The People’s Party and Muslim League-Nawaz remain married, but separated. At the moment, they are seeing other people.
Earlier this week, Mumtaz Bhutto, the Bhutto tribe leader and estranged uncle of the late Benazir, met with Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore. Weeks before that, he had said there was no real difference between the PPP and Musharraf-allied PML(Q), Mumtaz has long been a critic of the PPP under Benazir and now Zardari.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that he also met with Aitzaz Ahsan, who alternates between a PPP-lawyers’ movement balancing act and choosing the lawyers. At the moment, Aitzaz is on the lawyers’ corner of the ring and seems ready to tussle. He’s called for a long march on June 10 and withdrew his nomination papers for the National Assembly seat from Rawalpindi. The PML-N also is expected to join the lawyers.
Aitzaz, perhaps others in (now or previously) the PPP, and the PML(N) are preparing for a fight with Zardari and what can be seen as his faction of the PPP. Conflict is not inevitable, but it seems as if the PML(N) as well as Aitzaz are trying to match Zardari tit for tat.
Why? Because of the forthcoming 18th amendment. The federal law minister appeared on TV to discuss it a few days ago. He was on air for perhaps 10 minutes and managed to provide few details of substance. But the insinuations and Islamabad chatter fill in the holes decently.
The 18th amendment is effectively Zardari’s returning the favor to Pervez Musharraf for the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Zardari, with virtually all criminal cases against him dropped, will indemnify Musharraf for his (self-admitted) illegal acts on November 3, 2007. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his stalwart colleagues will be outnumbered by judges loyal, at the moment, to Musharraf and Zardari. Their powers will be diluted and term will be shortened. All in the name of “reform.” [Though it seems as if the amendment will include some actual positive reforms such as strengthening the premiership and having Supreme Court appoinments approved by a parliamentary committee.]
Zardari is embracing Musharraf’s euber-allies: the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). And he’s selectively embracing the PML(Q). Manzoor Wattoo of the PML-(Q) (or J) has now joined the federal government as a science and technology adviser. It’s perhaps one way of working around the Chaudhries. Ditching Pervaiz Ellahi and Shujaat Hussain has proven problematic. They now join Hamid Nasir Chatta in meetings with Musharraf.
This arrangement works better for Musharraf & Co. A PML(Q) forward bloc formed soon after the elections. It was expected that they’d join the PML(N). But they waited patiently on the aisles, testing the waters. Their enemy was not Musharraf, but, so they say, Shaukat Aziz and the Chaudhries. Their attempts to de-Chaudhrize the PML(Q) seems to have failed after talk began of the Chaudhries pairing up with Nawaz. (The theme of the past week or so has been: ‘Two can play at that game’.) Multiple forward blocs would water down a PML(Q) already reduced down to size, leaving Musharraf with little political leverage besides the MQM.
In the midst of all this, a budget has to be proposed and by-elections will be held. The budget, if Pakistanis are fortunate, will pass smoothly. But the by-elections and 18th amendment will conflate. And it seems as if Nawaz is ready to capitalize upon this. In a recent appearance on Capital Talk, he returned to his talking points of the most recent February elections, speaking of Pakistan’s self-respect and sovereignty and the social malaise and desparation caused by economic pressures. The 18th amendment, if the PML(N) plays it right, will be framed as a ‘minus-160 million formula’–a violation of the basis of the mandate provided by the Pakistani electorate to the present government. Most Pakistanis in February voted against Musharraf & Co. and favored a PPP-PML(N) coalition and the judges’ restoration.
The 18th amendment will be as bloated as the 17th. It could move forward at a glacier-like speed or pass with smooth sailing. Legal advisers from the State Department met with Musharraf’s lawyer, Attorney General Malik Qayyum. And that could mean that the PPP, PML(Q), ANP, MQM, and JUI(F) are already on board. That’s not to say things will be honky dory. The 18th amendment can cost its supporters political legitimacy and even dissent within their rank and file. One could see the Zardari-led PPP set not only against the PML(N) and the lawyers’ movement, but also elements within. Alternatively, the PML(N) could provide tacit support to the bill if reports of Musharraf resigning after recieving legal immunity are not disinfo to make it more palatable.
As I’ve written earlier, things are very fluid. This time around, I’ll also add that it looks like things will also get messy–in June.