The president continued his astonishing frontal assault against the Sharifs for a second successive day.
Friday saw President Asif Ali Zardari vow to take the strut out of the Sharifs’ step and defeat the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in central Punjab, which he termed the party’s only remaining power base in the country.
While talking with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ticket holders, district presidents and general secretaries, the president claimed that he had spared the Sharifs (Nawaz and Shahbaz) and then taken them along for the sake of removing then president Pervez Musharraf, which he termed had been his party’s first and foremost target.
He said that, instead of appreciating the PPP’s gesture towards them, the Sharifs preferred to cater to their pride and refused to join hands with other parties. Now, he said he would visit each and every division of Punjab in the lead-up to the general elections.
The PML-N, he said, would stand defeated.
Why the sudden aggression?
The president arrived in Lahore on April 4 – and since then has been foaming at the mouth in his attacks on PML-N’s two leaders. There was some speculation in the press that the president was affronted by the lack of even a small welcome protocol upon his arrival in Lahore.
However, insiders have another story to tell.
According to sources, the president’s assaults were part of a well-planned strategy to hit PPP’s principal political rivals in their bastion of power – and in a manner that, the PPP feels, would attract the common voter in Punjab. The sources pointed out the hard-hitting political style of Shahbaz Sharif in his assaults on the president, which served the same purpose for the PML-N while Nawaz remained diplomatic.
The PPP has calculated that, in the next general elections, the PPP’s main battle will be with the PML-N, which is already struggling with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
According to this calculation, the PPP has already secured a stronger presence in the southern parts of Punjab with their rhetoric of a separate province for the region, while their presence in the north is also satisfactory. As for central Punjab, it is being calculated that it remains in the grip of the PML-N. The president’s current mission is to revive the party in this area – and the way chosen for this is the political assault on the Sharifs. There was another man doing this for the president until recently: Babar Awan. However, Awan has fallen out of favour with the president, who seems to have taken up this task himself.
There is another element to this strategy. Sources also said that President Zardari, to maximise the hit against the PML-N, wanted leaders to prepare PPP workers and supporters for an electoral alliance with the PML-Q.
The PPP co-chairman has also given a two-month deadline to the party’s central Punjab president Imtiaz Safdar Warraich as well as to the party’s southern Punjab president Makhdoom Shahbauddin to get the party’s affairs in order.
There is also a move to change the PPP’s leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly – a move that will be decided in coming days.
Meeting with senior journalists
The notion of the political battle for central Punjab was something that dominated the president’s interaction with intellectuals and senior journalists.
While addressing the participants, the president, without naming the Sharifs, said he worried for the people of Lahore. He said that he would focus his attention here a lot more now. He recalled his days in Lahore and his struggles here.
President Zardari will remain in Lahore on April 7, and will meet with the business community to take them into confidence over his visit to India, for which he will depart on April 8.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2012.