Senior Journalist Amir Mateen write this series on PPP four years ago for The News. The analysis was so prophetic and remains relevant even today.
The cruel joke is on Benazir
April 11, 2010
ISLAMABAD: Benazir Bhutto would not recognise her party if she were to see it today. It is no longer the Pakistan People’s Party that she inherited from her father and neither is it the one she may have wanted to bequeath to her children, or her party faithful. And anyone knowing Benazir’s passion would agree that hers must be a tortured soul today, anguished by the PPP’s deteriorating character, convoluted doctrines and altered structure. In a perverse manner, maybe it is better that she isn’t around to see the new PPP.
The first and foremost change is that of the faces calling the shots in the new-look PPP. Those in positions of primacy and power are not the ones who had struggled with her over decades. The new PPP’s prominent faces of Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Farooq Naik, Latif Khosa — are relatively late entrants, who had been kept in their place when Benazir was at the party’s helm. The overly made-up media maidens — fondly known as the triple ‘F’ by their detractors — would not have come within miles of the presidency had Benazir still been alive.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that the people Benazir respected for their staunch support for over three decades are now not even invited to party functions. It was sad, for instance, to see the suave Aftab Shaban Mirani, whom Benazir held in high regard, relegated to the back rows during Asif Ali Zardari’s coronation as president. Actually, for a while he stood in a corner for want of a chair till an old party worker offered him one out of respect. The front rows were all occupied by Zardari’s family (which, one should never forget, is different from the Bhutto clan) and the heavy-moustached friends of his days as a jail bird. Seating order, rather than the pecking order, may sound a like trivial issue to bring up in a political piece but it reflects clearly the treatment meted out to the old guard by the Presidency on that auspicious day and signalled the shape of things to come.
By now all this is evident; the PPP we see now is Zardari’s party and not the one nurtured by Benazir. The co-chairperson of the PPP treats his wife’s friends and close party colleagues with contempt. The name of Naseerullah Babar, who could say anything to Benazir, is hardly mentioned; Benazir’s friend and former MNA Amna Piracha’s husband Saleem died recently and Zardari did not even visit her residence to offer condolences; her childhood friends Samia and Salma Waheed are not welcome in the Presidency; and Benazir’s favourite cousin and friend Tariq Islam and his wife Yasmin are rarely invited either.
Zardari’s supporters can and do point out that Benazir too sidelined those who had been close to her father and brought in and promoted new faces. But it must be remembered that she did all this over a decade; it took her that long to change the party structure left behind by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
The famous ‘uncles’, Bhutto’s close party colleagues, were a handful for her. They treated her like a kid and thought that they, not she, should lead the PPP. Nonetheless, she did not shunt them out overnight. She retained the ones who accepted the change of command and gradually got rid of those who refused to accept it. Socialist ideologue Sheikh Rashid was given due respect in the PPP till the day he died. Sheikh Rafiq remained the party’s secretary for nearly a decade. The sons of the Makhdoom of Hala — Amin Fahim more than Khaliq — were also respected for the loyalty their family exercised towards the PPP leadership over the generations.
In fact, Benazir made sure that many of her father’s contemporaries were given more than just respect. Old timers such as Dr Ghulam Hussain were given party election tickets several times and Mairaj Khalid was made the National Assembly Speaker. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Rao Rashid and the incorrigible Jam Sadiq may have been phased out but Ghulam Mustafa Khar was forgiven and welcomed back each time the ‘lion of Punjab’ chose to sneak back like a cat to the PPP’s fold. In short, she always kept a fine balance between carrying on her father’s legacy and introducing her own structures, doctrines and policies to the PPP.
Zardari, on the other hand, works differently. He has changed everything — quickly and seemingly with a vengeance.
He has insulted and discarded the very people Benazir trusted. Amin Fahim being a case in point; even if Benazir had to refuse him the prime ministership or had to sideline him because of differences, she would have handled the situation more gracefully. (Rumour has it that the Makhdoom may just be whiling away time till the hour is ripe to part ways with the PPP.) Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbasi, the couple perhaps closest to Benazir, have been deemed party ‘untouchables’. Whoever goes near them is seen as ‘contaminated’ and hence banished from the power circle. They are monitored and their phones tapped round the clock. I saw a party worker tell an intelligence goon to include the names of a few ‘enemies’ in the list of people who meet Naheed Khan. They say this hate-list is the favourite read of President Asif.
Sherry Rehman is believed to have been cast out also on the basis of such manufactured intelligence. Raza Rabbani, another Benazir confidant, has been humiliated time and again and banished from the inner circle. If it was not bad enough that he was denied the Senate chairmanship, the president added insult to injury by acknowledging the services of Babar Awan for formulating the constitutional package instead of Rabbani, the real architect. Zardari, many say, draws a sadistic pleasure from such crude antics.
Such theatrics of the president merely reinforce the memory of Benazir’s generous heart and politician mind. For instance, she had disapproved of Aitzaz Ahsan’s somewhat independence stance on the sacking of the judiciary by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007, particularly in the earlier phase of the movement. But she never broke the channels of communication completely; in fact, in the end it was Ahsan who convinced her that it was in the PPP’s interests to support the movement. Zardari, on the other hand, has accepted the Chaudhry back grudgingly and he makes this obvious every now and then.
Similarly, the senior-most party stalwart, Afzal Sindhu has been replaced by Babar Awan a man with a dubious doctrata, a dubious past, and defeinitely dubious loyalty.Yousaf Talpur, Khalid Kharal, Malik Hakmeen, all of them were held in high esteem by Benazir and now they are ignored and scorned.
The only ones among the old guard who have slipped into the new era unscathed are Khurshid Shah, Naveed Qamar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi; they have adjusted to the new reality and are eating the proverbial ‘yogurt’ in their ministerial corners. Benazir’s closest associate Bashir Riaz, (Bash) who is shattered after Benazir, is contented to work on her life and achievements at the Bhutto Legacy Foundation.
It seems as if Zardari is avenging himself for all those days when Benazir’s close team gave him as much (political) importance as she wanted or he deserved which honestly speaking wasn’t much. He was practically sidelined from the party after his release from jail. In virtual exile, he was fated or rather compelled to live in New York stuck with very few playmates which included his two dogs, one Hussain Haqqani and 23 bank accounts. But then who knew that Benazir the political queen would suddenly die and Zardari would emerge as the king.
To be continued
Source: The News
Special Report: PPP (Part-II)
‘Aik Zardari, sub par bhari’
April 12, 2010
ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari may have overly rushed in turning the Bhuttos’ PPP into a Zardari fiefdom. Nearly all of Benazir’s close associates and the party’s old guard have been replaced. The network of Zardari family and friends is a political disaster, worse than what the cronies and relatives of the Chaudhries of Gujrat and the Sharifs promote in their Leagues. And this may have serious consequences for the PPP.
Not that this is a recent strategy of Zardari, he has been pushing his friends and family on the party since his marriage to the Daughter of the East, despite his earlier resolve not to enter politics. She gave a PPP ticket to Zardari’s father, Hakim Ali Zardari, for the 1988 election and made him the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee during her first tenure. Hakim Ali Zardari had left the PPP in 1977 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused him the ticket.
Both the father and son contested Zia’s 1985 non-party elections and lost badly. So much for their PPP credentials! Benazir accepted her father-in-law back in the PPP fold. Similarly, Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, was made the Nazim of Nawabshah in 2001 and 2005. Her husband, Munawwar Talpur, who had served as an MPA under Ziaul Haq, also contested elections on the PPP ticket and by 2002, he had been promoted to a National Assembly seat when his brother Mir Anwar Talpur too was given a ticket, but he lost. Zardari’s elder sister, Dr Azra Fazl Pechooho, also became a PPP MNA in 2002 and 2007.
Accepting and adjusting to a gaggle of in-laws is the lot of most brides in our part of the world and Benazir understood this. But in her case, her husband also expected her to welcome into her midst and her party fold his personal friends. This was the dowry that Zardari brought to the marriage. Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, his buddy from school days, was made an MNA in 1993. His wife, Fehmida Mirza, inherited this seat in 1997 when he absconded from the courts at the time. She has retained the seat since and is now the first female speaker of the National Assembly, while her husband — no longer an absconder — has laid claim to the all powerful post of the Sindh home minister (hampered only by the MQM). The tension on the streets of Karachi intensifies each time he opens his mouth.
