LAHORE - President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif tried to show they’ve no love lost for each other. What was seen at the prime minister’s farewell luncheon for the outgoing president was hypocrisy at its peak. The guest and the host were all praise for each other. They said in their speeches what they actually did not mean. And what they actually thought of each other could not, for obvious reasons, be said in the presence of so many people. Utterances of the two leaders apart, the policies of their parties in the days ahead will show their real intentions. In fact, they are archrivals and will remain so in the future.
The “sweet talk” that came from the president was dictated by expediency. Since a number of PPP leaders are facing corruption cases, and the president is also among them, interest demanded that he should talk of politics of reconciliation and offer cooperation to the PML-N government. In the past five years, he followed this policy because his party – PPP – did not have the majority in the previous assembly and was dependent on support from other parties to be able to first form the government and then keep it in power.
Otherwise, his past statements say that he regards Mr Sharif as a “Maulvi” (fundamentalist), whose thinking is similar to that of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. On various occasions, he said that his fight is against the mindset of Mr Sharif.
At the luncheon, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif referred to the various meetings he had with Mr Zardari, alone as well as in the company of Benazir Bhutto. One of such meetings was held when Mr Zardari sought the PML-N’s support for formation of government after the 2008 elections. He recalled that the PPP leader sat with him unless he convinced him (Mr Sharif) about the need for mutual cooperation. But the prime minister preferred to not mention the way Mr Zardari backed out of his commitment to restore the sacked judges of the superior courts within the agreed timeframe. This provided the PML-N with a justification to quit the coalition only after 40 days.
The prime minister credited Mr Zardari for laying the foundation of politics of reconciliation, without mentioning if he really meant what he was saying, why the PML-N subjected him to scathing criticism to the last day of the PPP government in office.
The most interesting “disclosure” made by the prime minister was that Mr Zardari was leaving the office after honourably completing his five-year term. (Superfluous to point out that the PML-N has consistently been leveling corruption charges against Mr Zardari during this period).
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was also there at the Prime Minister’s House probably to say farewell to the man he did not recognise as president. He was not feeling comfortable when his elder brother was “showering praise” on Mr Zardari.
People remember that Shahbaz Sharif repeatedly branded the president as “Ali Baba” and his aides as “Chaali Chor” because of the group’s alleged involvement in corruption.
In a number of statements in the past, the chief minister said he would drag Mr Zardari on the streets and bring the national wealth looted by him back to the country.
He had also said, “Change my name if I don’t honour my commitment.”
Whether the word is kept will become clear during the months ahead.
The chief minister had also launched a movement to mount pressure on the president to quit. “Go Zardari, go” was the chant at the rallies he addressed.
To the surprise of many, the “billionaire revolutionary” also used to recite Habib Jalib’s poems which the late poet had written for the rights of the poor people.
The campaign was discontinued when constitutional experts told the PML-N leadership that if Mr Zardari quits, the PPP will be able to get a new man elected for five years.
Now Mr Zardari will quit the presidency during the next couple of days. He will inspect a guard of honour before leaving the place where he spent five years. It’s tragic that in politics you have to do things you don’t want to do. And you say things you don’t really mean.