Reincarnation of ZAB

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The National Assembly of Pakistan witnessed a great political uproar on Monday and both sides (government and opposition) expressed their point of views very harshly.

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto made it big when he spoke scathingly at length about the conduct of the Prime Minister Imran Khan, his Ministers and his government’s total failure in running the affairs of the state and of ruining the economy in particular. Vintage journalist like me, sitting many thousand miles away from the Parliament could only make an evaluation by interpreting body language and his gift of the gab.

Bilawal’s tone and tenor took me back to the United Nations in 1965 and 1971 when martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto besieged the UN by his forceful presentation of Pakistan’s case. I have also had the pleasure of listening to Bhutto Sahib spell-binding speeches in his public meetings. Bilawal’s Monday speech was stunning too. There was spontaneity in applause to him. Members seemed to love him-perhaps they saw in him reincarnation of his grandfather.

GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH: Apr04-Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari replying to the slogans of party activists in the public gathering at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on the occasion of 40th martyrdom anniversary of former prime minister of Pakistan Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

It was more substantive and relevant to the facts. He shred to pieces the first reshuffle in the PTI cabinet. The eight ministers that Khan has inducted-all seemed to share a unique niche in the galley of rogues. IK replaced his blue eyed finance minister who he had introduced to the world as the panacea to all his financial ills. Had he appointed somebody known for better economic skills rather than pick up former President Zardari’s finance minister who was shown the door by the PPPP when it learnt that he had assured his contacts in IMF and Washington that he would rationalise the defence budget.

Bilawal Bhutto raised a number of questions of public interest in the Parliament. It included why did IK showed indecent haste in packing up Asad Umar when -as he had claimed after his visit to Washington for talks with IMF—that a bailout package is almost agreed. And he was upbeat about the budget next month. However, it was too pious a promise by him to be true. Forces other than domestic seemed to have prevailed on the Prime Minister to take a shabby u-turn.

Notwithstanding the fact that Finance Minister is important in any government–in particular the nature of society that we have-almost a police state-interior Minister is the icing on the cake. Bhutto is absolutely right in hammering out at the PTI government, reminding the Prime Minister of the serious allegations against the newly-appointed Minister for Interior -former Brigadier of ISI–Ijaz Ahmad Shah-known as spy master and political engineering– over his alleged involvement in the murder of Wall Street Journal’s South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped on January 23, 2002 from Karachi, and later beheaded by his captors.

One may recall that Pearl’s alleged kidnapper Omar Saeed Sheikh (recruited by Maulana Masood Azhar from London and involved in beheading of four foreign tourists in Indian held Kashmir) under too much pressure from President George Bush Jr. forced Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to expedite Omar Saeed Sheikh’s arrest. And lo and behold, his close buddy Ijaz Shah who was a facilitator to Omar came to his rescue to get him surrender at his house in Lahore where he was serving as Home Secretary.

Omar was given an assurance that no harm would come to him. He was sentenced to death in 2002 but he is still alive. With the main accused in martyred Benazir Bhutto’s murder having been allowed to run away from Pakistan , to let him escape murder trials of Bhutto and Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, the appointment of GPM’s buddy involved in his various acts of omission and commission is a clear indication that if Musharraf survives his lethal illness, he could try to stage a come back.

Bilawal also accused Ejaz Shah of being in cahoots with terrorist organisations. Without naming others, he charged that certain members of the federal cabinet were facilitators of terrorists and had links to banned outfits. Some PTI Ministers won elections on being supported by terrorist organisations. PPPP and ANP candidates were threatened with physical elimination. I think Bilawal is absolutely right to call upon the PTI government to remove all ministers who have “ties with proscribed organisations”.

Indeed, social media has plethora of videos of his ministers kow-towing with the known terrorist groups. One is told that despite the fact that his mentor Maulana Samiul Haq (JUIS) got mysteriously murdered, his Madressah e Haqqaniya-once a known cradle for training Taliban continues to get millions of rupees in assistance for the Madressah. Bringing PM Khan into his line of fire, Bilawal said: “You [PM] can’t hide your own incompetence by reshuffling your federal cabinet.”

As if it was not enough, the PPP chairman rightly went on to say that the government must give answer to the people over the ouster of finance minister Asad Umar. “He has left the economy in tatters with sky rocketing inflation. Bilawal also questioned the incumbent government: “What was the use of reshuffling these ministers and putting the same people in those positions who served in the previous governments?” The joke viral in the social media is that time would soon come when PTI would seek change in party’s name to PPPPP or PMLN-I. At the moment there are eight ministers who were in PPPP including PTI Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Finance Adviser Hafeez Sheikh, heavy weight Special Assistant Information Firdous Ashiq Awan and Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood. Others belong to PMLN.

Bilawal was absolutely right in reminding the NA Speaker of the rules for the conduct of the house. Indeed, he did not resort to PTI’s vulgar rhetoric and was critical of indulgence in diatribe in absentia when he was called a traitor. He however, warned that the house should be evenly conducted within the parameters of decency. He recalled that Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were both branded as enemies of the state by the military rulers and their cronies like Sheikh Rasheed. One gave Pakistan nuclear deterrence while his daughter Benazir provided missile technology. Indeed, non-elected or selected rulers may deny them their rightful place but love for them cannot be erased from the heart and soul of the masses.

(Author is the former High Commissioner to UK and a veteran journalist.)