Agha Siraj Durrani, a Sindh Assembly parliamentarian in 1988, is now the local bodies minister in the provincial government and his rapid ascent through the ranks of the PPP is due to his ‘Yaari’ with Zardari and not because of his credentials or hard work as a PPP Jiyala.
The list does not end here: friend Pir Mazharul Haq is the Sindh education minister besides being the party’s parliamentary leader in the provincial assembly; his brother, Pir Mukarram’s wife Farzana Raja, an MNA, is heading the multi-billion rupee Benazir Income Support Programme. The woman has divorced her hubby but because he is out of the power loop, she is in — and rather too deep. Friend Islamuddin Sheikh is a senator and his son, Nauman Sheikh, an MNA.
Power is concentrated in this lot that is also inter-related through marriages. The Mirzas are related to Pir Mazharul Haq, who in turn is related to Farzana Raja, who controls the BISP. The Pirs in turn are related to the Jams — Sindh Minister Saifullah and his MPA brother — who are related to many more in power.
While Benazir was alive, these people were allowed into the PPP, but prevented from running amok. Onlookers often spoke about a tug of war between the Benazir and Zardari camps. Both “camps” have existed within the PPP, but in the words of Rudyard Kipling, never the twain shall meet. One recent occasion when matters came to a head was in 2007: Zardari wanted his brother-in-law, Munawwar, to be given a National Assembly seat (instead of a provincial assembly seat) and Munawwar’s brother, Mir Anwar, a provincial assembly ticket. Benazir heeded the first request and dug her heels in on the second; the ticket that Zardari had his eyes on for Mir Anwar went to Yousuf Talpur’s son Taimoor.
A furious Zardari made hysterical calls from New York, shouting at everyone and anyone who was foolhardy enough to have answered his phone. This may be the reason why he has not forgiven Yousuf Talpur, a PPP veteran, who now lives his life on the outskirts of the party power circle.
Because of such incidents, the cabal of Zardari’s friends and family felt that they were held back because of Benazir’s advisers and close associates. And now that they are in power, they are settling the scores. Benazir’s life-long associates are easy prey for Zardari’s wrath and vengeance.
Not even Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani dares messing with the president’s friends. But it is difficult to forget that these friends include the people who were not even allowed to enter Benazir’s house or office. She disliked many of them. Benazir once got angry when Fehmida entered her office in Naudero without permission, because “the woman gives me a headache.”
But new leaders, new times and new favourites; the way to make one’s way to the top in the PPP is now to please the Zardari group. This is evident in the increasing size of Zardari’s pictures in the PPP posters; in contrast, Benazir’s image is shrinking. Even Bilawal’s picture is making fewer appearances. Earlier, he was needed, as the transition from the Bhuttos to the Zardaris was taking place. At the time of Benazir’s death, Zardari took over the party as a reluctant co-chairperson and a question mark hung over his, a non-Bhutto’s, acceptability in an essentially dynastic party. So, the son-in-law rode to power on the coat tails of his son. A ‘Bhutto’ Bilawal was made the chairman to lend credibility to Zardari. But now, the latter has taken over the party lock, stock and barrel. He showed similar reluctance when he took over a section of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in the early days of his marriage only to be later filled with the cronies like Javed Pasha and others.
No wonder then that the only way to go up and up in the PPP is to please Zardari. And an example of this is the great survivor, Jahangir Badr. It is widely known that at a party event, the PPP workers’ chanting “Charon Soobon Ki Zanjeer, Benazir, Benazir (Benazir is the linking chain among the four provinces)” was interrupted by Badr. He joined their chorus, replacing the name of Benazir with Zardari. And when someone pointed out to him that Zardari did not rhyme with ‘Zanjeer,’ he retorted: “Idiot, who cares about rhymes as long as it pleases the boss.” The rhymeless wonder is the party’s secretary-general now.
