By Abdul Manan
The political positions of the two leading parties in the country have come full circle since the 1990s. In a letter written to the eponymous leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, President Asif Ali Zardari asked Nawaz Sharif not to criticise the army or the government.
In reply to Nawaz Sharif’s address against govt, president urges all parties to help instead of pointing fingers.
The letter, which was highly critical of the PML-N leadership in polite but pointed language, was made public through a press release by the Punjab government’s information department.
Using references to the highly divisive politics of the 1990s, the president appeared to be playing the role of an elder statesman, asking the leader of the country’s largest opposition party to focus on helping the people of the one province that the PML-N governs rather than concerning themselves with criticising the federal government’s every move.
“The nation does not need provocative speeches, but rather a treatment for dengue fever,” the president’s letter was quoted as saying, in a reference to the dengue epidemic that has plagued Punjab over the past few days.
(Read: Alarming proportions – ‘Dengue out of Punjab government’s control’)
Teaching hospitals in Lahore, the provincial capital, report receiving as many as 600 dengue fever patients a day. A Pakistan Peoples Party spokesperson in Punjab claimed that 10,000 people had been affected by the disease so far.
The president also asked Sharif to spare a thought for the flood victims in Sindh, Zardari’s home province.
“If you do not want to visit Sindh because of me, visit it for the sake of the poor, marooned people of the province,” the president was quoted as having written.
The president even offered Sharif his personal residence in Nawabshah for his stay in Sindh and implied that his hospitality would be a repayment in kind for Zardari’s stay in Kholi (a prison), a reference to the time that Zardari was imprisoned on corruption charges (that were never proven) during the Sharif administration in the 1990s.
“Let’s come together to support the nation and get her out from the clutches of natural calamities,” the press release quoted the president as having said.
(Read: President visits flood hit areas, ensures relief and rehabilitation for affectees)
Allusions to plots
Yet the main thrust of the president’s letter appeared to be to convince Sharif of the need to support democracy in the country and not take any actions to destabilise it. In veiled terms, the president appeared to be referring to reports that have emerged in recent months that the PML-N is planning to seek early parliamentary polls before the March 2012 Senate elections.
Zardari reminded Sharif that the ouster of the PPP government in 1996 by then-President Farooq Leghari gave the PML-N a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly but did not secure democracy in the country, leading ultimately to the military coup by General Pervez Musharraf.
“Democracy requires a hundred years to take hold in a nation but it can be destroyed in an instant,” the president was quoted as saying. “Come out of the world of imagination, idealism and adventurism or else there will come a time when neither you will be able to call me in Kholi nor will I be able to call you.”
That veiled reference to the possibility of another military coup was accompanied with the request to Sharif to stop criticising the army, something that the PML-N leader has been doing very frequently and publicly since the May 2 US raid on Abbottabad.
(Read: ‘Zardari conspiring to create Nawaz-Army rift’)
Zardari asked Sharif to remember what the president considered to be the achievements of the PPP-led government, including the restoration of the 1973 constitution, freedom of expression, and the institutionalisation of the supremacy of parliament and the independence of the judiciary.