PDM Beyond Zardari’s Clarion Call

By: Nasim Zehra      Published: 02:02 AM, 18 Mar, 2021
PDM Beyond Zardari’s Clarion Call
–File photo

PDM’s ‘best hour’ is over. Asif Ali Zardari’s clarion call to Nawaz Sharif is out…loud and clear…return home to fight the politic al battle you want us to fight…you must be ready to go to jail along with us all. The PPP co-chairperson has no intention of taking his party’s political battle to the streets, and certainly not to jail either. His call for Nawaz Sharif’s return was essentially a push back to the PML-N’s insistence for everyone’s resignation. PML-N’s main leader Maryam Nawaz’s response that Zardari sahib should guarantee her father’s security should he return, did evoke a Zardari-style apology but may not have cut any political ice. For long within sections of his own party and outside many have questioned why Nawaz Sharif hasn’t returned to Pakistan…Nawaz Sharif evidently healthier and capable of travelling back too, including his right hand man Senator Ishaq Dar. Zardari’s open demand does make the political situation a tad bit, if not more, uncomfortable for the currently London-based PML-N leader. Had the pressures of crippling inflation and delivery issues were not so great, this PDM mess would signal politically the ‘best hour’ for the government.

Meanwhile the differences over how to proceed as a united opposition have sharply and abruptly surfaced between the two major alliance parties, the PML-N and the PPP. These already existing differences, are serious and unbridgeable.

Nevertheless for now, despite JUI’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s tantrum, the PDM leaders want to continue under the PDM banner. This was evident at the March 16 meeting. Despite PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari’s pretty hard talk directed at PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, despite JUI leader Fazlur Rehman’s show of extreme disappointment at PPP’s opposition to resignations and despite PML-N’s firmness on PDM resignations from the assemblies, the March 16 meeting ended with the announcement that PPP has asked for time to revert to its CEC for a decision on the resignations. 

This is merely buying time. No change in PPP’s decision is likely. Asif Ali Zardari will not change his decision.

The PDM’s 175-day long journey that began on Sept 24 has seen its high and lows. The 11-party alliance contested several impressive joint by-elections, held impressive jalsas across Pakistan,  showed rare unity in jointly unleashing verbal attacks on the government and on selectors, unprecedented bonhomie in interaction, in supporting Maryam Nawaz after the disgusting breakdown in Karachi by agencies of Maryam’s hotel room, Bilawal's Raiwind visits etc. Yet there were ‘lows’ too; the much trumpeted long march delay from December till now, resignations delay, the Pakistan charter announced for the Lahore jalsa that never came, the final ‘show down’...”the aar ya paar” at Lahore never came. The numbers in Lahore were below expectation.

There is a basic difference between the approach adopted by Asif Ali Zardari, who essentially defines the People's Party political strategy and between Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz who decide the PML-N strategy. There are also some common strands in their thinking but those existed at superficial level. These trends cover a generalised approach against the government in power . Hence the two parties were very clear, united and supportive of each other during the earlier phase of the Pakistan Democratic Movement . This phase focusing on the broader determination of the alliance which really was about attacking the government in power and to some extent being critical of the establishment which facilitated PTI’s 2018 electoral victory and subsequent government formation.

In the earlier phase the goals of both the parties end of the alliance was to bring maximum pressure on the government and indirectly on the establishment as well. The purpose was very clear, both parties we're looking to the establishment as a interlocutor which would help then we can the government by pulling back support of the governments allies since this was the only pressure that the establishment could and still can bring on the government. Also the two parties we're looking to engage the establishment 4 creating greater space for their own politics and for the leadership of the two parties which are involved in NAB cases. In order to put Pressure on the establishment and two present themselves as negotiating partners show off street power was clearly important and therefore it made perfect sense for People's Party in PML-N to work together and with other political parties including JUI-F, do demonstrate impressive street power.

In the 175 daylong cooperation under the PDM flag both the PPP and the PML-N actually gained political mileage as well in agreeing with PPP leadership's advice to not boycott either any by-elections or the Senate elections. The PDM actually did field joint candidates in most by-elections and in the Senate as well. Some complaints notwithstanding, the parties generally gained through this approach with PPP's key candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani defeating the government and establishments key candidate the current finance minister fees share in the most hotly contested Senate elections. PML-N, JUI, PPP including some other PDM parties also gained in the by elections as well. However this is where the common approach ends.

The PPP approach is and has been crystal clear. They will fight their political battle remaining within the system-we will fight in the parliament not from the mountains was Zardari's refrain at the March 16 PDM meeting. This amply spells what the his future plans are for PPP in the future and this is actually where he has guided the PDM to since it was set up. While remaining within the system the other aspect of PPP's politics is to engage an not battle the establishment. This is, by all reliable accounts, is what PPP leadership has been doing over the last few months. Bilawal Bhutto was quick to take up the matter of PML-N attacking generals by name and disagreeing with this approach publicly. Institutions he said should be respected, calling out generals must be avoided, while indeed complaining to the selectors for if rigged elections. Bilawal like his father walked the two paths off some confrontation but steering away from open war and instead remaining engaged with the establishment.

The PPP wants to retain its political gain and its executive authority in Sindh. It has to rebuild its party and find support and base beyond Sindh. Battling the army neither is a politically wise nor a viable approach in Pakistan’s politics. Matters here are too complex and compromised all around. Zardari fully understands that.

This is in sharp contrast to what Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz have opted for. Their battle with the establishment is no secret. It's time for them to review what brand of politics will serve their party, their supporters and above all Pakistan. And indeed what brand will work too…army in the barracks absolutely …but politicians wise, credible and competent too.

Courtesy The News International.