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Special Report PML (Q, K, W, L, J, Z, F, M, P...)

By Amir Mateen Islamabad--- Mohammad Ali Jinnah must be turning in his grave at the A to Z of Muslim League factions that are using his name and integrity for their political perpetuation -- and what not. Successive dictatorships have raped the Quaid’s party so repeatedly that it is difficult to keep track of all the illegitimate offspring. Dictator Ayub Khan used corruption to create his basic democrats. Dictator Ziaul Haq gathered a team with a rightist bent of mind, who in the name of Islam, were supposed to anoint him Ameerul Momineen of not just Pakistan but the entire ummah. But Dictator Pervez Musharraf has beaten his predecessors fair and square by leaving behind a number of Muslim League leftovers that have nothing in common with each other. In the waste that he left behind, there are, exceptions apart, new and old political opportunists who took another shot at multiplying their riches; lobbyists of the various cartels; industrialists who built empires on loan defaults; shrieking damsels who were raised to giddy heights despite their glaring dumbness; wheelers and dealers who thrived on quotas, leases, exemptions and licenses worth billions of rupees; real estate swindlers, stock manipulators, fraudsters, cronies --- and these are just a few of the characters. The biggest group of Musharraf’s political orphans, these days, is led by the Quaid’s modern day avatar, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. He is the second jat from the Warraich tribe of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to rule in this part of the world (a third, Warraich Aitezaz Ahsan, may have missed his chance). His prime ministership may have lasted a mere three months but this did not stop Chaudhry Shujaat and the cabal of his family and friends from exercising the most power during the Musharraf’s years. Come to think of it lots of bad things happened during those nine years. Billions were made in stock scams, sugar scandals, Pakistan Steel Mills irregularities, real estate concessions and arms purchases. Indeed, the commando left behind a mountain of corruption, which does need to be investigated. Musharraf is gone for good but somebody needs to answer for all those evils. It’s akin in a way to the end of the Second World War when Herr Hitler committed suicide, cheating the rest of Europe from holding him responsible for the havoc that had been wreaked. The world needed heads to roll. So his senior nazi comrades were tried at Nuremberg and then jailed and some executed. Something of that sort seems to be happening in this country at the moment. The Chaudhries know the game is over for them. They were at the height of their power when they were trounced in the last elections. Come next elections, they will be reduced to a ‘tonga party’ like the rest of the PML factions. They know this and they want to hang on till they are either taken back by the Nawaz Group or can merge with the PPP or a third political force emerges that they can then jump over to. No wonder then that what the Chaudhries of Gujrat face these days is not politics but a battle for survival. For too long they have survived without genuine accountability. In the last 30 years they have been in opposition only for the three years of Benazir Bhutto’s second government. Every other political family that came into the industry has had to pay the price at one stage or another. Not the Chaudhries. How have they managed it? They kick up so much fuss over a minor accusation or criticism by the media that others back out. Pervaiz Elahi holds a press conference which their journalist ‘loyalists’ ensure gets flashed in the news. They make calls to editors-owners of media groups to make amends. They specialise in creating so much chaos that every one gets confused over the facts. They have a documented answer for every question or every scam they have been accused of—whether this be the infamous cooperatives scandal; loan defaults on their mills; human trafficking; sale of the Roberts farm in Rahimyar Khan; purchases of huge property abroad, just to name a few. Their file work is immaculate and they have used their power to extract evidence in their defence by all means possible. Hurl a small accusation, criticism or even an innuendo at them and they will provide clearance letters from banks; certificates of appropriateness from chartered accountants; court decisions; assembly records. They may even have a certificate from the imam of their local mohallan Bhangian mosque, attesting that the Chaudhries are Muslims who pray five times a day and are as innocent as the day they were born. All hopes rest on the trial of the former head of the Bank of Punjab, Hamesh Khan, at the Supreme Court. He might spill the beans about the Chaudhries’ possible involvement in a multi-million dollar scam. But one never knows as they have their ways of wiggling out of such situations. Were they wise, lucky or blessed? A little bit of everything. The Chaudhries have been smart enough to devise an entire system which allowed them to rise from the ashes to become one of the most powerful and richest families in the country. Here is a slice of their wisdom as practised in handling journalists. They became adept at the art of media ‘management’ much before the Sharif brothers learnt the ropes. Zahoor Elahi bought the progressive papers trust, which owned The Pakistan Times and Imroze at the time when Ayub nationalised them. But that did not deliver results because the journalistic greats of that time did not submit to their demands. Since then the family has been applying the philosophy well expressed by Sheeda Tully (no relation to Mark Tully) in a short sentence. When asked why he never got married, he said: “Why buy a cow when you can purchase milk in market?” (Feminist Tahira Abdulla is yet to raise the flag over this.) The Chaudhries have always been ‘generous’ to journalists. The crude lot receives every month’s papers along with the photo of their Quaid—hence Q League— while the honest ones are obliged in kind. In Ramazan a truckload of ration is delivered at the homes of the ‘needy journalists’, sweets and fruits on eid, and ‘envelopes’ on special occasions. They share the happy and sad moments of our community with a religious zeal. Salami money given on our family weddings can range from 25 grand to six digit amounts, depending on the journalist’s worth. They lend a helping hand during health emergencies, burials and even auspicious events such as circumcisions. I have known Chaudhry Shujaat to compensate many hapless hacks who lost their cars, furniture or even wives. He paid for the medical tuition of the child of an overly tanned Lahore Editor and there are his counterparts in Islamabad who are ‘fortunate’ enough to get burgled every year. The news is then flashed with regular monotony in the papers and the generous Chaudhry coughs up enough dough to account for the entire loss. But the crude lot is liked the best because the Chaudhries can count on them. A known TV anchor was invited by the elder Chaudhary at his residence. He suggested a particular political line of thinking that he wanted to be conveyed in media. And then he tried to give her a bag full of money, saying that she should accept it because “toon meri pehn hain.” She got upset and walked out in protest. The next day half of TV anchors were parroting the exact quotes that she had refused to convey. There have been many occasions when lists got distributed about journalists and their ‘earnings’. A register is maintained by one Sufi for every transaction made and I once had the honour of going through the list; Sufi was dozing. But their generosity is spread far and wide. Be it a CSP officer or one from the army, or a politician with potential who has passed by 50 miles of Gujrat – everyone has been obliged. Such people are cultivated through their career for one never knows when they may pay back in kind. One Tariq Aziz led to more profit than could be reaped by investing in promising kids with bright futures ahead of them. There are many more like him embedded all round to help the Chaudhries in future crises. Such devout and god fearing people and here I am defaming them, as poet, political advisor, humourist, diplomat, journalist, Pir Attaul Haq Qasmi has pointed out so well in his column about me. Munoo Bhai’s peom ‘Hajay Qayamat Nahi aai’ seems so relevant. And to find out how this Gujrati Cosa Nostra is now crumbling down, you will have to wait till tomorrow

