He sits among the party loyalists, confident and in control. And then the camera pans a little. And there you see his chaperone, his paternal aunt, closely watching his every move. With a puff the man in charge, the chairman of the party, starts looking like a misbehaving adolescent who needs to be controlled. This pattern repeats in almost every one of Bilawal’s meetings with party workers and leaders. The PPP was never short of eccentricities. After all, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto once distributed copies of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People among her cabinet members with the hope that they would learn to behave in her presence. You will need a lovely long book to compile bon mots from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s life. And don’t forget these are dim times. So dense that the Westernised urban class has been ensnared by a politician who believes negotiating with the TTP and allowing them to establish an office in the country is a remarkably bright idea. Neither this leader nor his followers realise that if the likes of the TTP had their way, they would be the first victims.
But even in such times, the PPP stands out with its counterintuitive inability to see the writing on the wall. Need examples? Let us start with the recent advertisements that were published against a law-enforcement agency. It is like breaking into someone’s house, with the most sophisticated technology available so that you are not blamed for it later, to plant a threatening letter handwritten by you that carries your signatures. The party now insists that mid-ranking officers of the police force were responsible for the ads. Even if this was the case, it would only expose a new degree of ineptness where a provincial government has zero control over its underlings. Beats me, in this age of 24/7 intrusive media, how can anyone be so blase not to realise that dots can easily be connected. Lest you forget, former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s speech against the operation in Karachi and Dr Asim’s arrest are significant enough to highlight the motivation behind the ads. What is more, a few politicians from this party told me with a straight face that when Zardari threatened to bring the entire country to a grinding halt, he actually believed he had that kind of power. Need I say more?
Zardari sahib first lashed out against the country’s security establishment. Then perhaps, thinking that it will undo the damage, against the PML-N. And finally, against the MQM. And yet he believes this will end his isolation, not reinforce it. Now that the local government elections are to be held in Sindh today, the fear is that he will try to use the party’s success in these elections to claim that it is not finished. But that is an irrelevant argument. No one honestly thinks the party is finished. The only thing alarming about it is its political trajectory. It is increasingly being perceived as the Qaim Ali Shah of political parties. In other words, like its logic-defying and baffling choice for chief minister of Sindh — aging, powerless, helpless and irrelevant.
Even the party’s most committed supporters, yes those who once told you Zardari holds a PhD in politics, are running out of ways to rationalise its silly moves and evidently patience too. The party’s victimhood narrative has been done to death. The stories of corruption are getting more elaborate by the day. If Sindh still stands with the party, it is not due to any blind sense of servitude but because there is no other mainstream or national political party based in the province. When you improvise, make erratic and often silly decisions and then take pride in them, it is not called complacency or ignorance. It is called sheer madness. People have waited long enough for Bilawal to step out of the shadows and rescue the party. No one expected him to stage a coup against his father. Everyone thought that the elder Zardari would let go of the party. But it now seems more likely that he would try to play one child against the other. The only reason why so many still have some concern about it is that there is no other mainstream moderate or liberal party in town. But are you sure these people will not eventually move on and create another liberal party with a fighting chance?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.