Politics of self-discredit -by Khaled Ahmed

President Zardari called Nawaz maulana, with multiple innuendos: that he was the illicit political offspring of General Zia, that he was a covert abettor of jihadi elements in Punjab, and that he was aligning with Jamaat Islami in the AJK polls

Moulana Nawaz Sharif standing in centre with Jihadi friends.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has finally decided that familiar is safe and to hell with the unfamiliar. The hawks have won and Nawaz Sharif the lion has replaced the statesmanlike but unfamiliar Nawaz Sharif after the 2008 elections. President Zardari, ever the Sindhi fox, tackles the Punjabi by stepping back behind the Punjabi army. Who wins the first round? After the AJK election, without doubt, President Zardari.

The PML-N was always uncomfortable with the rightwing media label of ‘friendly opposition’. The label was bestowed because the columnists-turned-anchors knew that the PML-N flourished on emotions of revenge and sadism based on past jurisprudence of intercourse of the two parties.

Nawaz Sharif was unwillingly sticking to what he thought would a new moderate image of an elderly statesman while the hawks – PML-N has rare doves – pulled him towards the hate-vote syndrome telling him he will lose an entire chunk of Punjab of the big-city market committees who cordially despised the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). ‘Friendly opposition’ rankled relentlessly although anywhere else in the world it would be a good ‘democratic’ image to cultivate.

Anyone with residual sanity will tell the Punjabi politician to lay off his stereotype drivel, but Punjabis don’t really care for advice. The PML-N came out like the alpha lion it is in the country; the PPP was the fox that survived through ambivalence (vis-�-vis the Army), surreptitious defiance (vis-�-vis the Supreme Court), and Benazir’s reconciliation (vis-�-vis PMLN).

The PML-N loosed Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah on PPP as a shot across the bow, warning of how Mian Sahib himself will launch the big salvo later on. Rana Sahib, expert at crossing limits, called his federal counterpart wajibul qatl (fit to be killed) and jumped in head first. Sindhi assembly rang with repartees arousing passions sleeping under the bromide of ‘reconciliation’.

At the centre, it was fire-breathing Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who attacked anything that moved in the PPP ramparts till it cloyed even the paan-sellers of Lahore. The PML-N was turning back to the days when the unsavoury job was done by now surprisingly disenchanted-by-PML-N and still hostile-towards-PPP, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad.

The fox in the presidential house came out too firing from both holsters on the occasion of the Benazir anniversary, making it look like the ‘Sindh card’ all over again. President Zardari began by calling Nawaz Sharif maulana with multiple innuendos contained in it: that he was the illicit political offspring of General Zia, that he was a covert abettor of the jihadi elements in Punjab that are killing Pakistan Army as henchmen of al Qaeda, and that he was aligning with Jamaat Islami in the Azad Kashmir polls.

There was also the clinching reference to the Pakistan Army whose prestige was bouncing back in the media after a low point reached in the wake of Abbottabad, Mehran Base and Saleem Shahzad. He knew the complex nature of a Punjabi army scared of a politician literally symbolising the power of Punjab. Army’s weakness, ironically, was its middle class dominated officers’ class mostly in thrall to the magic of Nawaz Sharif.

The Sindhi fox had tricked the non-intellectual Punjabi lion. Zardari said PPP will not be anti-army at the instigation of PML-N, a role-reversing remark that made many PML-N loyalists squirm in the presence of Nawaz Sharif. Here was a rank Sindhi disliked by the generals because of his Wikileaks double-dealing trying to cosy up to a predominantly Punjabi army. The PML-N camp saw the Zardari bouncer as an almost successful attempt to widen the gap between the army and the Sharifs.

Nawaz Sharif’s attempt at being subtle backfired on him. He thought by standing firm on the Commissions he was telling the army to distance itself from PPP, but that did not happen. The inner circle glowered and Mian Sahib was forced to bite his nails once again. So Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif with his familiar hyperbole was to declare that army was the crown of his head (sar ka taj) and its ‘jarnails’ were his brothers.

Mian Sahib’s loneliness is of his own creation. He pushed back all the white flags thrust at him, first by the Q League of Chaudhry Shujaat, then MQM willing to ditch PPP, and then the Pir of Pagaro trying to fell a Sindhi by a Sindhi ruse. There was also the eternal foe, Musharraf’s APML, saying awful things like Nawaz selling Kashmir down the river to Vajpayee, and a stubbornly menacing Imran Khan busily nibbling at his vote-bank.

The ordinary citizen in big city Punjab is becoming abusive while interacting with TV anchors. He directs abuse at the PPP and Zardari and the TV anchors simpers while weakly asking him to cool off, secretly realising that his gimmick of ‘friendly opposition’ had done the trick at the cost of de-civilising the dialogue in Punjab. No one thought about what the other provinces may feel because the other provinces are too small compared to Punjab.

The results of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) election in the last week of June have hurt Nawaz Sharif but it is hardly possible that he will realise what he has done by opening the floodgates of abuse. No revival-through-name-calling took place. But the irony is he will prime his guns even more to let his various designated enemies be treated to more salvos.

He shouldn’t have gone to AJK for campaigning as it broke the rules of code of conduct. He should have rejected the Election Commissioner’s policy off-setting the Muslim Conference leader Sardar Atique’s unauthorised riding of an official helicopter by allowing him and Prime Minister Gilani to enter AJK and make speeches of manifestly hollow promises.

What did he get out of it? The results proved once again AJK is hardly a good index of democracy in Pakistan. The PPP won enough seats to form the next government; the PML-N ended up as runner-up, just like Islamabad, promising aggressive if not violent in-house contest in the coming months. Nothing is permanent in AJK, especially governments. He can look forward to a toppling provided he mends with you-know-who.

In January 2008, the ruling Muslim Conference in AJK was split replacing Prime Minister Sardar Atique with Sardar Muhammad Yaqub after a no-confidence vote based on allegations of corruption and nepotism. As expected, Sardar Atique was left accusing the federal government of interfering in the politics of Azad Kashmir, warning it of instability in the region. Then after some time Sardar Yaqub too was toppled too, this with very little cosmetics. Kashmiris are not supposed to have a nationalism of their own.

In 2011, the campaigns were visceral and all the targets were below the belt. The polls were disturbed outside AJK where Kashmiris can have double votes, one for Pakistan and one for AJK. In Punjab, PPP and PML-N grappled each other like drunken wrestlers, kicked and slapped each other and fired off pistols in the air for the TV channels to cover. After the defeat, Sardar Atique ended up saying it was no poll but a ‘wrestling champions’ match (dangal) between the two big parties. Imran Khan, who stayed out of AJK polls, kept on saying it was ‘noora kushti’.

India ‘separated’ its own side of Kashmir through a clause in its Constitution, then proceeded to destroy its autonomous status through amendments. In Pakistan, the AJK Constitution contains an article that shifts the power away from the AJK Legislative Assembly to the Kashmir Affairs Ministry where a Kashmir Council presided over by the Prime Minister of Pakistan actually rules AJK, appointing all the crucial officials, including the Election Commissioner. Because of its ‘strategic importance’ AJK is in the grip of the ‘agencies’ that call the shots.

Politics of castigation is a favourite rightwing gimmick, but it never wins new converts; it simply solidifies the existing divisions. Is that a good thing for the PML-N? Apparently, yes, but without the democratic process of the vote-swing. The more the castigation the more difficult the governance, when you get your turn at it.

Source: The Friday Times



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