The changing politics of Nawaz Sharif

Saturday, March 27, 2010
By Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s slip of the tongue about requesting the Taliban to spare the Punjab may have triggered graver concerns as to the inner thinking of the party supposedly in waiting to hold power in Islamabad. The changing style of Nawaz Sharif’s cult politics, the pointed-top organisational pyramid and his party’s ambivalent position on crucial issues like the growing religious militancy and terrorism, the security paradigm, economic revival, and stance towards the US, India and Afghanistan necessitates more explanations than are available from the second biggest party of Pakistan.

The PML-N offers a vague one-size-fits-all policy on most issues. The idea is to keep the mainstream swing voters in a flux and show the real teeth once the levers of power are in control. The same strategy is in practice within the party where nobody knows who is going to do what in a future power set-up. A deliberate chaos has been created where all PML-N leaders are saying all things to all people. The real position, if there is one, is only known to Nawaz Sharif.

The party is likely to perform better than its earlier governments, if their hopes of returning to power in Islamabad materialize, or definitely better than the PPP government. But the PML-N is far short of the nirvana its sympathisers are hoping it to deliver.

The PML-N, to be fair, has fought a historic fight and bounced back from a near oblivion to stake its claim for a third round of power in Islamabad. It seems to have learnt a few lessons this time around. There has not been a major corruption scandal against the party. The PML-N seems to have developed respect for public opinion as shown in the case of supporting the judiciary movement and also by sacking elected members when found on a wrong foot. It has supported a democratic continuity and has refrained from becoming a tool in the hands of the establishment to dislodge the PPP government in the Centre — even after the provocative dissolution of their government in the Punjab. The party took a firm stance against the Army’s involvement in politics and did not fall in line to please the Americans overly.

Nawaz Sharif stands taller as a political leader with his closest rivals, after Benazir’s assassination, placed at a distant second position. He has the longest tenure in power than Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and even dictators Ayub, Zia and Musharraf. In his 27-year political career, he has been in power for 13 years — two years as Punjab minister, five years as Punjab chief minister and almost six years as twice prime minister.

Yet we still don’t know enough about him. What are his habits; his likes and dislikes? What does he read, if at all he does? There is more emphasis on his food habits than his mental and intellectual growth, particularly after his return from exile. What are his perceptions about the rapidly changing Pakistan and the world around him?

All we know is that Nawaz Sharif has been sucked into alarmingly dynastic politics of his family, his Kashmiri clan and few loyalists. The involvement of his family in politics and decision-making continues to grow.

First, it was just Nawaz Sharif. Then brother Shahbaz Sharif came along followed by Abbas Sharif, who did a stint as member of the National Assembly. There was always some issue about their late father Mian Sharif’s role as a guide from the back seat. Nawaz Sharif’s exile created a situation where his wife Kalsoom had to enter politics and exposed the next generation of the Sharifs to politics. Nawaz Sharif’s eldest Hussain was put in jail and younger Hassan had to travel all over the world for seeking help for the family.

The two brothers are out of active politics but son-in-law Safdar has entered the arena with an extra vigour. Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza learnt the ropes of politics through tough times in jail and has since joined active politics. His younger brother Salman is also politically ambitious and wants to join this charade of family grandees. Shahbaz Sharif’s third wife Tehmina Durrani, an author and an able person in her own right, is believed to be quite an influence on his political thinking. Ishaq Dar is also in the family after his son got married to Nawaz Sharif’s daughter.

