The Plot

The Plot
“The Plot thickens”, wrote one analyst, commenting on the dramatic revival of a money laundering case against Asif Zardari et al in Sindh by the FIA, just weeks ahead of national elections. Only that The Plot was always thick and furious from the start, but the PPP and PMLN leaders were the proverbial monkeys that didn’t care to speak, hear or see it.

The PPP had deluded itself into thinking that its leader, Asif Zardari, had stitched the deal of the century with the Miltablishment whereby, in exchange for sticking the knife into Nawaz Sharif, he could strut about claiming to be a “Kingmaker”. It is doubly ironic, therefore, that the very PPP stalwarts who were cheering on the Miltablishment in its hatchet job on Nawaz Sharif and making short shrift of PMLN complaints of Miltablishment pre-election rigging are now naming names of army officers who are also screwing the PPP on the election trail.

In the Miltablishment’s mind, Asif Zardari remains the Original Sin of Corruption and Criminality. It could barely stomach his Presidency that was owed to a cruel twist of fate but its ire was aroused when he pushed through the 18th constitutional amendment in 2010 which devolved financial and political power to the provinces at the expense of the “centre”, whence flows the defense budget and the national security doctrine that place the Miltablishment on the highest pedestal in the land. The 18th amendment also outlawed any Miltablishment attempt to hold the constitution in “abeyance” at any stage. Wounded by the “OBL affair” in 2011 which painted it in bad light, the Miltablishment began to plot his ouster after suspecting him of conspiring with the Americans to disempower it at home and abroad. So Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Iftikhar were roped in to whip up “Memogate” and the PPP prime minister protecting Mr Zardari was kicked out. Consequently, the PPP barely scraped through in Sindh in 2013.

However, the Miltablishment’s “alliance” with Nawaz Sharif came to an end when he launched the treason case against ex-army chief General Pervez Musharraf. And it hit back when he launched his “peace with India” initiative and demanded the dismantling of the jihadi outfits nurtured by it for asymmetric warfare. To add insult to injury, Nawaz insisted on keeping the reins of the multi-billion CPEC Project securely in his own hands, denying the Miltablishment a share of the spoils. Therefore “Dawn Leaks” was drummed up and Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri were unleashed to assault Nawaz. Simultaneously, a wedge was driven between Nawaz and Zardari in Sindh after Nawaz succumbed to Miltablishment pressure to clean up Karachi, only to find that the Miltablishment had cunningly crafted a link between terrorism and corruption that justified going after Zardari too. Outraged, Zardari blasted the Generals and Nawaz and left the country to escape their wrath.

After the dharnas failed to dislodge Nawaz, Pananaleaks fortuitously provided an opportunity again. A plot was now hatched to ensure that Nawaz would be eliminated from the reckoning in the next elections. It required several elements for success: first, to win over Zardari temporarily so that he couldn’t rise in defence of Nawaz; second, to win the judiciary over to the great “anti-corruption crusade” and disqualify Nawaz and heir-apparent Mariam; third, to engineer the next election by hook or by crook so that Imran Khan came to power and fully cooperated with the Miltablishment in taking “hard” decisions (return national security policy, impose a hard tax regime and restore its defence budgetary growth) in the “national interest”; and fourth, with a little help from Mr Zardari in exchange for Senate crumbs, deny Nawaz a majority in the Senate as a prelude to the developing scenario for the general elections. Under the circumstances, the judges and NAB stepped in to deliver the coup against Nawaz while Zardari grinned and cheered them on in anticipation of being a Kingmaker.

But that’s out of the question. Mr Zardari is as much a marked man as Nawaz. It’s just that the two have allowed themselves to be manipulated against each other by turns.

The Plot is nearing completion. Nawaz and Mariam will be out of action but Shehbaz will have some space to fill the vacuum amenable to the Miltablishment. The Jeep Party, Balochistan Awami Party, MQM factions, FATA Independents, etc, will hold the Miltablishment’s casting rights in parliament to keep PMLN, PPP and PTI in line. Imran or whoever is more amenable will form the next coalition government but the portfolios of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance will minimally remain in Miltablishment hands. The PPP will be held hostage in Sindh by the MQM and GNA while Zardari is hounded from pillar to post.

The Plot looks unimpeachable. But it will begin to unravel when the demands of the Miltablishment become a burden on Imran, just as they eventually did on Bhutto, Zardari and Nawaz, when the media opens its guns on the lota-ised PTI for corrupt governance and when the judges become restive and try to reassert their independence.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.