Is Fast Breaker An Icebreaker Too?

Is Fast Breaker An Icebreaker Too?
Murtaza Solangi explains the behind-the-scenes works for the meeting between Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari scheduled for the Iftar today at Zardari House. The meeting "will be the biggest headline for the days and weeks to come", writes Solangi.

The big news is here. Bilawal and Maryam are about to break the actual and the proverbial bread together this evening. As much as the Imran Khan administration would pooh-pooh it, it will be the biggest headline for the days and weeks to come. Many are wondering how this meeting came to fruition.

As both political parties have been pushed to the wall after the installation of Imran Khan administration, both Maryam and Bilawal have been in communication with each other. “They constantly talk to each other directly, without any middlemen as they know each other since their childhoods. Unlike their parents, they have not hurt each other. They don’t have that bitterness, their parents have had”, revealed an insider.

“Hardly any day goes by when they don’t talk to each other. That conversation is not only about politics but about mundane issues too”, the insider revealed.

Naya Daur investigations suggest that the meeting today was in the works before Ramazan when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was still out on the six-week bail. The dinner was actually scheduled to invite Nawaz Sharif but the former Prime Minister didn’t think it prudent. Then the invitation was changed into an Iftar Dinner.

When Nawaz Sharif went back to prison on May 7 after his bail period ended, the request to send Maryam to the Iftar Dinner was extended. Last Thursday when the family members went to see the former premier at Kotlakhpat Jail he asked Maryam Nawaz Sharif to attend the Iftar Dinner along with senior party leaders, including Hamza Shehbaz. That is the day when the former prime minister read Miranda rights to his political leadership to get ready to rumble or else.

The meeting assumes importance in the backdrop of increasing economic difficulties for Pakistan with unprecedented price hike in items of daily use, utilities and unemployment in the wake of the IMF accord, tough budget round the corner and tightening noose around the leaders of the opposition parties.

As the pundits ponder over the meeting of the leaders of the rainbow opposition at the Zardari House to break the fast jointly hosted by Asif Zardari and his heir apparent Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, all eyes are on the meeting between the heirs of the country’s prominent political dynasties, Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

This will be the first time that both young leaders might face the cameras together. Symbolically it will carry a big message to the Imran Khan administration whose stocks are crashing just like Pakistan Stock Exchange's.

Till July last year, both the PPP and the PML-N were on a war path. Many analysts believed that the former President Asif Zardari wanted to hurt the PML-N to curry favour with the miltablishment to have a rapprochement after his disastrous speech in the national capital on June 16, 2015 that led to his self exile till the retirement of General Raheel Sharif. All hopes of a coalition government with the PTI too dashed after the 2018 elections and the installation of Imran Khan as the Prime Minister.

Both PML-N and PPP have been pushed to the wall since then as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was recently sent back to Kotlakhpat Jail after a six-week conditional bail on medical grounds ended while Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were put on a tight leash to be sent to jail anytime after their protective bails expire.

The sudden downturn on the economic front, failure of Imran Khan’s economic team and unprecedented economic hardships for the people of Pakistan after the IMF accord have created a new wave of mass resentment in the length and the breadth of the country. This extraordinary situation has worked wonders for the opposition parties, including the PPP and the PML-N that didn’t see eye to eye until recently and looked at each other with much suspicion.

When the invitation seeking Maryam Nawaz’s participation arrived, there was unease in the PML-N. Many leaders suggested that it would not be prudent for the new Vice President of the party to attend the dinner at the Zardari House. Sending senior leaders to the dinner would be better, it was suggested, but Nawaz Sharif vetoed it out.

If we don’t unite and provide leadership to the people in the time of crisis and hardships, we will miss the bus, the elder Sharif reportedly told the party leaders. In politics, timing, not the ego, works, he said.

Many suggested that after the role the PPP played in overthrow of the party government in Balochistan, siding with the miltablishment during the Panama case, depriving them of the Senate Chairmanship by aligning with the PTI, opposing the party candidates for the election of the Prime Minister and the President, visiting Zardari House by Maryam Nawaz will send a wrong signal but the elder Sharif knocked all of it down.

Remember when once we didn’t see eye to eye, Benazir Bhutto along with her husband came all the way to Suroor Palace in Jeddah on Friday, February 11, 2005 to lay the foundations of the Charter of Democracy (CoD), the elder Sharif reportedly told his party leaders. Nawaz Sharif also remembers the Sunday of May 14, 2006 when he along with his party leaders was invited to sign the CoD at the residence of Rehman Malik in London.

Nawaz Sharif was reminded how Rehman Malik had arrested Nawaz Sharif’s father, initiated Hudaibya and other cases against his family. How in the world you would go to the residence of the same man, he was asked. These issues are bigger than our lives and our personal egos, Nawaz had told his party people then.

“Both Bilawal and Maryam don’t carry the burden of the bitterness their parents carried. It is much easier for scions of these dynasties to march forward”, said a PML-N stalwart.

PML-N Senator and party veteran Pervaiz Rashid told Naya Daur, “The second and the third generation of political families are meeting today to meet the challenges the country faces. Both Maryam and Bilawal carry their own bigger personal charisma besides the weight of their political parties. Both have personally experienced the pain and sufferings of their parents and grandparents. Both are tempered through the thick and thin their families have gone through and I think they are ready to meet the challenge they’re facing”.

PPP veteran Farhatullah Babar was more measured in his response on the significance of today’s meeting. “Although it is an informal get together, it has the potential to effect the beginning of a joint grand strategy to meet the grave challenges the country faces today”, he told Naya Daur.

Senior journalist Talat Hussain says the challenges for both Maryam and Bilawal are big. “So far they have been beneficiaries of their political legacies but as their family benefactors fade they will have to take the lead. Can they lead? Can they say something of significance to their voters that they haven’t said to them individually? Or will they just meet, greet and after the photo-op slide back to their comfort zones? This will be clear to us all soon”, he said.

Much earlier than the grand show tonight the Imran Khan administration carrying the albatross of the economic mismanagement around their necks have been pushed to the background. The coming days, weeks and months will not be pretty for the government that has a razor thin majority in the national assembly as well as in Punjab.

Do we see any container politics soon after Eid? The answer to the question is a clear No. “The political leadership of PPP, PML-N and JUI-F has been here for a while. They won’t go for a path without an exit strategy and end game in mind. They will take pulse of the street amid deteriorating economic conditions into focus and avoid adventurism. They will slowly raise the temperature", an analyst said.

"They are not here to boil a kettle for a quick cup of tea. They are here for cooking overnight Haleem”, quipped a veteran analyst over the Iftar Dinner tonight.

There are too many things still up in the air. There are vibes of discomfort, unease and disbelief in the miltablishment about the economic downturn and the failure of the governance of the Imran Khan administration but there are many questions unanswered yet. We still don’t know if Imran Khan will give extension to army chief Gen Bajwa or not and how it will impact the current crisis and the tug of war between the opposition and the Imran Khan administration. One is however pretty sure that the process will culminate towards an endgame by November this year.
Executive Editor

Murtaza Solangi is one of Pakistan's top journalists, and former Director General of Radio Pakistan.