Defiant Nawaz, stone-faced Zardari

Positions of opposition parties are hardening as Maulana Fazalur Rehman prepares to strike Islamabad in October, writes Murtaza Solangi

Defiant Nawaz, stone-faced Zardari
Rumours are off the charts; many whispers can be heard from the Kotlakhpat cell where former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been incarcerated as he awaits his hearing at Islamabad High Court later this month.

As the date of his hearing in the Al-Azizia case draws near (September 18), rumours about his possible release and deals being offered to him are at their peak. Sharif, who has been languishing in jail following a verdict by issued by judge Arshad Malik on the eve of his birthday last year, is reportedly not budging from his position. It is said that he is refusing to cut a deal with the powers that be.

In the same vein, it is rumoured that efforts are afoot to woo former president Asif Ali Zardari, but there seems to be no positive response from his side either. Positions of opposition parties are hardening as Maulana Fazalur Rehman prepares to strike Islamabad in October, with or without his allies.

The deal offered to Sharif revolves around silencing him and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif. It includes the possibility of exile for a few years. The objective of the move is aimed at providing political stability to the “engineered” political set up in place since last year.

“It is not a new recipe. This has been tried on many people, starting with Iskandar Mirza and ending with Nawaz Sharif himself nearly two decades ago,” said a senior journalist based in Islamabad. Sources familiar with the development say every effort was made to dissuade Mian Nawaz Sharif last year when he left his ailing wife and brought his daughter with him on their one-way ticket to Lahore. Even on his short stopover in Abu Dhabi before landing in Lahore, he was approached to turn around and return to London, insist the sources. However, it seemed that Sharif knew his political legacy would evaporate and his party would be wiped out in the election if he accepted the offer, say the sources. “Despite massive engineering, Sharif’s steadfastness enabled our party to emerge as the largest party in Opposition in the National Assembly. That would not have been possible without him,” says a party loyalist.
The main contours of the deal remain the same: Sharif and Maryam are supposed to go into self-exile for a few years and let the Deal Group run the party

The recent move of approaching the ailing former premier was orchestrated by the “Deal Group” of his party in consultation with his brother Shehbaz Sharif, who reportedly has always supported reconciliation rather than resistance against the miltablishment, sources say.

This time leaders of this group even approached former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in jail and asked him to write a note to Sharif supporting efforts for reconciliation, sources say. The man from the mountains reportedly wrote the note, but also said that he would abide by the decision made by the party supremo.

“This way he did not annoy the Deal Group but also proved his loyalty to Sharif,” said one source close to the development.

The main contours of the deal remain the same: Sharif and Maryam are supposed to go into self-exile for a few years and let the Deal Group run the party to heal relations with the miltablishment till it is time to reshuffle the deck, sources say.

Could it be just a storm in the teacup? Leaders of the Deal Group believe so. “This is nothing but an attempt by a small group of leaders close to Maryam who mainly rely on social media and pursue an extremist narrative that has brought our party to this level. Some people in the media keep trying to sell this sensation to keep themselves afloat. This is baseless speculation and has nothing to do with the ground realities,” said a top leader of the party, reportedly a top gun of the Deal Group.

We have to see what happens to this round of reconciliation manoeuvres as the opposition reels from the failed no confidence move against the Senate chairman on August 1. In the meantime, efforts are also afoot to manage the PPP.

Former president Asif Zardari has been approached to calm young chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. PPP insiders say they received many veiled threats against Bilawal. Keeping both Zardari and his sister in jail, and denying the family permission to meet them despite court orders are tactics meant to keep the PPP under pressure.

“Judge Arshad Malik revealed to us in the leaked video a basic manual of how pressure is applied creatively. It is like tuning a violin. They press one knob and get one sound and one pitch. They press the other to get the other raga. They have become adept at this. The only problem for them is that times have changed while they are still stuck in the past,” commented a veteran analyst.

Sharif holding ground and a cold response from the PPP may force key players to go in overdrive to break both parties and stage a coup d’état in Sindh, says an analyst. The status quo is not sustainable as the present set-up is shaking to its foundations. This is a classic example of abject failure with economy, foreign policy, parliamentary performance and governance, all taking a nosedive with no chances of revival, said another top analyst.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad