Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pakistan’s Protagonists

Elections in Pakistan have thrown up a fractured mandate. While PPP has emerged as the single largest party and is likely to lead the next government, PML-N is going to form the new government in the politically important province of Punjab. Together Nawaz and Zardari, it appears for the time being, will share the spoils. However neither Main sahib nor Benazir’s crooked widower [as Jemima Goldsmith, Imran Khan’s ex, calls him] can become the prime minister of Pakistan, in the immediate future, as both men didn’t contest these elections. While Mush initially got the constitution of Pakistan tampered with, solely to keep BB and Nawaz out of the PM’s race [A person can be PM only two times according to the amendment], a slew of corruption charges await Zardari. All these equations could be corrected, in the days and weeks ahead.

Already the balance of power has shifted 180 degrees. We have new protagonists in the play. While some of the older hero’s are dead, others may soon have to take a detour or follow the tracks leading to the exit door. Some of our hero’s have grown horns while others developed a halo. Such is the nature of politics in this part of the world. A profile update of Pakistan’s most powerful protagonists:

Nawaz Sharif: The quintessential Punjabi [Power house].
Fabulously wealthy. He and his extended family made a huge fortune during his days as the powerful finance minister under the dictator Zia. Sharif’s family originally migrated from Kashmir, made its fortune in steel [Ittefaq Industries] before moving into sugar and textiles. Most of Pakistan's political elite has tended to come from the agricultural, rather than industrial sector, so Nawaz is an exception.

The Biryani-loving Sharif – also called Main sahib – used to talk in chaste Punjabi and Urdu and was considered something of a conservative. His exile [which he blames Musharraf for] did two good things to him. He got an image make-over and improved upon his English. Sharif is now clad mostly in Seville row tweeds and has a new hair crop, thanks to a quick hair transplant in London. Not surprising from a man, who wanted an amendment in constitution of Pakistan during his second term as PM, to designate himself as the ‘Amir-ul-Momineen’ [Leader of the faithful], a politically loaded Islamic title.

Asif Zardari: Mischievously yours [Backroom dude].
Ex-polo player, horse-riding, ex-playboy. Zardari is considered to be a corrupt guy and was jailed on murder and other charges for eight long years. He was charged with getting his brother-in-law Murtaza [BB’s bro] bumped off. Nothing was ever proved but Zardari remains a much controversial chap.

Asif grew up in Karachi and did most of his schooling at St Patrick's School -- ironically also the alma mater of President Pervez Musharraf. He belongs to a ‘lesser Sindhi tribe’ and surprised the whole of Pakistan and the world at large -- when he married Benazir Bhutto [from the super rich ‘superior Sindhi tribe’] – heiress to the magical Bhutto legacy.

Zardari is given to rhetoric and pretence. He remains a survivor with a penchant for politicking.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim: The quiet loyalist [PM in waiting]
Rare breed. A squeaky clean Pakistani politician known for his dignified demeanor. Always stood besides Benazir. On her last day he was by her, like a shadow. Even as she was shot, Fahim sahib was in the SUV, like always. Offered the Prime Minister’s post by Mush in the past, Fahim, the true family loyalist, out rightly rejected the offer.

Fahim is a feudal lord. His father Makhdoom Talib-ul-Maula, the spiritual leader of Sarwari Jammat of Pakistan, was one of the founding members of the PPP — which was founded in 1969 by the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Venerated as a peer [spiritual head] of Halla Sharif, Hyderabad, Fahim is elected from Mathihari in Sindh and has an excellent understanding of Pakistan politics. However his heart is in poetry. Loves Rumi on quiet evenings. No wonder his admirers call him, ‘he whose presence brings good harvests’.

President Musharraf: The fall guy [Tough nut]
Ex flamboyant General, Attaturk quoting Prez of Pakistan. Frank. Still thinks out of the box. Wonderful fashion sense. Once loved for the freshness he promised to instill in the debilitatingly corrupt Pakistani political soil, he has since become the worst cynic of his country and went on to commit some humongous mistakes. He sacked the entire judiciary, gagged the media and imposed Martial law -- a move which badly backfired on him. To his credit, he fought Islamists and flushed radicals out of Islamabad’s Red Mosque.

Then something unthinkable happened. Benazir Bhutto was killed on his watch. Right outside the military HQ in Rawalpindi. That evening marked Musharraf’s countdown also. Elections 2008 ousted his party called the Q league. There is no love lost for him. The media continues to grill him. Human rights fellas want nothing less than his scalp. Yet he continues to hang onto power rather shamelessly.

It looks like an ego-fight for him now. Musharraf’s days are clearly numbered.

There are other players at the hustlings who are going to be increasingly relevent in the new dispensation -- The supremely gutsy Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan [PPP]: Dark-horse, the tough Sharif bro Shahbaz [PML-N]: Likely CM of Punjab, the tall Pashtoon Asfandyar Wali Khan [ANP]: NWFP chieftan and key ally at the centre.