If this jigsaw of family tree in politics was not enough, the involvement of the larger Kashmiri clan makes it more complicated. Kashmiris, they say, have a common grandmother. This web of distant relatives commands much more power than earlier, particularly in the central Punjab. MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq is handy as a helping hand to manage Lahore and so are his MPA wife Asma and MPA brother Salman. Another Kashmiri Khawaja Ehsan is prominent all around and so are Sohail Zia Butt and his MNA son Omer in Lahore. Ghulam Dastgir and his MNA son Khurram oversee Gujranwala; Sher Ali and his MNA son Abid control Faisalabad, while Khawaja Asif is the ultimate authority in the affairs related to Sialkot — and much beyond.

It is widely believed in Lahore that if your name has a suffix of Kashmiri castes like Butt, Mir, Lone, Khawaja, Dar or Banday, you have a better chance of your grievance being addressed. The joke around town is that, like the clannish Chaudharies of Gujrat who tried to envision ‘Jattistan,’ the new move is to create the Islamic Republic of Butt-istan.

In the earlier PML phase, most political heavyweights like Gohar Ayub, Ejazul Haq, Majid Malik, Sheikh Rashid, Chaudhary Shujaat had grown in politics together with Nawaz Sharif. They had the collective weight to exercise more participation in decision-making. The crucial decision-making in the new PML-N is confined to a small number of close family members. The only outsiders with some weight are Chaudhary Nisar, Ahsan Iqbal and Pervaiz Rashid. All three of them have learnt the ways to survive in the dominant Kashmiri culture where food is discussed more than foreign policy.

Others like Raja Zafarul Haq, Zulfiqar Khosa, Tehmina Daultana, Mehtab Abbasi, Ghous Ali Shah are given lots of respect but this is more ceremonial than concrete. Everybody knows that Javed Hashmi is out of favours yet nobody talks about it. It is only in muted whispers that people will tell you that he was almost sold out to hijack PML while Nawaz Sharif was abroad. Everybody will deny this on record but it is obvious that he is given a cosmetic respect.

The ultimate decision making power, everybody agrees, is Nawaz Sharif. He forms an opinion by discussing things with the members of the family, clan and a handful of loyalists. A facade of consultation is devised where party elders are asked for their opinions. In nine cases out of 10, they try to give the opinion, which they think the great leader has already arrived at.

Nawaz Sharif then makes announcements, which are final. Nobody dares question his word and never in public. Welcome to democracy — the PML-N style.

To be continued

Part 2

Don’t try deciphering Pir Nawaz Sahib-II

Sunday, March 28, 2010
By Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif in his role as the Quaid of the PML-N has placed himself a degree higher than mundane leadership. A deliberate aura has been created where he is presented almost as a cult leader with his devotees, their eyes shining with respect, are not encouraged to question his great wisdom. He is revered like a Pir, more in the fashion of MQM’s Altaf Bhai than the leader of a mainstream democratic party.

The party is drifting fast from the culture of collective leadership to a One-Man decision-making body. The party’s organisational structure stands dissolved since last year. The earlier structure, still displayed on the party website, has 60 plus Nadir Pervaiz as in-charge of Youth Affairs, another 45 plus Rana Ashraf heads the student wing; Chartered Accountant Ishaq Dar is the President of International Affairs.

PML-N Spokesman Pervaiz Rashid is hopeful that the new organisational structure will be in place by June. The party leadership, on the contrary, does not seem in a rush to accomplish the deadline. It suits Nawaz Sharif as this allows him to keep the reins of power in his hands. He can issue commands from his recluse in Raiwind without having to commit himself on issues. This may be one of the reasons that he did not contest the recent by-elections to become the leader of the opposition. Absolute power or the present arrangement of being in power in the Punjab and in opposition in Islamabad suits him better.

The problem is that the world outside is not being allowed enough to peek into his mind. We don’t know his new perceptions on crucial issues and what his ascent to power will mean for Pakistan, the region and the world. There is a well thought-out strategy to block extra exposure of him. He appears in crowded press conferences on special issues where there is little chance of exploring his mind in other areas. Interviews are rare and granted only either to ‘likeminded’ journalists or to those who are likely to give positive impression on specified issues. His media managers generally ask for the list of questions and have sometimes asked not to probe on, let’s say, the Taliban or the US. There have been instances when Nawaz Sharif stopped the interview half way because the questioner slightly delved into a no-go area.

Journalists complain that the PML-N, in contrast to the thick skinned PPP, is over-sensitive and over-reacts even on minor criticism. This view was shared by six senior editors and news directors of major TV channels in an informal gathering the other day. A web of mystery and enigma shrouds Nawaz Sharif. Nobody suggests that a person who has been in power for so long could be less than extraordinarily intelligent. But if you try to double check if there has been any addition to Nawaz Sharif’s great wisdom or if you delve into a no-go-area of the family or the clan, you should be ready for a nasty response.

A top PML-N leader was asked simple questions about Nawaz Sharif’s children and as to what they were doing. The gentleman gave some information reluctantly, his tone betraying that he did not like the line of questioning. When asked how many wives and children does Shahbaz Sharif have, he flared up instantly. It took some effort to explain that when a politician offers him or herself for a public life, he or she may not have the same rights to secrecy as a private citizen does. He was asked that if Mustafa Khar’s wives and Asif Zardari’s philandering could be discussed, why could not a journalist ask a benign question about, what the number of wives and children the chief minister of the biggest province may have. The question becomes more pertinent when the public has to borne the expense for the security of several official residences. There is the grand official residence renovated by Pervaiz Elahi for criminally massive expense, now being used for the CM Secretariat; the residences of the CM’s first wife in Defence and the third wife’s in Gulberg; the ancestral home in Model Town and the royal state of Jatti Umrah in Raiwind. Half his time for ‘great governance’ gets wasted shuttling among them. So how about his second wife?

