Monday, December 12, 2011

The Zardari Rumour Mill

Every public wishes to know what is transpiring in the halls of power that run their countries. It should be no surprise, then, that rumours about Zardari's resignation erupted in the wake of his abrupt absence and the government's contradictory press releases.

What is the exact source of these rumours?

Far from originating domestically, the evidence indicates that they originated overseas. On December 6, an article titled "President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan - is he on the way out?" was posted by Josh Rogin on the website of the US magazine, Foreign Policy. The article cites a "former US government official" who claims that Zardari had earlier been incoherent when speaking to President Obama regarding the NATO killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers. The unnamed official further speculates that Zardari may resign on account of his supposed ill-health.

The Foreign Policy article was released relatively quickly after news broke about Zardari's illness. Additionally, the article is repeatedly referenced in other news articles. These points indicate that the Foreign Policy article was one of the main sources of the resignation rumours.

But is there any truth to the rumours?

One can only resort to speculation - however, certain scenarios are more likely than others.

Consider the case where Zardari resigns of his own accord. The argument is that he has been feeling intense pressure ever since he took office and the recent Memogate scandal was the final straw. However, Zardari is no stranger to political pressure. In fact, he almost seems to laugh at it. How else can one explain his visit to his family's France chateau at the height of the 2010 floods? There is also the matter of him losing legal immunity if he gives up the post of President. He, therefore, has little incentive to step down of his own accord.

The other scenario involves Zardari being forced out against his own will. Who is capable of forcing such a resignation? It comes down to either the PPP or the army.

Historically, the PPP establishment has cherished the Bhutto legacy but not Zardari. Adding fuel to the fire, Zardari has defanged long-time PPP members and has instead relied on his personal network to govern. However, despite the fact that they have misgivings about Zardari, the PPP stalwarts are loath to express them in public. For the time being, they seem content waiting for Bilawel Bhutto to come of age, as opposed to ousting Zardari and risk destabilizing the PPP. It is, therefore, unlikely that the party is attempting to remove Zardari.

This leaves the army.

In them, we certainly have a precedent for forced resignations. However, are the necessary conditions present?

When Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif in 1999, the country had experienced a decade of democratic bad governance and nepotism. The PPP and PML-N had taken turns making a mockery of the democratic process and conditions were ripe for the army to step in and make the claim of saving the country from the politicians.

More than a decade later, no one can deny the presence of bad governance and nepotism. The democratic arena is still a circus. However, the current democratic setup has emerged from a very public movement to remove the general in power. This, combined with increased media scrutiny of state affairs, has meant that the public is not yet ready to cede complete civilian power to the military. The military is, no doubt, well aware of this. And so, despite the presence of Memogate, it will continue to publicly support the civilian government.

Zardari will continue to govern while the rumour mill continues to churn.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Qureshi Gamble

Deng Xiaoping famously said, "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice."

It is with this sense of pragmatism that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf welcomed Shah Mehmood Qureshi into their fold.

The PTI have been pining for a political heavyweight for some time now and their prayers have been answered in the form of Qureshi. He brings with him over 20 years of political experience and has been head of the Punjab chapter of the PPP.

How does his arrival bode for the PTI's future?

I have written earlier about why bringing on any member of the old political class - not just Qureshi - may do the PTI more harm than good.

Qureshi is a Sajjada Nashin. A Makhdoom. He is guaranteed votes largely on the basis of his inherited title. In this sense, he represents the very dynasticism that Imran Khan says he is against. By bringing him on, the PTI is sacrificing at least part of their vision. For a party which sees itself as energizing the youth, such a sacrifice may have severe long-term consequences.

As well, Qureshi has been awarded a senior post within the PTI. There is speculation that the awarding of the post may have helped seal the deal to bring him over. If this is true, it will likely not sit well with at least a few PTI members who have been with the party since the beginning.

Having said that, there are a number of ways that the PTI can play this to their advantage.

Qureshi's inherited power may very well be the antithesis of what the PTI claims to stand for. But barring a seismic, overnight shift in social values, inherited power will remain a fixture in Pakistan for a long time to come. Bringing Qureshi in is less a betrayal of vision, and more an acknowledgement of the prevailing social norms that one needs to operate under. It demonstrates that the PTI is aware of ground realities in the less urban areas of Pakistan.

As well, the PTI can rightly point to Qureshi's actions during the Raymond Davis affair and offer him as an example of a politician unwilling to compromise on his principles.

Qureshi's political rival in his Multan constituency is Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, a senior leader in the PML-N. Given Qureshi's success in securing a National Assembly seat in 2002 and 2008, there is a strong chance he will defeat Hashmi again and be re-elected in future elections. This would significantly undermine the PML-N and is in line with the PTI positioning itself against Nawaz Sharif.

Finally, Qureshi may offer the PTI a path into Interior Sindh, an area where they haven't been able to make inroads. How might this occur?

Ever since his resignation from the Foreign Minister post, Qureshi has been unequivocal in distancing himself from Asif Ali Zardari. Recently, he termed the PPP a "Zardari" league.

However, Qureshi has always spoken approvingly of the Bhutto legacy.

Leading up to his announcement to join PTI, Qureshi met with Ghinwa Bhutto and Mumtaz Bhutto. That Qureshi chose not to hold the rally in his Multan home constituency, but rather in Ghotki, Sindh is another indication that Qureshi's long-term strategy may be to ally himself with PPP dissidents - like Ghinwa and Mumtaz Bhutto - who want to promote the "true" Bhutto legacy. Regardless, this may be one of the only ways the PTI can extend into Sindh.

It's too early to tell whether this gamble will pay off. What is certain is that, for the time being, the PTI is holding all the aces.