of Mr Sharif. Therefore, even if Mr Sharif were a Sindhi, Gen Musharraf wouldn’t have treated him differently. And may I remind you that the PPP leaders often claim with a lot of pride that Mr Bhutto was also offered a bargain by Gen Ziaul Haq, similar to the one struck between Mr Sharif and Gen Musharraf, but he preferred to die with honour to living in disgrace? If such an account is based on facts, then I’m afraid the whole argument that a Sindhi prime minister was put to death while a Punjabi prime minister was spared turns out to be a hoax. And, mind you, comparing Mr Bhutto with Mr Sharif in that fashion may make the former turn in his grave.”

“Accepted, for the sake of argument. But how would you account for the fact that while on both occasions the dismissal of Ms Bhutto’s government was upheld by the courts, that of Mr Nawaz Sharif’s was set aside by the judiciary?”

“I’m glad you put this question. First, the very fact that Mr Sharif got the sack explodes the notion that a Punjabi premier will never get his cards. Take it from me that there’s no love lost between popular politicians and the powers that be. So it’s not the establishment versus Sindhis, or any others ethnic nationality, but the establishment versus popular mandate. Secondly, though Mr Sharif was reinstated by the courts and Ms Bhutto was not, the result in either case was the same – fresh elections leading to a change of guards. Thirdly, do you remember who the chief justice of Pakistan was when the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the second Benazir Bhutto government? Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. What was his domicile? Rural Sindh. Who had appointed him to the highest judicial office of the land? President Leghari, at that time a staunch Bhutto loyalist, on the advice of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The fact that, say, a Punjabi prime minister is shown the door to bring in a Sindhi premier, and vice versa, means that the establishment has its own agenda, which doesn’t lend itself to a simple ethnic interpretation.”

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad.

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