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Pulling Back

by Newsweek Pakistan

Minhaj Ahmed Rafi

Once hailed as the only national party, the PPP is out of options.

After having pledged a “long march” against the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government at the annual Dec. 27 memorial at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party has revised its radical decision. Now Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will watch the party rank and file hold “many small protest rallies and public meetings in different cities, including the federal capital.”

Clearly there was a gap between the top duo’s rather optimistic assessment of the party strength and the realistic branch-line reports reaching them. Sitting in rural Sindh, the PPP looks dominant with workers ready to die for the Bhutto legacy. But up north, things are not all that upbeat. Punjab has been assailed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf after years of retreat by the PPP in the face of a still-hostile establishment and its alleged terrorist proxies, to say nothing about the PPP’s two tottering successive Punjabi prime ministers.

With the Punjab opting out under the PPP’s newly appointed provincial president Qamar Zaman Kaira, the long-march option is virtually finished. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the province crucial to any assault on Islamabad, and once known as the stronghold of the PPP’s charismatic Hayat Sherpao, the party is still worse off, with workers demanding intraparty elections to validate the current office bearers. In Balochistan, the PMLN is in government and Khan is poised to make inroads. Given the party’s long decline, the Bhutto-Zardaris are better off talking “adjustment” to the PMLN than joining the PTI on the roads.

The politics of Zardari is based on deal making after posing a threat to the party in power. He has strength in the Senate and numbers in the National Assembly he can conjure with. PTI’s Khan is a lone warrior with a record of badmouthing the Bhutto-Zardaris while Nawaz Sharif can return to the spirit of the Charter of Democracy with the PPP.

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