And herein lies the danger to the party. Benazir took 15 years to get herself accepted as a leader in her own right and not just the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Zardari has branded the PPP as his own in a far shorter period of time and without taking any of the old guard along. He is the co-chairperson sans any power-sharing and collective decision-making. How this may have or will impact the party, only time and the next elections will tell. Indeed, the new PPP slogan — Ikk Zardari, Sub Par Bhari — can be interpreted both ways. But it appears Zardari is not interested in any further elections for himself and the party he leads.
To be continued
Source: The News
Special Report: PPP — Part-3
Baji Faryal now running PPP, emulating Benazir
April 13, 2010
ISLAMABAD: The PPP, which survived the worst of three dictatorships, is ironically crumbling down in a democracy. Its leaders and workers withstood a lot over four decades: the hanging of its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; long imprisonments of its top leadership and workers; physical torture; the killing of Shahnawaz and Murtaza Bhutto under dubious circumstances ó and, of course, the ultimate trauma of Benazir’s assassination.
The party could resist and survive all this because of its love for the magic personality of Benazir and its organisational strength. There were multiple tiers of local, divisional, provincial and national leadership, not to forget the troublesome international wings. Let a bunch of Pakistanis gather in any city of the world and a PPP chapter would be launched.
Dictator Ziaul Haq’s biggest headache was that any corner of the world that he travelled to, he would find a dirty dozen of the PPP workers, hot on his heels, shouting slogans and protesting his appearance. Another dictator, Pervez Musharraf, was equally haunted by such placard-holding ‘Jiyalas’. And the internal bickering in, say, the Bradford chapter, was always as intense as it was in the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC).
The PPP is more a way of life than a party. It is a political organisation, which has adopted the local popular culture as its own. Its ritualism and symbolism are distinct; where else would you find a whole band of ‘Darvesh’ wearing the PPP’s tri-coloured flag and dancing to the tune of a Dhol? The PPP rallies were known more for the popular characters in the audience than for the speeches delivered by its leaders.
Take Majha, an atheist Jiyala from Lahore, who on the day Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed, looked up to the sky, pointed a finger at it and said in chaste Lahori: “I told you not to let them hang him; now, I will never say your prayers again.” Hence, Majha – the atheist. The Jiyalas have the tri-coloured tattoos, rings, scarves, clothes; one had ‘PPP’ carved on his chest with a knife. They are a quintessentially emotional, rowdy and a non-conformist lot. A cult, so to say.
Benazir turned this raw PPP energy into structures and forms. It took her over 30 years to devise a system in which she could cut across all tiers and communicate with the workers at the lowest rung. She was informed about the minutest details; she knew the PPP office-bearers in every Tehsil, their electoral history, and even about their wives and children. A charismatic leader, she left an impact on those she led and all the workers who had met her had a story to tell. The stories of what she ate, wore or said to, say, Sitara Baji in Denmark to Hassan Akhtari’s mother in Sahiwal.
Benazir stayed in touch, sharing joys and sorrows by sending birthday cards, wedding gifts, condolence messages and, the prized trophy, her signed photographs. She called party leaders at all levels personally, sent them emails and SMS messages, sometimes hundreds a day. When the workload became heavy, she became more selective about sending the replies herself, but for all intents and purposes, everyone thought she was the one responding.
She was very particular about the party structures at the district, divisional, provincial and national level. She may have worked through a kitchen cabinet, but she also gave a general sense of participation to the office-bearers at every level. And while she realised that the elected members were the face of the party for a certain section of society, she knew the provincial and district leadership was very important. She tried to maintain a balance between the two, but when needed, she tilted towards the latter. She ensured that the various party wings — women, labour, youth — and the committees on, say, foreign policy remained functional and effective. Benazir turned the party’s organisation into a well-run machine that survived the times, especially the bad ones. And herein lay the PPP’s strength.
