Pakistan’s former president Asif Ali Zardari has returned to the country, ending his 18-month-long self-imposed exile, amidst speculations about his future role in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has threatened a major protest against the Nawaz Sharif government. The party has asked the government to change the interior minister and appoint a full-time foreign minister, among other demands, before December 27 or face street demonstrations. So far, none of the demands have been fulfilled.
Zardari landed at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport on Friday afternoon and later addressed a huge rally criticising Prime Minister Sharif. But local media was not sure about the role of Zardari who with his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the co-chairman of the PPP which is the largest opposition party and also rules southern province of Sindh.
“Will Zardari take back the reins of PPP? Will he change the party’s strategy in dealing with the ruling PML-N? Will his son take the back seat? These are the questions making the rounds in political circles as Zardari returned to Karachi,” the Express Tribune reported. The answer to all these questions is ‘no’. This is at least what the Express Tribune has learnt from top PPP officials in background interviews. They say Bilawal will remain the face of the party, while Zardari will act as a ‘patriarch’.
Zardari, known for his wheeling and dealing, will use his political acumen to win over other political groups with his quintessential policy of political reconciliation. The objective will be to improve the party’s numerical strength in the legislatures of smaller provinces in the next general elections.
Bilawal, meanwhile, would continue to take on political rivals aggressively, mainly in Punjab, the province which decides who will rule in the Centre as almost half of the members of the National Assembly are elected from Islamabad. Public perception of Zardari is not good. And the PPP, which is evolving under Bilawal, knows it full well. This was the reason PPP’s inner circles had weighed the pros and cons of Zardari’s homecoming, it said.
Some political analysts, however, see Zardari’s return in the backdrop of the change in the military’s high-command. Before leaving the country in June last year, Zardari had made a hard-hitting speech at a function in Islamabad. Apparently, his target was the powerful military establishment, especially the then army chief, General Raheel Sharif. It was reported that Zardari was angered by the Rangers’ actions against PPP leaders as part of the operation in Karachi.