Recently, former president of Pakistan and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Asif Ali Zardari, has made a startling disclosure that the ousted prime minister and the moving spirit behind the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Mian Nawaz Sharif, was trying to create “Greater Punjab” to further his business interest. The startling disclosure by Zardari regarding Sharif conspiring to form ‘Greater Punjab’ was made in an exclusive interview with a private Pakistani TV news channel.
When asked if he is talking about an actual “merger of the two Punjabs”, he claimed that he is talking about a business zone between the two Punjabs as Indian politician Lalu Prasad once told an American president that “we can do business with Nawaz”. “I believe that, when you make your forces weak, when you don’t keep a foreign minister, when you don’t hire someone to defend your interests in Washington…. who is benefiting from it? India,” said Zardari in the interview. The former president said that Nawaz, never spoke a word over the killing of innocent Kashmiris. This is a damaging disclosure by any yardstick. By creating “Greater Punjab” Zardari obviously means that Sharif wants an independent economic zone or, in other words, economic integration of both the Punjabs. This is a direct allegation of disloyalty against Nawaz Sharif, an ousted prime minister, who served thrice as chief executive of the country, by a former elected president, whose party also ruled Pakistan four times.
While Nawaz Sharif cannot be charged with disloyalty, there is still a lot of substance in Zardari’s argument. In fact, during his very first interview after becoming prime minister for the third time, Nawaz Sharif in 2013, during his first interview with The Daily Telegraph of the United Kingdom, claimed that his party won a mandate from the people “to have peace with India.” This was, indeed, very revealing of Sharif’s mindset. There is no secret that Sharif and his family have several business interests in India and thus disposed to having good relations with it. However, accusing Sharif of wanting to economically merge Pakistani Punjab with Indian Punjab is somewhat excessive. The question arises that why Zardari chose this particular time to make such a statement, or disclosure? It is important to note that Zardari was still serving as president when Nawaz Sharif took oath as prime minister for the third time in 2013. Therefore, Zardari is privy to a lot of secrets which his oath restricts from a making public. Zardari may have deemed it appropriate to make such a disclosure by considering it not a state secret. Otherwise he should have desisted from making such a serious matter public. Here one suspects that Zardari’s disclosure regarding Sharif’s intentions to merge Pakistan Punjab with Indian Punjab or creation of a “Greater Punjab” is politically motivated. Zardari wants to demonstrate that he and his political party are more patriotic than Sharif and his PML-N.
One of the most important factors behind the strained civil-military relations in Pakistan during Sharif’s tenure as prime minister was the latter’s close relations with India. Zardari knows this and wants to exploit the situation, as he thinks this is the best opportunity to get close to the military establishment. Here it may be recalled that Zardari, sometimes back, was so frustrated with the nabbing of his corrupt henchmen, like Dr. Asim, by the Sindh Rangers, manned by military personnel, that in an outburst, while alluding to the military establishment, said that “we would lacerate you” and that military chiefs come only for “three years” while politicians had open-ended tenures. After that pronouncement, Zardari left Pakistan and was in a kind of self-exile.
An important aspect towards which one must draw attention is that Zardari has failed to realize that an intergenerational change has occurred within the military leadership. The contemporary military leadership’s intention in supporting the continuation of democracy in the country is incontrovertible. Zardari by trying to curry favor with the military leadership thinks to prop up the dwindling prospects of his political party. This stratagem of Zardari’s will not succeed.
Zardari and his PPP must choose some other way to improve the prospects of the party in the next general elections. Thinking that it is the military that still wishes to be the kingmaker in Pakistan, is at odds with reality. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became prime minister when he won the popular vote in West Pakistan in the 1970 elections. The military also did not stop Benazir Bhutto riding a wave of popularity to become prime minister in 1988, despite having deep reservations about her pro-India stance. The General Musharraf-led state apparatus could not remove former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, from his position, despite showing him the door. All these instances show that the military may not be or chose to be, the final arbiter of power politics in Pakistan, as is believed by politicians like Zardari.
In contemporary Pakistan, the prospect of any political party to win elections is largely, if not entirely, dependent on how it performs when in power at the federal or provincial level. The case of Sindh is somewhat different, where the PPP still gets the vote because of the sympathy which the Sindhis have for the Bhutto clan. The rest of Pakistan has changed a lot. In the Punjab and KP people assess political parties and leaders on the basis of their performance at governance. A different set of circumstances prevails in Balochistan. But even there, the army has not sought to impose its diktat on the people, as troubled as that province is by terrorism, secessionism snd foreign intervention. It would seem that the army is more committed to see democracy work than self-aggrandizing politicians. So thinking that the military would leverage any party into power is myopic thinking on part of the politicians.
The best way for Zardari to revive the prospects of the PPP in the next national elections is to perform far better in Sindh, where the party has its government. However, this would be very difficult to do, keeping in view the corruption-tainted provincial government. Be that as it may, politicians must not indulge in accusations without adducing solid proof as it pollutes the political atmosphere of the country, the victim of which is democracy. Pakistan needs democracy and more democracy instead of politicians blaming each other for disloyalty against the state that seriously affects the growth of a democratic culture.