He banged the phone down, only to call again after five minutes to apologise over his “blood pressure” and to request that his name be withheld. The parting shot was: “Khaba Khaayay kissi din (Let’s eat some day).” This was a typical PML-N response, almost like the ‘mitti pao’ (bury it down) creed of PML-Q.

There is a whole rent-a-journalist service available where key members are manoeuvred to be placed on key jobs in media groups. They have a licence to score even with anybody who dares to cross the line. It was created in the 1980s, Alhamdulillah, by the PML of that time, and perfected by Mushahid Hussain in the 1990s and then ruthlessly used by the Musharraf government against its founders. The service is all set to be used again next time they are in power in Islamabad.

The problem with Nawaz Sharif is that he thinks that if you are not with him, you are against him. He actually asked me and Dawn’s Zaffar Abbass in Parliament corridors: “I can’t understand which side you are on.” I recall Zaffar saying that we take it as a compliment. Perhaps, Nawaz Sharif needs to judge journalists in black and white terms. There is a whole brigade of new media waiting for them. Until then, Khaba Khao.

To be continued

Part 3

Special Report-PML-N Part-III

It takes more than Jalib to be progressive

Monday, March 29, 2010
By Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: With the media overly focused on the PPP, Nawaz Sharifís PML has been sneakily enjoying the best of both worlds — power in the Punjab and opposition in Islamabad. The about turn on the constitutional package has exposed the larger problems of the PML-Nís decision-making apparatus. Nawaz Sharifís quirkiness may just be the tail of the elephantine mess of politically incorrect trends and contradictions developed in the last two years.

The PML-N has become increasingly the Punjab — some say Lahore — centric. It did not get enough seats in the last elections from provinces other than the Punjab because, admittedly, it did not get enough time to campaign. It continues to take other provinces for granted. As if they are bound to fall into the PML-N’s lap just because of the PPPís dismal performance and the PML-Qís virtual ouster from the electoral ring. This may not be true. The PML-N took credit in the past for bringing ethnic, religious and nationalist parties into mainstream politics. It was partners with parties like the MQM, the ANP, the JUI, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the BNM and the BNP at one time or another, but stands totally isolated now.

It has a war with the MQM; a tussle with the ANP over the renaming of the NWFP; tension with the JUI-F as Maulana Fazlur Rehman feels more comfortable with its coalition partner Asif Zardari; fight with the Jamaat-e-Islami as proven in the recent Lahore by-election; and no political relations with the Baloch nationalists who are in coalition with the PPP in Quetta. It has become more a symbol of division than cohesion.

The isolation is less because of policies than the arrogance that oozes out of top PML-N leaders. They are so confident about a repeat of 1997 when they got their famous ëheavy mandateí in the next elections that they think they do not need anybody. A culture of sycophancy that was the hallmark of their two earlier governments, contributing to their fall, has already seeped in. With a vengeance, they say.

A former principal secretary, who thought he was ultimate in sweet talk, said he was outsmarted recently by a former ambassador who advises Nawaz on foreign policy, rather badly I must say. Nawaz was musing that “if I became the prime minister” when suddenly his words were hijacked by the ambassador. ìHow can you say If prime minister,” he protested so loudly that everybody was taken aback. Nawaz tried to move on but the ambassador did not let him proceed until he conceded that he was the prime minister, already was and will always be. He was addressed as prime minister during exile and, they say, he still likes it.

The joke in the party is that his best adviser is his masseur because he knows which words to say by pulling which nerve. And there are lots of ëpolitical malashiasí around. The likes of man mountain Sohail Zia Butt are welcomed in the court because they provide comic relief to the ‘PM’.

A policy of convenient amnesia is practised where principles are increasingly compromised at the altar of expediency. The PML like-minded group of 53 Punjab MPAs (basically Q turncoats) has been conveniently accepted. All of them have the SHOs and Tehsildars of their choice appointed in their areas. Shahbaz Sharif stirred hype by throwing out nearly 6,000 ëcorruptí officials when he became the CM. Most of them, particularly ranks below DCOs and DPOs, are back as desired by local MPAs and MNAs. So much for the good governance. This has contributed to the wave of unending corruption and crime in the Punjab, making it easier for the Taliban to consolidate their hold.

Turncoats, Rana Nazir and Sahi brothers, have already been accepted. Negotiations were held for accepting many more when the Governorís Rule was imposed in the Punjab. It is quite possible that Chaudhry Shujaat, Mushahid Hussain, Khurshid Kasuri and virtually everyone, except Sheikh Rashid and Pervaiz Elahi, might be taken back before the next elections.

This prompts contradictions. The dictatorship of Musharraf was bad but not that of Zia, as the recent electoral victory of Zia League candidate proved in Bahawalnagar. The PML-N did not put up a candidate. The PML-Nís ideology, if any, is as much confusing as the definition of the right and the left in Pakistan. Traditionally, the party was right of the Centre. Lately, it is swinging ëboth waysí to the extreme. Claims were made to the true legacy of Bhutto.