That colossus of party organisation is now crumbling from within. Asif Ali Zardari has not even bothered to learn about the functioning of the party and its organisation, let alone doing something to retain or improve it. The two people who knew the system the most, Safdar Abbasi and Nahid Khan, have been banished from the party. The organisation has been thrown into absolute disarray. The provincial, divisional and district tiers stand alienated from the top leadership. While they could communicate their concerns and problems to Benazir, they have no access to Zardari in his bunker. Even elected members do not get the chance to meet him for months. He meets large groups occasionally but fleetingly. Asif Zardari opted to go to the Presidency instead of looking after Benazirís party, largely because he needed the immunity from criminal prosecution for the misdeeds of his haunted past.
Worse still is the fact that Zardari has left the party to his younger sister Faryal Talpur, who is generally addressed as the Baji, a title earlier reserved for Nahid. The new Baji, who had never practised politics outside Nawabshah during Benazirís life, now runs the biggest and the most important party of Pakistan, even though technically she only heads the PPPís women and youth wings. She chairs the meetings with the provincial and district leadership. The new Mantra is that: ìIf you know Baji, you have the key to the PPP inner circles.î
Old-timers sulk because Bajiís image is being built up to match Benazirís. She has been given Benazirís Larkana seat; she lives in her Naudero House; she has been declared the guardian of her children. PPP workers in Larkana, the Bhuttosí hometown, are upset to see posters in which Bajiís image is sometimes bigger than that of Benazir. But the problem is that Baji is no Benazir. She was a simple housewife, specialised in making the Sindhi Biryani, before Benazir made her the Nazim of Nawabshah. Faryal may miss party functions but makes sure she attends the weddings of real estate tycoons.
The partyís organisation is in a shambles. The CEC meetings were known for its intense debates as Benazir allowed everybody to speak their mind and rather boldly. Not any longer, as Zardari has inducted his favourites like Zulfiqar Mirza and his wife Fehmida, Pir Mazharul Haq, Manzoor Wassan, Qazi Sultan, Farooq Naik to the committee; the meeting is called rather late in the evening at about 9 pm; lavish food is served; the meeting starts at 10 pm and barely lasts for two hours. The only people maintaining the earlier tradition of speaking their minds are Aitzaz Ahsan, Safdar Abbasi, Yousuf Talpur and Raza Rabbani.
It is worse in the provinces. The Punjab PPP is clearly divided between the camps of Provincial President Rana Aftab and Senior Minister Raja Riaz ó the Rana camp is tilted towards Governor Salman Taseer while the Raja is siding with Shahbaz Sharif. All the Punjab office-bearers, except for the president, are from Lahore, including Secretary General Samillah Khan, Secretary Finance Aurangzeb Burki, Deputy Secretary General Usman Salim and Information Secretary Dr Fakhruddin. Zardariís man in the Punjab is Governor Taseer, a person who was in the Musharrafís Cabinet the day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. He is trying to run the party from the Governorís House.
In Sindh, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah is the provincial PPP president only on papers. The party is actually controlled by Zardariís friends—Zulfiqar Mirza, Pir Mazharul Haq and Agha Siraj Durrani. Cricket crazy Taj Haider is the secretary general, but he is more a showpiece without any real powers.
To be continued
Source: The News
Special Report-PPP IV
Who’s who in the invisible govt of Zardari
April 14, 2010
ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari looks taller by readily giving away his powers through the 18th Amendment. But this may have been one of the smartest moves that he ever made.
Beneath this faÁade of a seemingly powerless Presidency lurks the most potent political and administrative machinery this country has ever seen. He has got twice the size of senior bureaucrats overseeing his invisible government than Musharraf had. The dictator was often accused of running the entire show from the Presidency and his prime ministerial troika was dubbed as a mere rubber stamp. But Musharraf only had four director generals of grade 20. Zardari’s administrative colossus has five additional secretaries of grade 21 (Zaid Zaman, Shahzad Arbab, Ishaq Lashari, Zafar Qadir and his press secretary Taimoor Azmat); the sixth slot vacated recently by Abdul Shafiq who got promoted as Secretary is to be filled; Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chauhana gets the equivalence of additional secretary as legal consultant; Additional Secretary Hassan Javed of the Foreign Office has been replaced by Director General, Farrukh Amil; and at the top is Secretary to the President, Asif Hayat. There is a team of baboos and finally, at the top of this pyramid sits a super babu.
