May issue 2006
Parleying with the Enemy
While the novelty of the sight of once blood-thirsty political foes feting each other has greatly diminished, supporters of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are still at a loss to understand how the two parties will join hands against their common enemy, the ruling Muslim League without compromising their core constituencies. The informal meeting between the top leadership of both the Peoples Party and the Muslim League (N), in London last month, did not solve the puzzle. Aside from the generalities of the agreement in principle on the so called charter of democracy, to be signed later, there’s no final word out yet from both leaders about their future political strategy.
The problem in part is trust deficit. Nawaz League insiders are still not sure whether Benazir Bhutto has shunned the path of cutting a deal with General Musharraf. “Benazir Bhutto has personally rubbished these rumours, but the mere fact that they continue to persist creates an uneasy feeling. Nawaz Sharif has in private expressed these doubts before senior party leaders”, says a Muslim League party source.
Then the Nawaz League also has another partnership alternative to the PPP in its sight. And that is the Jamaat-e-Islami, which at one time was on the best of terms with the Nawaz League. The two parties have maintained consistent contact at the highest level and share regular political notes. Jamaat sources say that their party will go out of its way to back Nawaz Sharif on his return and that a joint front is also possible, especially in the Punjab. The Jamaat, however, is keeping its doors open not just for old times sake: it is driven by its utter disgust with the JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, which has turned out to be the proverbial Trojan horse: working more to the advantage of the government than for the religious platform. The Jamaat is looking for alternative friends and in the elections wants to hook up with the Nawaz Leauge in the Punjab and the NWFP.
That Peoples Party views these contacts with raised eyebrows and does not want to put all its eggs in the basket of an alliance with the Nawaz League. “We are a national party and have constituencies all over the country. A political deal with our traditional rivals has to be struck with an eye on our workers’ sensibilities. Moreover, we have been directly affected by the MMA’s political wheeling and dealing and it seems that the Nawaz League, which has been on the margin over the last many years because of its leaders’ exile, has an overblown trust in the religious parties as future partners. This is a problem,” said a Peoples Party leader.
Sources privy to these parleys say that at this point in time, they are not even looking at the nitty-gritty of seat-adjustments; instead, according to sources, the focus is on combining the schedule of the return of the two leaders to Pakistan.
“That will be a big event and would effectively launch the movement against this government. We want to make sure that we derive maximum benefit from the return of these leaders, which will have to be at the most, six months before the elections. First the return schedules have to be worked out. The rest will follow,” said a Peoples Party leader who attended London’s informal moot.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV hosting a prime time current affairs program.