‘Zarnomics’ - Mohammad Malick - Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44945&Cat=9

Gen Musharraf could never have thought, not even for a second, that the smiling gentleman sitting across the table was silently reading his last rites. Who would have thought that Nawaz Sharif and the husband of slain Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto could become the best of friends? Who would have dared predict that the son of slain Zahoor Elahi would break political bread with the brother-in-law of the very man who ordered the kill? What about the man who was pointed out as a possible killer by none other than Benazir herself becoming a partner in her own party’s government, and that too without a whimper from her legions of supporters? For a genuine jiyala, even such a thought would have been blasphemous, but then this has already happened.

Three critical stages in President Asif Ali Zardari’s political ascendancy, three different players, but one thing remains common: it always starts with him initiating the rapprochement, then him quickly transforming the newly created, albeit small reservoir of new found trust, into the ambiguous and misleadingly comfortable fuzzy concept of ‘friendship,’ followed by his clinical execution of the desired objective. All trust and friendship, be damned. It’s always signature Zardari initiative, all the way through.

None in Pakistan’s politics is defter than Mr Zardari at exploiting acrimony amongst political stakeholders. Who can better encourage sworn enemies to fight out their battles to his own ultimate advantage. Does the ANP-MQM strife in Karachi ring any bells? And it has always been like that. Fully aware of the possible answer, according to a highly reliable insider, he had initially asked Nawaz Sharif his preference for what should come first: the revival of the apex judiciary or the departure of Musharraf? He then fully utilised Nawaz’s political muscle and hatred for Musharraf to his own advantage, got rid of Mush, and calmly occupied the presidential office. With Nawaz having served his purpose, it was time to say adios. The judiciary would have to wait.

Now, once again, Zardari needed the PML-Q’s support for a multitude of reasons. Consider this – in one stroke, he gets the numerical comfort to pass the federal budget and show a thumb to the ever insatiable MQM; gets an ally who is rearing to go for Nawaz’s jugular in Punjab; split the traditional league vote bank; gets a possible back channel to the belligerent judiciary and also a reserve channel which could be used, if need be, for ‘reliable’ contact with the not so civilian side of the power establishment. It would be interesting to watch who turns who in the wind. The Chaudrys are not as pliable or naïve as Nawaz Sharif and are no strangers to byzantine intrigues either.

For starters, however, round one has gone to President Zardari. Even before the PML-Q lot took the oath, he had managed to get ‘em off the high horse of deputy prime ministership and what not, and then packed them up in irrelevant ministries. To add to the joke, he even packed three of them – including the aspiring deputy prime minister – in one ministry with three different and almost equally insignificant titles. Barely had the oath had been administered to the PML-Q, that the erstwhile recalcitrant MQM too suddenly saw the light of day and should be coming back to the presidential flock any day. Not bad for a few days work wouldn’t you agree? The marketing phrase of buy-one (PML-Q) get-one-free (MQM) has attained a whole new meaning under ‘Zarnomics’.

Logic would suggest that once the budget is passed and done with, the Chaudrys will try pushing for a change in the Punjab government within the next six months but Zardari would like to delay it till the wrapping up of senate elections in 2012 where his party is expected to land a hefty 40 seats or so.

Timing aside, there is no difference of opinion between Zardari and Shujaat over the inevitability of bringing down the house of Sharifs and that the charge would be led by the Chaudrys, with Zardari’s men playing the critical supportive role. So far so good, but were they to succeed in such an endeavour, then that could also be the possible beginning of the end of the PPP-PML-Q alliance. If the past is any indicator then, say a year down the road, the Chaudrys would have served their purpose. They would have greased the passing of the budget, helped rope back in the MQM (and possibly the JUI-F as well), given the PML-N a run for its money in Punjab and the next senate elections would have been taken care of with the PPP firmly in the senate saddle.

The only thing that would remain by then would be the last nine yards to the next general elections. Now why would Zardari have one leg tied to the Chaudrys like in the good old sack race, and not run the last nine yards alone? So mid 2012 onwards, the Chaudrys would be well advised to watch their back, or to be more precise, watch their partner.

To understand Pakistan’s confounding politics, it would help to ‘attempt’ to understand the man who is contributing the most to turning it into an unfathomable conundrum. How else do you describe his best of relations with Altaf Hussain but the simultaneous unleashing of another best friend Zulfiqar Mirza against the MQM (even now Mirza is kept lurking in the wings). In the warmest of his kodak moments with Nawaz Sharif, he made sure steel-cold Salmaan Taseer was there to continuously turn the screw on the Sharifs. He was, and remains, in love with Asfandyar Wali but still never gave Asfandyar the governor he really wanted. He openly stated that the ‘third’ force would have to take his dead body out of the presidency, then dragged his feet and allowed the suspense to reach maddening levels, only to quietly sanction critical service extensions. The most predictable part of President Zardari’s character, is his unpredictability.

When a battle hardened politician like Javed Hashmi sarcastically alludes to requiring a PhD to understand Zardari’s politics then it is not just a slight, but an implied admission of Mr Zardari’s political shrewdness or should one say ‘Zarpolitick’. You may love him or hate him, but to bring him down, you must first understand him. Something easier said than done. Just ask Rawalpindi!

The writer is editor The News, Islamabad

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