By IMAD ZAFAR
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father Asif Ali Zardari both appeared before the National Accountability Bureau in Islamabad for questioning in three separate corruption cases. It was expected, as the screws have been tightened on the PPP, and since the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) assumed power, the NAB has been used to victimize the party’s political opponents. This anti-graft body was introduced by the dictator General Pervez Musharraf as an apparatus to use against his political opponents.
Bilawal, the son of Benazir Bhutto and grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is now the third generation of the Bhutto family facing the music for being a popular leader, as well as for his strong views on extremist outfits and for calling the PTI government a “puppet.” He recently criticized the victimization of politicians and raised questions about why those sponsoring extremist organizations have not been identified. Similarly, he demanded the resignation of cabinet ministers who have connections with the leaders of banned outfits.
It was, however, good to see Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grandson finally not only break the inertia that had characterized the country’s politics since former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s arrest but also manage to show the street power of the PPP to both visible and invisible detractors. While Bhutto and his father were appearing before the anti-graft watchdog, his political workers were chanting slogans, and the police arrested many PPP workers in order to stop them from entering the NAB’s office.
Perhaps the Khan-led civil administration needs to show some restraint by not using force against the protesters. After all, in 2014, Khan himself jammed Islamabad during his 126-day sit-in and virtually closed down many other cities with protests against the Sharif government.
Khan has probably not yet learned the art of politics, as he was put in power by non-political powers. That is why he is not able to understand that Bhutto and the PPP have achieved their desired result by displaying street power and eliciting sympathy from voters because political workers were badly beaten by the police. A democratic government loses its credibility when it uses force against dissidents.
On the other hand, this show of strength from the PPP has also raised a few questions concerning the current policy of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), as since the arrest of Sharif and his elder brother Shahbaz taking charge as a president of the party, the party has gone silent and is not adhering to the elder Sharif’s “respect the vote” ethos.
Since Shahbaz has his own political style and likes to remain in the good books of the powers that be, he has lost the momentum that was achieved by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. This show of strength by Bhutto and the PPP has certainly put the Khan-led PTI government on to the back foot and is also a signal to the powers that be that the PPP will probably not let its top leaders be humiliated like Sharif, nor will it silently watch the screws tighten against them.
However, there remains the question of why Zardari helped the invisible forces topple the PML-N’s Balochistan government by making sure the party did not get a majority in the Senate. Had he not done that, things could have been much better. But it seems that Bilawal is trying to rectify Zardari’s mistake and he has been doing it in an excellent manner. It is not easy to look at your family graveyard, which is full of people who were killed during the political ups and downs of the Bhutto dynasty, and still take a stand like Benazir and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
To many, Bilawal may be playing the game of his father, but in a country like Pakistan where speaking out against extremist outfits or challenging the traditional invisible powers can cost you your life, he is not just gradually reinventing the old political style of his mother but also becoming a voice of sanity and reason in mainstream politics. He is also effectively opposing the Khan government, which is struggling to cope with the current economic turmoil and the challenges of running the bureaucracy.
This recent show of strength by the PPP could become a small opening for the democratic parties of Pakistan to launch a movement for the restoration of real democracy and to put the powers that be on the back foot. It seems like the right time for the PML-N to organize public gatherings and ask Maryam Nawaz to pull in the crowds in Punjab province. Both Bhutto and Maryam are capable of attracting their respective vote banks, and if they can devise a joint strategy, the weak PTI governments in the center and in Punjab will be toppled in a few days. Khan knows this, and that is why he is trying to use the anti-graft body as a tool to harass both the PPP and the PML-N so they are not able to devise a common strategy and become political partners in overthrowing his regime.
The game of thrones has entered an interesting stage where sooner or later, Khan will have to face the music as a joint opposition rises against him. It is only a matter of time before the day comes that the powers that be withdraw their support for the Khan-led PTI government, and it will be game over for him.
By demonstrating his street power, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has shown his first card, and one can imagine what will happen if the most popular party in the province of Punjab does the same. The credit goes to Bhutto, who has won the first round of this battle for his party and taught Khan a lesson – that the political parties who have struggled for decades against dictatorship cannot be wiped out by any fascist means or measures. Right now, it is Bilawal who is leading the show with his excellent opposition. But how far he can go remains to be seen.