Nawaz Sharif, we were told, was practising on Bhuttoís speeches; Shahbaz Sharif started reciting Jalib and Faiz in public. It should take more than Jalibís recitation to be a progressive, particularly for someone who cannot even declare his wives.

The swings to the extreme right have been worse, if not dangerous. The country and its Army are fighting the biggest fight of their history against terrorism. Yet the second biggest party, which is also the government-in-waiting, extends a muted support. The PML-N has never declared the war against terror as the biggest issue of the country. Like it or not, this has been the single largest encouragement for the Taliban. Talibanisation is growing and bomb explosions are ripping through the entire Punjab. Yet we wait for a heavy crackdown on Madrassas or militant outfits with a bated breath.

Who is the biggest influence on Nawaz Sharif for his drift towards the extreme right? Some say itís his speechwriter who was given an honourary sash at Akhora Khattakís famous Madrassa that produced half of the Jihadis. Others say there are lots of men like MPA Saeed Elahi who profess to be an ex-Jihadi with continuing links. Half of Nawaz Sharifís team, like Raja Zafarul Haq, Chaudhry Nisar and Javed Hashmi, was groomed in the Jihadi nursery of Ziaul Haq. Still others allege that Nawaz Sharif himself is more a Taliban than all of them. But then, this may be an exaggeration about his quirky aberrations. A group of journalist friends, while seeing him in the Prime Minister’s House, asked him why he had got all billboards with the women pictures removed and banned the shampoo ads. His response was that they were showing women shampooing hair, which incited ëwrong ideasí (Ganday Khayalat) in minds. ìMian Sahib, if they will not show hair in a shampoo ad, will it be your or my bald heads,î Mohammad Malick of The News could not resist saying. Mian Sahib was bald till then.

No harm in being on the right side of ideology. The Jamaat-e-Islami opposes the Army operation and itís a declared position, which, by the way, got them mere 3,000 votes in Lahore. Nawaz Sharif should declare whatever position his party has on such issues. It should not trickle out only in slips of the tongue.

Pervaiz Rashid was asked: who was the biggest ideologue in the party? ëNawaz Sharifí pat came the answer. “Hum Bhi dekhain gain.”

The series continues

Part 4

Special Report PML-N-IV

Policy making through ‘Dhobi Patka’ — Bholu style

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
By Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: The biggest PML-N plank is that it promises a better government in Islamabad than being run by the PPP.

Nawaz Sharif believes that the PPP under Asif Zardari is going downhill and he hopes that this fruit of power will fall in his lap in due time. And with a bang of ‘heavy mandate.’

It is a pity that Nawaz Sharif’s political existence is still defined in opposition to the PPP despite being there in politics for 27 years and in power for 13 years. The PML-N still does not stand on its own.

The party leadership starts babbling if you ask such questions: What is your ideology? What is your vision about resolving Pakistan’s economic woes and revamping agriculture and industry? How will you resolve energy and water crises? What is your security paradigm? How about relations with India?

Tension mounts further when you delve into more critical areas: How do we handle the growing menace of Taliban and religious extremists? How much further should the Army be involved in Fata operations? How do we renegotiate civil-military relations to stop the future Khaki excursions? What should we do when and if the Americans leave Afghanistan? How do we balance between the need for American money and their political agenda? Individuals will give opinion in their personal capacity on these issues but there is no clarity on party position. The party website offers a manifesto, which was meant for the elections and stands obsolete. It is more rhetoric and does not give any concrete answers on specific issues.

It seems the PML-N has wasted the last two years and not done enough homework on their policies on issues that have become critical for the country. PML-N Information Secretary Ahsan Iqbal says that a few policy formation committees were made and they meet occasionally. But he acknowledged that the pace of work might not have been ideal. He could not say that the PML-N has done its homework to grab power but no work on how and where to use it. Is it because of incompetence or there is some strategy behind it? A bit of both may be. Nawaz has not developed a team of political specialists who could control and guide bureaucracy for right execution despite enjoying the longest tenure in power.

The PML-N is short of experienced people. Most veterans have switched over and the new ones have a little or no exposure of the government. And there is no atmosphere for learning either. Poor Ahsan Iqbal is misfit in a culture where the Sharif brothers are using the wrestling tactics practised by their cousin Bholu Pehlwan in foreign affairs and national security. (Kulsoom Nawaz is the great granddaughter of the only world-wrestling champion from united India, Gama Pehlwan). Give us power and we shall sort this country out through ‘dhobi Patka’ seems the idea.

They are good at criticising the PPP but offer no alternative solutions. The concept of a shadow government is alien to them. Nobody knows who needs to specialise in which ministry. Opaqueness works well as everybody looks to Pir Nawaz for throwing the candy at him or her in the end. However, the opaqueness in policies keeps the voters confused. A few trends could be predicted for the future cabinet though. There will be lots of Kashmiris around. And Ishaq Dar, who is now a relative plus Kashmiri, may be given more than his previous two ministries of commerce and finance. Women nominees for parliament, like the case now, except for Ishrat Ashraf, will be Chachis, Mamis and Khalas of their Kashmiri brethren, having no exposure to politics.

