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Did Musharaf Bring Bhutto Arch Rival Sharif Back to Defuse Protests?

By       Message Muhammad Khurshid     Permalink
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Most of the people think that the return of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the arch rival of Benazir Bhutto will further increase tension in Pakistan.

The Pakistan People's Party (or PPP) has always been the party of the poor and this is the reason that it always remained victimised and suppressed. The founder of the party, the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was being considered by the people as the great reformer in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif represents the elite class, who always exploited the poor people of this country. A newspaper comment discussed the return of Mian Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. When Mr Nawaz Sharif and his family arrived back in Lahore on Sunday, the city was under Section 144. But his houses in Model Town — earlier confiscated and made an old citizens’ home — and Raiwind had been refurbished for him with the permission of the government.

Mr Sharif was supposed to stay out of Pakistan till 2010 as per the “understanding” he had signed in 2000. He tried to return in September 2007 and was forcibly deported. But he is now back following a quick visit to Saudi Arabia by General Pervez Musharraf. Was a “deal” made in Riyadh?

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In one of his recent meet-the-citizens occasions at the presidency, General Musharraf had told an anxious questioner that no country was truly sovereign, and referred to Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, pointing especially to the “free oil” Pakistan had received from the Saudi king in the past. He did not mention that the Saudis had also bought Pakistan its first instalment of 40 F16 fighter planes and had provided the seed money for the Zakat Fund when General Zia ruled Pakistan. But the message was quite plain.

The Saudis have a “friend” in Mr Nawaz Sharif and their friendship is different from the “friendship” of the United States with Ms Benazir Bhutto when the first “deal” was made. The King gave him his own plane to fly to Pakistan. He also sent a bullet-proof car for him in advance of his arrival in Lahore. The Sharif family has a close business relationship with the Saudi elite and the backing from Riyadh is not simply a “strategic decision”.

After Mr Sharif’s conviction in cases before the Anti-Terrorism Court which handed down imprisonment and confiscation of property, he and his family were lodged comfortably in Saudi Arabia. The King allowed him to set up a multi-million dollar Riyal steel mill in Jeddah and the sons of Nawaz and Shehbaz were able to open their own businesses in London.

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What “deal” did the General make in Riyadh? As far as the PMLN is concerned, it is clear that a deal made in Saudi Arabia will not attract public opprobrium in the same way as the deal the General made with Ms Bhutto with the mediation of the United States. It is said that the General got the assurance that the Sharifs will stay away from political agitation and not take part in the 2008 elections.

As it is, because of his conviction, the elder brother is debarred from holding any public office while a “police encounters” case against the younger Sharif can be dusted up and restarted. Whatever the assurances offered him, the fact remains that the General could not show defiance to the Saudis and had to accept the Sharifs back.

Will Mr Nawaz Sharif stick to any further undertakings that he may have made? This is politically not possible if his party, the PMLN, has to rise from its 1999 ashes. Although his brother Mr Shehbaz Sharif has been quoted as saying that he plans to file his papers with the intent to fight the elections, his party is sending out different signals.

Gathering under the banner of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), the second echelon leaders have already announced that they will boycott the elections. The idea is to go into the agitation mode and bring down the edifice that General Musharraf has built since his takeover in 1999. Is this “rejectionism” really solid?

There are two strands of thinking running within the party. The first strand is that the “artificial creation” PMLQ is waiting to splinter as soon as Mr Sharif arrives and there will be a host of repentant old Muslim Leaguers lining up to serve Mr Sharif again. This trend was said to have manifested itself when the first “deal” with the PPP was revealed and the ruling party had felt a shiver run down its spine.

The only piece missing in the scenario was the presence of Mr Sharif; and now that he is here, the rush for the PMLN is supposed to begin in real earnest. But this runs contrary to the spirit of the PMLN’s policy of boycott.

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If the PMLN is going to get its ranks swelled with its lost members riding home again, what will the decision of boycott do to their political ambitions? If there is any one trait of the party that is clear to everyone, it is the urge not to be absent from the feast of political power.

Most of the prodigal sons will return only because they would expect a “sweep” at the polls for the party they had abandoned. It should be noted that their earlier act of abandoning the party was not motivated by any ideological differences. If Mr Sharif were to join his firebrand deputy Mr Javed Hashmi in boycotting the elections, the wave of repentance among the ruling PML might suddenly subside.

In the coming days, the PMLN leaders will be greatly exercised by the two options confronting them. The “deal” was there. It has brought Mr Sharif home. The next step for him is going to be decisive for his political future.

 

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
 

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