ZAB resurrection enlivens opponents By Asha’ar Rehman - Tuesday 19th April 2011

SHIVAJI Ganesan, Kamal Haasan, Priyanka Chopra — they all have competition. Famous for playing multiple characters in Indian cinematic trifles, they are now threatened by our very own Babar Awan who is all poised to break the record given his penchant to appear in a new avatar in a Zardari production every few months.
Mr Awan won much acclaim as a lawyer for Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto. Next, he was cast as a senator as Mr Zardari searched for the more faithful from among the material he inherited from his wife.
Mr Awan eventually secured for himself the law ministry, in between finding time to lecture students of religion on television. As the law minister and the presidency’s most trusted lieutenant, he was found seeking or trying to seek favours from lawyers that his government thought had a tendency of siding with the not-all-that-democratic forces.
He was the man to carry the PPP’s brief as the ruling party realised that it needed to forge closer ties with the Chaudhries of Gujrat, and so vociferous and so above suspicion were his vows of loyalty that at one stage he was seriously tipped to succeed an equally vocal Salmaan Taseer as the governor of Punjab. That scenario, of Mr Awan roaring menacingly into Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s ear, was mercifully averted and the coveted gubernatorial hat was bestowed upon Latif Khosa — by all evidence some sort of a rival to Mr Awan for presidential favours.
Mr Awan and Mr Khosa had earlier had occasion to take each other on, and at one time it appeared that both of them were desperate for the main role in winning wayward lawyers over to the PPP’s side. At one time, Mr Khosa had reason to blame Mr Awan for his son Khurram Khosa’s loss in a bar election.
It is only in the tradition of things, then, that as Mr Khosa sparkles in his new role in the much sought after Punjab, Mr Awan has staged a kind of a coup on himself as minister of law and is now ready to fight the case of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
This was a masterstroke. The Pakistani audience had earlier been treated to somewhat similar emotional scenes when an attorney-general, none other than Mr Khosa himself, threw away the yoke imposed on him by the high title to defend the Zardari set-up in court. Mr Awan has customarily been much louder in his denunciation of worldly power. He was sacrificing merely a ministry for a cause he held dear to his heart, but had he had the good fortune of being the prime minister, he would have given up that office too for a fight to end the cruelty meted out to ZAB.
The switchover, deriving from Mr Awan’s own remarks, offers him an opportunity to speak to the court in Mr Bhutto’s voice — by far the most illustrious role the versatile player has landed. However, indications are that his opponents are going to spice the fair with old footage.
Already, an isolated Ejazul Haq has been called centre stage to talk about Mr Awan’s past association with Ziaul Haq. Mr Awan has variously been identified as the man who would be pressed into service to disrupt a PPP public meeting and, as a youngster, someone who publicly celebrated ZAB’s hanging in April 1979.
The PPP’s shuttling between the Khosas and the Awans for the assigning of crucial duties has not just been criticised, it provides fodder for many of the jokes the party today inspires. On a more serious note, the party’s choice to reopen Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s case presents the PPP with a political problem it has not had to deal with in recent years.
Recent years have seen ZAB emerge as a shining example of the country’s politicians. Barring a few exceptions, he has been eulogised as a visionary leader and the only real awami politician. This universal recognition and vindication of the PPP founder as a leader of the people may have been a major reason behind Mr Zardari’s decision to ask for a reopening of the case which led to Mr Bhutto being sentenced to death 32 years ago.
And, Mr Zardari and his advisers may well have thought that short of resurrecting Mr Bhutto, the party had hardly any chance of fighting the huge popularity challenge it faces. Perhaps it was the illusion of a universally acceptable ZAB and desperation borne of circumstances that made PPP decision-makers overlook the basic logic behind Mr Bhutto’s unrivalled standing among Pakistan’s politicians. Like his daughter and successor Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto won praise since he was a leader dead and safely buried. He did not threaten his old opponents. To the contrary, he served the purpose of all those who were out to prove the bad state the PPP is in today, as compared to the party that Mr Bhutto founded. The PPP’s opponents’ invocation of the Bhutto magic was consequently a tool to beat Mr Zardari and his associates with.
The decision to resurrect Chairman Bhutto, and that too with the aid of a new breed of party men such as Mr Awan, will help all those who have been crying over the PPP’s demise as a genuine organisation of the people and who have been condemning the PPP as a band of the corrupt headed by a ringleader who found power by accident.
On a larger scale, the reopening of the case is going to resurrect old PPP opponents who had thus far been struggling for a unity peg around which to rally support. What adds to the sensitivity and complexity of the matter is the fact that the political heirs of some of those who argued for the physical elimination of Mr Bhutto in the 1970s are now partners in Mr Zardari’s coalition. Did the president ask his partners before he signed his assent for the re-opening of a case the people’s jury had long given a verdict on?
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

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