Experience tells us that the training on the job is the last thing that this country can afford at such critical times. By the time a minister gets to learn the ways around his job, the countdown for going home starts, to quote ‘Yes Minister.’

The PML-N needs to spell out, perhaps a white paper to be tabled in parliament, what they stand for not just in clichÈs, but in substance. Some issues are more critical than others. Economy is one area where the PML-N evokes some concern. The problem with Ishaq Dar being the in-charge of finance is the same that we have had with all the finance ministers since Mehbubul Haq. None of them was an economist. We have had too much and too many local and imported bankers and accountants. Experts agree that they may be good in the services sector, but may not understand the exigencies of a political economy where the gap between the rich and the poor has reached alarming levels. A balance between political needs and budget management is needed. The Punjab government may not be the model where the chief minister’s penchant for political ploys, given in the shape of massive subsidies first in the Ramadan package and then in Roti, has left its coffers empty. A wheat storage crisis is also believed to be at hand in the province of good governance. We need to have a larger economic model, a la Manmohan Singh, before we privatise or liberalise further.

Marathon discussions with economists reveal that there is no way we could get out of the economic morass without thinking radical. The PML-N needs to announce its policy on how they want to handle debt servicing and cut down the defence budget without compromising security. These two comprises, roughly 80 per cent of the budget, with another 10 per cent going as cost of the government, also requires reforms. Perhaps they need to consult the Army for revamping or trying new models. They will not be able to do that once they are in power and the time to do that may be now or never. This is what Shahbaz and Nisar should be talking to the chief in secret meetings and not making the commitments they cannot fulfil later. Perhaps, Nawaz Sharif should change his emissaries. This will be the sixth Army chief that they may estrange.

The policies over India, Afghanistan and particularly the US should also be more transparent. Some say that the public posturing is different from what is conveyed inside. Shahbaz Sharif seems to have this bias that Baboos and not politicians can deliver results. Nowhere in the world has development taken place without local bodies. The Musharraf model may be flawed but it could be improved by, among other things, direct elections of Nazims and mayors. No harm in sharing a little power, Mian Sahib. Perhaps a Saraiki province might change your image of just being Punjabis.

The whole package on Taliban eradication should be voiced loud and clear. They should propose solutions instead of being part of the problem by, for instance, allowing a banned outfit to hold a rally in the heart of Lahore.

Finally, the present state of the PML-N affairs does not promise a Camelot where Nawaz Sharif’s tiger will share the pond with other lambs. At the best, it will be a repeat of the earlier pattern where the messenger, who brings bad news like us, is blamed. We hope the series is received in positive spirit and the PML-N takes the lead with a bang. No Bholu Pehlwan tactics.

PS: The name of MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq’s wife is Ghazala and not Asma, as published in the earlier report. Saad’s protest that his political struggle has been belittled by painting him as a Kashmiri, rewarded for his caste, stands registered.


- See more at:


Special Report on PPP – by Amir Mateen

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



Plan to smuggle Mush out?

Something is definitely cooking to get Pervaiz Musharraf out of the country before the new government comes in. The biggest indication is that the case about the Judges detention has been withdrawn by the petitioner, Ch. Aslam Ghumman. It is yet to be seen if the courts will let the general loose after the withdrawal of the case. Many believe that the case may have morphed into a bigger monster.

The courts have implicated the General into a case which comes under the purview of a terrorist court, which is a crime against the state as opposed to a crime against the individual. And then this is not the only case that the general faces. It is the courts that have put him on the ECL and it is them who could bail him out. So far, the courts do not seem to have changed their mind. The establishment may be worried about his future. Even Nawaz Sharif, we are told, prefers that he should not be put into the trouble of having to prosecute him in a treason case as he professed in his election campaign. One, it may be political dangerous and put him in conflict with Rawalpindi too early. Two, He is said to be under pressure from the Saudis, the Americans, the Brits—even the Ukrainians, Somalians and what not—for letting him off the hook.

Meanwhile, the commando is having sleepless nights ever since Nawaz Sharif got his majority in the elections. Sehba Musharraf, we are told, even suggests that he should run away through Afghanistan if push comes to shove. If he could run away from the Supreme Court, why not through Afghanistan—she told him when he tried to pose as a brave heart.

Venom Inc. This should not be held against me in a court of law as I solemnly declare that these are absolute lies, dirty whispers and wild speculation that I have heard while crawling in the dark power corridors of the creepy Capital. You will believe them at your own risk Shh...If you have venom to spill please don’t hesitate to share with us on our blog at

Asif Zardari is re-thinking about his arrangement with the PML (Q).
The electoral arrangement between the two does not favour PPP. Or so is the feeling in the PPP camp. You might see the bonhomie between the two breaking apart come the seat adjustment stage.
It has suited both parties to be allies so far. The PPP completed its five years easily because of the new coalition. The PML (Q) saved them from the MQM blackmailing.
The PML (Q) also enjoyed the fruits of power. As Nawaz Sharif was averse to their name, they did not have much choice either. The Chaudharies are unhappy as many PML stalwarts have defected to the PPP. The last knot that keeps the two together is the understanding on electoral alliance. It rests on the formula that each party will not contest on the seats won by the allies in the last elections.
But the PPP is now reconsidering its options. In the changing circumstances they see the formula as an obstacle in Punjab. The PML (Q)’s strength has weakened sharply—as it so happens to ‘tonga parties’ in the end. The Chaudharies are asking for more seat allocations than they can afford. The PPP think they have a better shot at winning on some seats. Secondly, they know that after the 18th amendment it will be the largest party that will be asked to form the government. Even if the PML (Q) wins, this will not be added to the PPP number in the initial count—hence giving advantage to the PML (N). So even if they could win only a few of these seats this would increase their own total in the larger game.
It’s just internal PPP thinking at this stage. We’ll see where it goes from here. If this happens, the poor Chaudharies will be left with no place to go. But then that’s politics.

