By Irfan Bukhari –
Who is the fittest person in PPP to revive the inertia-hit party?
The party is not only visibly too feeble to counter threats posed by emerging political realties like Khan’ PTI but also facing serious challenges in calming down in-house rebellions and defections. Yes it is the Pakistan People’s Party of Bhuttos which has turned to be a house-of-intrigue under Zardari’s command.
The obstinate intra-party rifts are inflicting more damage to the party than the one experienced by it after humiliating electoral defeat in KPK and Punjab in 2013 general elections. The differences not only exist in the medium and lower ranks of PPP but now the tug of war is in full swing between the top two – father and son.
Party insiders claim that Bilawal’s differences with party’s co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari first surfaced when Zardari was the President of Pakistan. “He (Bilawal) would appear in very casual dresses even in very high-level official meetings with indifferent facial expressions. He used to express his annoyance towards his father’s decisions on government affairs,” said a PPP leader seeking not to be named.
He said Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, who was calling shots during PPP regime particularly running Sindh province single handedly was also a source of friction between the father and the son. “A number of PPP leaders including few cabinet members who had reservations over Zardari’s decisions and Faryal Talpur’s unlimited powers started poisoning Bilawal’s ears,” he said adding under similar grounds the then President Zardari had barred Hasham Riaz’s entry into presidency during last weeks of PPP government.
Immediately after 2013 elections, Bilawal’s differences with his father and aunt touched the new levels. “Considering Zardari and Talpur’s political moves as reckless, Bilawal started asserting into party affairs particularly in Sindh and sidelined the most powerful lady in the province,” the source added. The Sindh Cultural Festival and other such activities were meant to occupy the political space.
The current tussle between Bilawal and Zardari, according to sources, started when contrary to the ‘understanding’, Asif Ali Zardari attended Oct 18 Karachi rally. “As per understanding only Bilawal had to attend the rally as it was his official launch. The appearance of Zardari, then his decision of making a speech to a huge jiyala gathering offended Bilawal,” the source said. According to party insiders Bilawal was also unhappy over tussle between Tapi and Faryal. “He thinks the tug of war between the two is weakening PPP even in its stronghold province Sindh,” the source added.
Nowadays, Bilawal is being fully supported by his sister Asseefa and maternal aunt Sanam Bhutto while Bakhtawar is siding embattled father. Hasham Riaz Sheikh is now more Bilawal’s aide and the role is being performed by Rehman Malik’s son.
Apart from Zardari-Bilawal cold war, the party is facing severe disharmony challenges. Former speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza and her spouse Zulfiqar Mirza are angry with the party’s top command particularly Zardari camp. They got annoyed when their son Husnain Mirza was not given ministerial berth in Qaim Ali Shah cabinet and was offered the seat of advisor which he refused on his parents’ nod. Zulfi Mirza on Bhutto’s birthday eve stated that only Bhutto (referring Bilawal) could save and unite the party. He said ‘all others’ were like him (workers). Currently Sharjeel Memon is Zardari’s confidant while Tappi has lost proximity with PPP co-chairman and power in Sindh.
Sindh Democratic Alliance, a bunch of influential leaders from Sindh, which had joined the PPP before 2013 general elections and also won a reasonable number of provincial assembly seats, is waiting in its wings to join the PTI. They are weighing their options as no member from SDA was accommodated in the Sindh cabinet. “As Nawaz Sharif is disinterested to establish the PML-N in Sindh apparently for not annoying Zardari, we may join the PTI,” said Sheikh Maqbool of SDA. SDA leaders claim that they were being neglected by the provincial government on Madam Faryal’s behest.
The situation in Punjab is not very different. On PPP’s foundation day, a number of PPP leaders returned and did not participate in the event on finding that Bilawal was not chairing the meeting. Recently when former President Asif ali Zardari visited Gujranwala, he actually visited the city to convince Imtiaz Safdar Warriach for not defecting to PTI. Manzoor Wattoo, President PPP Punjab is a ceremonious head of the party with no authority at all.
In the same manner on receiving reports that PPP stalwarts from Mandi Bahauddin and Sargodha including Gondals and Chans might quit the PPP, he made Nadeem Afzal Chan political advisor on youth. Talking to Pique Chan said that he and his family were never quitting the PPP. “There are also no serious political differences between Bilawal and Zardari and everything will be on track soon,” he added.
In a party meeting being attended by the top command, Qamar Zaman Kaira expressed serious reservations over Faryal Talpur’s attitude of doubting his loyalty with the party. He told the gathering that his loyalty was being questioned which was very painful for him. “On it, Zardari asked him to tell the meeting the name of the person who had questioned his loyalty and had called him for clearance on rumours of his decision of joining PTI. Before Kaira could name the person, Talpur said that she had phoned him in this regard,” said a source.
Similarly in a party meeting being chaired by Asif Ali Zardari, former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani staged a walk out in protest when Shugufta Jamani, former minister of state for religious affairs, complained that during PPP tenure Gilani as prime minister was too generous towards PML-N parliamentarians and used to neglect his own party men.
Bahadur Khan Sihar, Niaz Jhakar and Saifuddin Khosa have joined the PTI on getting ‘frustrated’ with PPP’s top command indifferent attitude. “I received a call from party office few months back during Bilawal’s visit to Punjab that party’s chairman wants to see me in Multan at the residence of Yousaf Raza Gilani. When I reached there I was first barred from entering the house but later on following my strong protest the door was opened to me. Then after hours long wait in the drawing room I was informed by the servants that Bilawal was in his bedroom and not responding to door-knocks. I was advised to visit Karachi sometimes later to call on Bilawal. I then decided to quit the PPP,” said Bahadur Khan Sihar.
Pakistan People’s Party’s KPK chapter is like a rudderless ship which is moving adrift. In a recently held by-election at a provincial assembly seat in Dera Ismail Khan in September last year, Faisal Karim Kundi openly backed PTI candidate against party’s line.
Background discussions with PPP’s old guards reveal that the party is standing at cross roads and the revival of this inertia-hit entity lies in new blood, the blood of Bhutto. Only Bilawal, with full liberty of launching a new team having fresh spirit of defeating odds, can save the PPP. They say that the revival of an ailing party is possible only on the hands of the fittest – and the one and only fittest person in PPP’s in-built structure is a Bhutto not a Zardari. On the other hand any protracted tussle between the father and son will make the party weaker and weaker by every passing day.