The team of baboos runs the invisible government of Zardari where they get a soft copy of every important file — involving lucrative deals, leases, exemptions, quotas, awards of contracts, important transfers and postings — from every ministry, division, or corporation. A discreet system has been devised where a copy (called “soft” because it is not officially required and acknowledged) of every important file from every government department lands at the Presidency. Once it is approved at the Presidency, after the “deal” they say, the message is conveyed to the concerned department or ministry either on telephone or through a coded message like, say, a green “tick” mark.
A huge structure of government officials is maintained at the Presidency and nothing escapes them. The size of the Presidency is almost double the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. The PM Secretariat has four additional secretaries of grade 21 and a recently promoted, out of turn, principal secretary, Nargis Sethi.
Nargis is the junior most official ever posted as principal secretary, which is considered as the pinnacle of bureaucracy. She serves the purpose as being so inexperienced and junior she cannot resist the mighty team of baboos in the Presidency. The reason for maintaining so many senior officials at the Presidency is that seniority brings access to a dedicated “green” telephone. They can simply call the ministries for the movement of “important” files up and down and convey the approval and disapproval of any project, transfer or contract. No questions asked; no proofs whatsoever.
Zardari has been smart enough to keep the team of baboos. Learning from their earlier experience, which resulted in them ending up in jails and exiles, they have tailored a system which will not leave a single proof of any irregularity this time around.
The team of baboos has organised his administrative mammoth so well that nothing gets done without it. The additional secretaries have been kept under the guise of administration, coordination, establishment, human development, infrastructure, foreign and legal affairs. Each official is actually given charge of a province along with a long list of divisions and projects. For instance, Additional Secretary Ishaque Lashari has to monitor the Sindh province and the Cultural Division, the Environment Division, the Education Division, HEC, the Food and Agriculture Division, the Health Division, the Overseas Pakistanis Division, the Housing and Works Division, the Human Rights Division, the Labour and Manpower Division, the Livestock and Dairy development Division, the Population Welfare Division and the list is endless. He ensures that not a single thing is approved in these divisions without a nod from the Presidency.
The 18th Amendment has taken away the powers Zardari could not use. He knew that he did not have the political strength to remove or change the chief of army staff; nor could he remove or change the chief justice as proved by events; and nor did he have the strength to dissolve the Parliament. And he also knew where he drew his power from and you know what? That invisible government stays-and is thriving.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, one must say, is “game” to this whole system. He maintains a faÁade of sometimes being “independent” and resisting the presidential overtures. But on the inside he lets Zardari run the government with occasional “chunks” from the booty thrown his way as well.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said he was not aware of the “invisible government” but confirmed the placement of all the government machinery at the Presidency. Babar being a straight and honest soul would not know of such mechanisms. He is not drawing any salary and is using his own car, fuel and even telephone. Many others like the president’s Political Secretary Rukhsana Bangash, Hisham Riaz (the son of the recently imprisoned FIA’s Ahmad Riaz Sheikh), Farahnaz Ispahani will also claim that they are not drawing any salary but they enjoy the perks of the Presidency with a relish. A battalion of “go-betweens” of the invisible government, named as unofficial advisors, hangs out permanently at the Presidency. The most important of them all, Dr Qayyum Soomro, is known to be the person “who gets things done.” The most sought after person in Pakistan, Soomro, a former jail doctor, had dedicated his life to bringing “biscuits and pastries” for the president’s guests. Zardari once scolded him for not serving me tomato sauce when I visited him at the courts. He is believed to have kept a visa of Afghanistan and a vehicle ready on the border to whisk him away from the “ECL eyes” if push comes to shove at some stage.
The “hangers-on” never leave the Presidency in the hope that they might attract the eyes or the ears of the president at any time of the day or night. They do not have offices in the Presidency but are looking for any chunks from the invisible government. Waqar Ali Khan, whose family has a way of getting into the Senate through “golden brief cases” is a bona fide “hanger-on.” Musharraf, despite his love for cronyism, did not make this one a minister. The credit goes to the “People’s Party” for making him part of the cabinet. He almost made it to the Finance Ministry. Imagine a cat guarding milk. The rest of the list of “hangers-on” is long, the most active among them being Abida Hussain’s daughter, Sughra Imam, Jamil Soomro, Mehrin Raja, Farzana Raja and Kamal Majidullah.