Venom Inc. This should not be held against me in a court of law as I solemnly declare that these are absolute lies, dirty whispers and wild speculation that I have heard while crawling in the dark power corridors of the creepy Capital. You will believe them at your own risk Shh...If you have venom to spill please don’t hesitate to share with us on our blog at

A group of Pakistani parliamentarians were found eating pork in a Delhi hotel.

It was lunch time at a five star hotel in Delhi. A contingent of Pakistani Parliamentarians, who had missed breakfast because of travelling, virtually ‘wolfed’ upon the buffet menu. Almost six of them did not pay heed to the small menu tag describing the food as ‘pork ribs.’ This was largely because of the Pakistani habits where no one can imagine pork to be served, even to foreigners.

The meat-loving portly members from Punjab, another from Karachi, and yet another ‘religious-type’ from Khyber Pashtunkwa, found the pork ribs particularly delicious. A journalist who joined the table in the last had noticed the pork ribs in the menu. But by the time he joined the parliamentarians, they were in the middle of their lunch, particularly relishing the ribs. “Hey, why don’t you try the ribs; they are the best,” one parliamentarian was quick to point out to the journalist. Another one from Pakpattan, eating the ribs the Punjabi way, using hands instead of the cutlery, also recommended them highly to the journalist. The religious-type went a step ahead, pointing out that he could not imagine that “the banias would have such quality of meat; believe me I come from a tribe of meat-guzzlers and I have never tasted meat as this one; Vow man.”

The journalist kept quiet, thinking that he should not spoil their fun and the meal. The warning stage had passed; the damage was done. Also, knowing the culture he feared that the parliamentarians, if told, might puke in public. Which, of course, they did when told later in the afternoon. Two of them rushed to the washroom to cleanse themselves of the haraam meat. But at least one of them had the guts to admit that “Soor it may be, the damn thing was tasty,” he said while requesting, “please don’t ever say that I said that.” The journalists never did. Did he?

<span font-family:="\&quot;\&quot;" font-size:="\&quot;\&quot;" line-height:="\&quot;\&quot;" span="\&quot;\&quot;" style="\&quot;color:" rgb(102,="" 102,="" 102);="" arial,="" helvetica,="" sans-serif;="" 14.44444465637207px;="" 24.44444465637207px;\"="" text-align:="\&quot;\&quot;" venom="\&quot;\&quot;">. This should not be held against me in a court of law as I solemnly declare that these are absolute lies, dirty whispers and wild speculation that I have heard while crawling in the dark power corridors of the creepy Capital. You will believe them at your own risk Shh...If you have venom to spill please don’t hesitate to share with us on our blog at


A group of Pakistani parliamentarians were found eating pork in a Delhi hotel.

It was lunch time at a five star hotel in Delhi. A contingent of Pakistani Parliamentarians, who had missed breakfast because of travelling, virtually ‘wolfed’ upon the buffet menu. Almost six of them did not pay heed to the small menu tag describing the food as ‘pork ribs.’ This was largely because of the Pakistani habits where no one can imagine pork to be served, even to foreigners.

The meat-loving portly members from Punjab, another from Karachi, and yet another ‘religious-type’ from Khyber Pashtunkwa, found the pork ribs particularly delicious. A journalist who joined the table in the last had noticed the pork ribs in the menu. But by the time he joined the parliamentarians, they were in the middle of their lunch, particularly relishing the ribs. “Hey, why don’t you try the ribs; they are the best,” one parliamentarian was quick to point out to the journalist. Another one from Pakpattan, eating the ribs the Punjabi way, using hands instead of the cutlery, also recommended them highly to the journalist. The religious-type went a step ahead, pointing out that he could not imagine that “the banias would have such quality of meat; believe me I come from a tribe of meat-guzzlers and I have never tasted meat as this one; Vow man.”

The journalist kept quiet, thinking that he should not spoil their fun and the meal. The warning stage had passed; the damage was done. Also, knowing the culture he feared that the parliamentarians, if told, might puke in public. Which, of course, they did when told later in the afternoon. Two of them rushed to the washroom to cleanse themselves of the haraam meat. But at least one of them had the guts to admit that “Soor it may be, the damn thing was tasty,” he said while requesting, “please don’t ever say that I said that.” The journalists never did. Did he?

