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EDITORIAL: PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has finally confirmed, in unequivocal terms, what has been suspected for a while: that his party wanted no part of PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif's provocative speech he delivered at the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) Gujranwala rally, accusing Army leadership by name of orchestrating his ouster from office and "bringing Imran Khan to power". In an interview with BBC Urdu, he said he was "shocked" to hear the three-time prime minister take the names of Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI-DG Lt Gen Faiz Hameed "because typically we don't talk like this at rallies". More importantly, he said, the PML-N leader should have known better than to name them without any evidence, and that he would "wait for Nawaz to bring forward evidence corroborating his claims". As for those wondering what to make of his own frequent references to the "selected" and the "selectors" he offered the explanation that the establishment in his view had several meanings, and that bringing someone to power could not be attributed to just one person, adding "let me also say this will not be discussed at rallies."

Some may like to ascribe these assertions to his party having reached some sort of an understanding with the establishment, which may or may not be true. However, alliances such as the PDM normally have an agreed one- or two- point agenda. In the present instance, recalled Bilawal, when the agenda for the 11-party opposition alliance was being prepared, neither the League supremo nor other leaders of his party brought up the matter of naming the Army chief or ISI Director General in public meetings. In fact, when the multi-party conference debated who to blame for the prevailing situation it was decided that "a single institution would not be named" using instead the term 'establishment'. Regardless of that debate, there indeed is concern about the military's increasing ingress into political affairs. The reckless stance adopted by the PML-N leader, however, is problematic on at least two accounts. One is that frontal attacks often times result in grievous consequences. Second and no less important, given his track record the former prime minister is hardly the anti-establishment hero he is trying to portray himself as. Besides, the party he heads is anything but nonconformist. As a matter of fact, many Leaguers are said to be privately complaining about his confrontational approach.

So what all that means for the future of PDM? The first chink in it appeared when Sharif failed to address the alliance's Karachi rally. Before the next public meeting in Quetta, Bilawal took off for Gilgit-Baltistan to lead his party's election campaign prolonging his stay there in an apparent bid to disassociate himself from anything that could further muddy the waters, though he did address that event via a video link. He has now openly stated the reasons for distancing himself from PML-N. A Nawaz League spokesman, Zubair Umar (federal planning minister Asad Umar's elder brother), while defending his party leader, tried to play down the PPP Chairman's comments, saying his party respected Bilawal as he is part of the alliance but "this is his personal opinion." Public statements of party leaders surely cannot be taken as personal opinion rather than that of their parties. Now that the chink in the PDM has widened for all to see, it is still likely to chug on for some more time but without the steam that seemed to initially energize it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020