Asif Ali Zardari is reputed to be a cold, calculating and calm man, and therefore his aggressive- and to a large extent, mocking – outburst against the military at a party function in Islamabad comes as a shock. The ex-president objected to the “character assassination” of his party, and warned that if the military does not reign itself in, he will expose “misdeeds of many generals”. The tone and the words left little ambiguity; the PPP was being victimised by the army which had exceeded its domain, and the PPP is not afraid to fight back. Over the course of the event, it also became clear that the speech was meant to provoke. Mr Zardari belittled the military’s political acumen, reminding them of past stints in charge, while constantly using military vernacular to scold the top leadership. And right on cue, politicians from all shades, including the Prime Minister himself, jumped in to defend the military and rebuke Zardari. The speech certainly caused a furore in the political landscape; and therein lays the question, was the outburst intended to voice a legitimate grievance, or was it intended to put PPP back into the political limelight? Secondly, with the PPP and the military in open confrontation, what will the PML-N do?
The reasonable statement will be that the PPP is motivated by both objectives. The event, an otherwise ordinary oath taking ceremony, was attended by top PPP leadership, including the recently returned Bilawal Bhutto. A speech that not only makes PPP the centre of attention, but also talks up its past credentials of resistance against military dictatorship is exactly what the stagnating party needs. Picking a fight with the military and playing the historic victim are also classic PPP selling points; which were quite subtly presented for all party members to see. Yet, despite these strategic publicity acts, the prime motivation remains a sense of victimisation by the military. The DG Rangers’ report to the senate which claims that ‘major political parties’ are involved in illegal activities amounting to Rs230 Billion has put the PPP on the back foot. The controversial raid by the Rangers on the Sindh Building Control Authority premises is seen as further proof that the Rangers are exceeding their mandate to target the PPP – a claim that is partly true as the Rangers are not deployed to stop white collar crime. And while this ‘legitimate grievance’ may be little more than an act of self preservation, and the speech a warning to the military of mutually assured destruction – the motivation of the speaker does not diminish the logic of the spoken argument. Zardari may be only saving his skin but he is the only politician that dares to criticise the militaries ever-increasing role in the government. The military already has their own courts and now the Rangers have mutated into a parallel force in Karachi.
Despite being caught between a rock and a hard place, the Prime Minister has been the voice of reason, urging unity between the institutions in the time of need; if the situation worsens he will have to pick a side.