<span font-family:="\&quot;\&quot;" font-size:="\&quot;\&quot;" line-height:="\&quot;\&quot;" span="\&quot;\&quot;" style="\&quot;color:" rgb(102,="" 102,="" 102);="" arial,="" helvetica,="" sans-serif;="" 14.44444465637207px;="" 24.44444465637207px;\"="" text-align:="\&quot;\&quot;" venom="\&quot;\&quot;">Venom Inc. This should not be held against me in a court of law as I solemnly declare that these are absolute lies, dirty whispers and wild speculation that I have heard while crawling in the dark power corridors of the creepy Capital. You will believe them at your own risk Shh...If you have venom to spill please don’t hesitate to share with us on our blog at


Venom Inc. This should not be held against me in a court of law as I solemnly declare that these are absolute lies, dirty whispers and wild speculation that I have heard while crawling in the dark power corridors of the creepy Capital. You will believe them at your own risk Shh...If you have venom to spill please don’t hesitate to share with us on our blog at

There is no end to the dramatics of Abido-Zahid. Television viewers were grateful that the PPP Senator was away from talk shows because of his alleged resignation. Children slept better, hypertensive men and pregnant women were less in danger.
But then all good things have to come to an end. Alas! FRA is back. Sheshnag checked that only this time he kissed the feet of Bilawal Bhutto instead of his father. Trust FRA, lots of rhetoric was articulated, tears were shed and finally he swore on the Holy Book that never again would he say stupid things after indulging in the holy water. His holiness Bilawal was actually taken aback. He was exposed to a few shades of maverick jiyalas but this one was a little too much. He put up with the blabber for some time. His Urdu tutor Bari Mian was not around so he felt scared at one stage. The Abido-Zahid theatrics went on and on. 
Panicked, he called his dad asking him what to do. The dad asked the Chairman Bilawal to take a sniff at his mouth. It was again the holy water. Some mothers do have ’em.

Venom Inc. This should not be held against me in a court of law as I solemnly declare that these are absolute lies, dirty whispers and wild speculation that I have heard while crawling in the dark power corridors of the creepy Capital. You will believe them at your own risk Shh...If you have venom to spill please don’t hesitate to share with us on our blog at


Maulana Fazlur Rehman may have lost his magic touch that kept him always go up and up. He might have reached his pinnacle and from here onwards there is just one way—down.
In Balochistan, his party already stand divided. They are out of power ever since the Balochistan Assembly got suspended. The Maulanas who have become filthy rich by staying in power for 25 years out of the last 27. They had piled up enough money from commissions made through development funds which were to be used in the elections. And then they had got the chosen people posted in their constituencies to look after them during the elections. The Governor’s rule has everything upset. 
Their chosen people are being changed. This time the Maulanas needed them more as their rival Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pashtunklhwa Party was contesting elections. That’s the woeful story of Balochistan.
Things are equally bad in Khyber Pashtunkhwa and the Fata. There is no chance of the establishment-backed MMA that got them the government in 2002. Jamaat-i-Islami remains as estranged as ever. Alone, they have little chance of improvement. And then Imran Khan is eating out their stronghold in Fata and Dera Ismael Khan—the fatty Maulana’s home seat.
He is not being given importance either by Nawaz Sharif or Asif Zardari. Nobody is giving him any leverage in provincial caretaker set-up. The hatred of Imran Khan and that new Barelvi on the block-Qadri, let’s not talk about it. As if this was not enough, even dear old Taliban are staying away from him. Remember they named Jamaat-i-Islami as their guarantor and not him. He can’t go to London, Paris or Washington lest somebody might just bump him off or send to Gwantanamo. Saudi Arabia is keeping a distance because of the Americans and the old sponsors Qaddafi and Saddam are dead.
The only way left to get prominent, he thinks, is to request Mussarrat Shaheen to contest elections against him once again. Anybody knows her phone No.shh... 

Who buys the hottest penthouses?

As the Centaurus Plaza opens its Mall today, all eyes are set on who will live in the hottest penthouses in the hottest plaza in the Capital. The four penthouses at the top of Islamabad’s highest buildings have a breath-taking view, private swimming pools, each apartment having four bedrooms in two decks. The amenities could be customized from golden locks to silver taps. Life underneath these super luxurious apartments includes a five-star hotel, a mega shopping mall and a Cineplex. Two buildings have been reserved for residential apartments and one for corporate offices.
Builders say that two of the four pent houses are for sale and the asking price is a whopping Rs 240 million. Stories abounded about the owners of the two apartments. Centaurus management is keeping its lips sealed. Some say it’s Man on the Hill, others say that the dubious Malik bought one and still others say that the builders have kept two for themselves but have not been able to sell the remaining two. You know why?
Initially, a race was on among the country’s elite to buy the most prized penthouses in Pakistan overlooking the power centres that run this country. But then everybody got scared about the public scrutiny. Naturally, we would like to know the tax history of the person who spends Rs 240 million on an apartment. 
Centaurus, may have other issues also. Questions are being asked about the various favours being given to the builders about its impact on city environment, traffic, safety. The CDA bosses who gave most of the No-Objection-Certificates are already under investigation by Islamabad High Court. Neighbours around the Plaza are already worried about the change in their life style, about the increased traffic in the area. The vicinity is bound to get choked once all the apartments are full. Similarly, it's believed that the adjacent flyover and underpass were constructed to facilitate the influx of the towers. City stake-holders were not asked about the elevation heights that have been allowed in an area which is now confirmed to be earthquake prone. Also they were allowed their own grid station, in F-9 park, against environment rules and regulations. 
The biggest scrutiny will remain about financial credentials of those who can afford such opulence. What are their financial credentials? Sheshnag is watching and will keep you informed.


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