When Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari encouraged his 24-year old son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to formally lead the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), only a couple of months before the next elections, he remained far short in making the ceremony for the occasion as befitting and forceful as needed by the protégé of a political family. This family has members who had acquired the slot of President of the country twice and that of prime minister thrice during its short democratic history.
Bilawal had succeeded as chairman of the PPP after his mother Benazir Bhutto was killed in a mysterious shooting and bomb blast at an election rally five years ago, but he never formally took charge and remained in the UK in pursuit of his studies, while the party affairs were managed by his father Asif Ali Zardari as party co-chairman.
Despite having a large rally outside the Bhutto family hometown and Bhuttos’ mausoleum in Sindh province, held to mark the fifth death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, both Asif Zardari and Bilawal Zardari appeared rather confused in their speeches as they remained confined to the rhetoric of ending terrorism and repeating the 40-years old party slogan of providing food, clothing and shelter to all. Against all expectations, they avoided touching the irritable subjects of corruption, bad governance and price hike, that had reached to new heights during the recent PPP-rule and echoed all over the country, posing a menacing threat to the party in coming elections. They even avoided admitting their failure on those counts or making a formal apology to the voters and countrymen.
While attempting to defend the 5-year ‘poor’ performance of his party, President Zardari looked visibly shaken and in a haste to launch Bilawal Zardari into politics to win the coming elections by getting a hold on the slipping grip over the party cadres and voters alienated with the leadership due to the worst political performance ever shown by a democratic government in the country.
Quite embarrassing for both the Zardaris was that they again avoided any mention towards the assassins of Benazir Bhutto, something PPP die-hard workers and supporters had badly wanted to hear about during the last five years. Benazir’s killing has been one of the many mysterious and unsolved political assassinations in Pakistan’s history, but was more troubling for PPP lovers since President Asif Zardari had often declared he knew who Benazir’s killers were, but had always refrained from disclosing their identity.
On the eve of Bilawal’s launching, media reports said President Asif Ali Zardari had again stopped Interior Minister Rehman Malik from making public a report on the investigation into the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto. Malik was scheduled to present the report at a meeting of top party officials, and the move smelled growing differences between Zardari and Malik, who had earlier told the media about his intention to make the report public.
The most strange thing in Zardari’s speech was his pledge that he would “never allow the Egyptian model to be run in the country,” something that beat the media and intellectuals as well as foreign diplomats in Islamabad to figure out what actually he did mean by those words and what kind of analogy he drew between any possible emerging scenario in Pakistani political set up and the post-revolution set up in Egypt.
Only two months back, it is the same Asif Zardari whose government had made elaborate preparations to accord an extra ordinary welcome and protocol to Egyptian President Dr. Mohammad Mursi during his expected visit to attend the D-8 summit in Islamabad. Protocol scheduled to be given to President Mursi was more than any other head of the state at the D-8 summit and besides that Zardari had convened a joint session of the parliament to allow President Mr. Mursi to address Pakistani legislators. Though President Mursi cancelled his visit at the eleventh hour due to pressing situation back home and sent his deputy president, but it would have been a historic visit if Mursi had come to Pakistan on that occasion.
Arab diplomats in Islamabad and media circles are bewildered as to what kind of sudden change of heart had occurred in President Zardari towards Cairo and the post Arab-spring ‘revolutionary’ change that was witnessed in Egypt. It was unclear if Zardari had read too much into the difficulties faced by President Mursi in his attempts to acquire more powers for himself and to his constitutional referendum, and therefore trying to win support of anti-Mursi western powers in order to win coming elections, besides avoiding a Hosni Mubarak like fate which loomed large in view of PPP’s poor performance.
Or Zardari was probably trying to undo the image he had created for himself in the eyes of western powers by setting an extra ordinary welcome stage and protocol for President Mursi? Some diplomats see a link between Zardari’s unexpected carp towards ‘Egyptian model’ and the political hurricane feared from Canada-returned cleric Dr Tahirul Qadri’s threat to storm into the capital Islamabad with four million followers if electoral reforms were not made in the country within a fortnight.
Strangely, the mention of Egypt and the Tahrir Square has been a common feature among Pakistani politicians ever since the Arab spring took place. Imran Khan, the strongest political rival of both president Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, and a torch-bearer for uprooting corruption from the government quarters, had more than once mentioned his desire to make a Tahrir Square in capital Islamabad if corruption was eradicated and justice to everyone was not ensured.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based at Islamabad. He can be reached through email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @mansoorjafar