It was on December 23rd 2016 that Mr Zardari, Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), alongside his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, landed back in Pakistan. There were flurries of rallies and meetings, some unwise nay reckless projections that Punjab would fall to the PPP in the near future, all manner of speculation about what the role of Bilawal would be down the line — and then he was gone. Gone but not before making the most surprising of many statements, namely that he and Bilawal were to contest parliamentary elections, vying for the seats of two sitting members who were apparently unaware of this turn of events not having previously been consulted as to their unseating and replacement. Considering that Mr Zardari has long been regarded as the most adroit, the smoothest, the most canny of political operators this is a remarkably cack-handed display of political manoeuvering.
Having left for Dubai less than a month after he arrived it is now announced that he has once again set up a camp office there. To say the least this raises a host of questions about his stated intention of seeking a seat in the assembly — along with other family members — as well as his commitment to a long-term stay in Pakistan. Equally it does nothing to resolve the matter of who controls the PPP, from where and how. Despite Mr Zardari’s claim to be passing the baton of power to his son it was clear enough to anybody with a politically tuned eye that he was ruling the party by fiat from afar, and when son Bilawal looked to be getting more than a little uppity — to say nothing of politically effective — Mr Zardari parachuted in to set matters right.
Having now parachuted out and returning to running an absentee court with courtiers visiting to pay their respects and take direction, the PPP is beginning to look like the raggle-taggle gypsy of the political firmament. Camp offices in foreign parts inspire no confidence; neither do grandiloquent claims of future glory and it is beginning to look as if defeat is being snatched from the jaws of a yet un-won victory.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2017.
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