The biggest circus at the Presidency goes in the media section. The media is accustomed to having the good old Farhatullah around from the difficult years when his office did not even have proper chairs. Come power, a whole band of media handlers have jumped in. Farahnaz Ispahani watches the interest of her company, which the Haqqani couple claims they have disowned on paper, than of the President.
Dr Qayyum Soomro also arranges the president’s meetings with journalists, mostly with his own types though. Farzana and Fauzia also delve into media affairs. The team of baboos has brought in Taimoor Asmat as president’s press secretary. He is the same person that Pervaiz Elahi deputed for PPP’s vilification in the last election. Interestingly, he is obliging the same media company that was earlier banned for its malpractices. But this is the criterion that makes Zardari’s team shine out.
Source: The News
Special Report PPP—(Part V)
Confused workers have nowhere to go, lost without identity
April 15, 2010
ISLAMABAD: The PPP workers have never felt as dispirited and lost as they do today. The reasons are emotional, political and material. But the foremost is the issue of identity. The party workers are confused as to what do they stand for; whether they should go along with the public support for the judiciary or back the position that Asif Ali Zardari and a coterie of his friends have taken against it. Who are they fighting for and who are they against? Contradictions abound.
Benazir Bhutto fought against Pervez Musharraf for over a decade yet Zardari continues the general’s policies and relies on men who worked with him such as Tariq Aziz. Benazir signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with Nawaz Sharif but Zardari opposed it for nearly two years; he tried to unsuccessfully dislodge the PML-N government yet the PPP remains in Shahbaz Sharif’s coalition government. A similar ‘now on, now off’ policy is practised towards the PML-Q as well. Benazir never joined hands with the children of Zahoor Elahi but Zardari came close to forming a coalition government with them in the Punjab. PML-Q stalwarts such as Sumera Malik have been frequent visitors to the Presidency. Benazir took a strong position against religious militants; she declared the Taliban the biggest scourge against Pakistan in her last speech. Yet the current PPP government, like the PML-N, has toned down its rhetoric against religious extremists. The political mentor of Taliban, JUI, is still a close ally in the centre as well as in Balochistan. The PPP’s traditional fight against the mullahs is a thing of the past.
The socialist ideology was long gone but Benazir retained the image that the PPP stood for the masses-at least in words if not in deeds. It had always appealed to the masses; that a PPP government would actually bring a change was a belief that existed more in the realm of psychology than reality. When the party came into power, workers felt empowered; a certain festivity of dance and frolics prevailed; the standards of liberal values were loosened; an ordinary person felt as if he could look a constable in the eye.
A PPP worker was a distinct species-somebody who would lie down before a minister’s car; forcibly enter the leadership’s offices; gatecrash elitist functions; threaten to burn himself with petrol if his problem was not heeded. That the elite sections of the party would tolerate the crude scuffling of the masses was the PPP culture. But it is not any longer. The PPP workers are completely disconnected from the elitist coterie of the new leadership. A wide schism has developed between the two classes. The workers are angry and desperate.
They are also angry because the investigation of Benazir’s assassination has gotten nowhere. A whole generation of the PPP workers grew up with her as part of their life and they are still traumatised by her loss. New slogans were noticed at her last anniversary: “Na roti, Na kapra, Na ghar chahiyay, humko BB kay qatil ka sar chahiyay.” Another said: “BB hum sharminda hain, tairay qatil zinda hain.” The workers openly question the logic of tasking the investigation to the UN while the party is in power. Shakil Anjum, a journalist specialising in crime investigation, has pointed out serious flaws in the process in his recent book ‘Who Assassinated Benazir Bhutto.’ He says that the reports prepared by Crime Investigation Department and by Major (R) Shafqat Mahmood of the Special Investigation Group have not been included in the investigation material.
All the players who were responsible for Benazir’s security have been either retained or promoted, as were also the ones involved in Murtaza Bhutto’s killing. Then DPO Rawalpindi Saud Aziz was particularly sought by the prime minister for his home constituency of Multan after being promoted. SSP Yasin Farooq and DSP Ishtiaq Hussain Shah continue to be posted in Rawalpindi where Benazir was killed. Interior Secretary Kamal Shah was retained for two years. All those who were in-charge of Benazir’s security—Rehman Malik, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig (R) Javed Cheema, are still thriving.
This, however, is not the end of the workers’ woes. They are also angry because they feel that they have not gained anything from voting for their party. PPP workers had legitimate expectations to be compensated as the party returned to power after 12 long years yet they are excluded from the perks and power circle. As a result, the stories of corruption by the top PPP leadership pain them more.
PPP workers were known for hitting back if one said something against the party or its leaders. One could not talk logically to the ‘jiyalas’ as they had come to be known. They would not tolerate any criticism whether it was of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s excesses or drinking habits; they also ignored Benazir’s faults that might have led to the downfall of her two governments or even Zardari’s corruption or philandering. Right or wrong, it was their party — period. Not any longer. You tell them one story against the party or Zardari and they will add five more to it. After all, Zardari owned the Surrey Palace in the end and he also claims the money in Swiss accounts. The only issue in the courts is whether or not these are ill-gotten gains.
On top of everything, Zardari has this attitude of insulting and deriding workers as well as the top leaders, sometimes publicly. He runs the presidential affairs as if it was some cricket club or his family-owned Bambino Cinema. He has this habit of calling world leaders and local functionaries directly, something that almost caused the war with India over the alleged call from their foreign minister. Recently, trying to call a minister, Zardari somehow got connected to his PA to whom he said “Ullu kay pathay, it’s the president.”
“The president cannot be so obnoxious; please learn some manners,” responded the PA only to learn later that it was really the president.
The party is not consulted on major issues; the PPP secretariat is virtually closed under the aegis of the once socialist Chaudhry Manzoor who is now busy in ‘capitalist’ pursuits. Zardari has not come out of what is called ‘the jail syndrome’ and the joke in town is that it’s a government of “prisoners, mushaqqatis and mulaqatis.” Each one of those at the helm of power—-Dr Asim Hussain, Ahmad Mukhtar, Rehman Malik, Babar Awan, Farooq Naik, Riaz Lalji, Zulfiqar Mirza-belong to this exclusive club. Most of them enjoy dual nationality. They have no stake in this country and may not have any qualms while leaving it again. Zardari does not have Benazir’s credentials or a fraction of her charisma; and he will not let anybody else from the party come forward. This leaves nothing but a bleak future not just for the party but for the entire polity, in which the PPP held up one side of the political pendulum for the last 40 years.
A plethora of questions haunt what was Pakistan’s biggest party for over 40 years: Where is the party headed? Is Bhutto’s party finally over? Will the party survive in its present shape till Master Bilawal grows up and learns some Urdu? How will it fare in the next elections? Will there be a major schism in the party? What will be the future of Zardari?
The chances of a major schism in the PPP are few as long as the party is in power. Everybody in it is out there to get the best share possible of the power largess. Come next elections, or whenever the PPP loses power, and a lot of daggers will come out. The PPP might rebel against Zardari or it might split into factions ala the PML. Many more might join the small band of dissidents – Safdar Abbasi, Raza Rabbani, Yousaf Talpur, Amin Fahim-led perhaps by Aitzaz Ahsan.
Whatever the situation, the PPP will survive for a while but its base might be reduced to Sindh, akin to the ANP in Pakhtunkhwa or the MQM in urban Sindh. However, one cannot say the same about Zardari’s future.
So far, he may have survived a trial because of his presidential exemption. Even if he continues to be spared from the trial, what will happen the day his presidential tenure is over? Either he will strike a new deal or he will go, in the words of Faiz, “from the house of his beloved straight to the gallows.” He himself says so: “My place is either in the President’s House or in jail.” The clock is ticking.
Source: The News