Nawaz’s Faults Worked For Zardari In AJK Polls28 June 2011
Islamabad: It was no political shrewdness of President Asif Ali Zardari that brought victory in his lap in Sunday’s Azad Kashmir polls, but it was Nawaz Sharif’s lack of foresight, inflated sense about his popularity, too much confidence in his election campaign and his solo flight that led him down and handed victory to Zardari on a plate. If the Azad Kashmir People’s Party (AKPP) lost the 2006 state elections because of its split into two with Barrister Sultan Mehmood parting ways with the main entity, it was the break up of the Muslim Conference (MC) in the 2011 polls with its powerful group led by Sardar Sikandar Hayat joining hands with Nawaz Sharif and becoming part of his newly established Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) in Azad Kashmir that resulted in the defeat of both. The role that the split vote played in the state elections and marginalised Nawaz Sharif’s chances of victory will be quite akin to the job that the PML-Q is all set to do in the future general elections in Pakistan that may be shocking for the PML-N supremo. Zardari was just a silent but keen observer when the MC was being split and the PML-N being created in Azad Kashmir, but he is an active player in keeping the PML-Q in a good humour and making him stand solidly and constantly till the next polls just to hurt Nawaz Sharif by dividing the League vote. Here again the PML-N chief’s policy of keeping the Chaudhrys of Gujrat at a wide distance will bring dividends to the president. However, the MQM’s fuming walkout from the ruling coalition is the negative domino effect of the AJK elections for President Zardari, which he might not have envisaged because it was the question of just one Karachi seat. Thus, it is the first time that the Azad Kashmir polls have spawned a strong direct bearing on Pakistan’s politics having serious implications for the ruling coalition. It portends political turmoil and instability. Unlike the past the AKPP united this time as Sultan Mehmood patched up with his mother party and they fought the elections as one entity, gaining a sweeping victory. Keen observers of the Azad Kashmir polls are of the firm view that had the Muslim Conference remained undivided, backed by Nawaz Sharif’s forceful election campaign, it would have come out with much impressive electoral showing. Even the chief prime ministerial aspirant of the AKPP, Sultan Mehmood, shared this opinion in a TV talk show. He actively participated in the election campaign after having a meeting with PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in London in which he got his nod to become the next prime minister. Bilawal’s expression of solidarity with him by raising their hands together is going to help him in getting the top position in Azad Kashmir once again. “I think the main reason behind the rout of both the PML-N and MC is the split of their votes that earlier used to fall in one basket. Had they been united on one platform, they would have performed much better,” former Azad Kashmir Health Minister Rafiq Nayyar remarked to this correspondent. He opined that there would have been a photo finish had a united AKPP and a united MC faced each other at the hustling. In that case, independents were going to hold the trump card. He said the unified AKPP bagged 524,000 votes while the divided AKPP had secured 410,000 vote, which landed it in a position where it could not form government. However, there was no political intelligence and wisdom of President Zardari that he keeps boasting about that was behind the PML-N decision to officially form his party in Azad Kashmir and field it independently in the elections. It was Nawaz Sharif’s own decision and thinking. At no point, Zardari seems to be creating a situation where the PML-N chief was forced to resort to this recourse just to hurt himself at the end. Similarly, nowhere the deftness of the president’s sister Faryal Talpur, the chairperson of the AKPP parliamentary board, is in sight behind the great win of her party. While she, in consultation with some other PPP leaders like Qamar Zaman Kaira, did allocate the party tickets prudently, she just remained confined to Islamabad as usual and never visited Azad Kashmir to extend a helping hand to the campaign of her candidates even when the election temperature was very high. Zardari too did not address even a single election rally although Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani did so frequently. The view that Zardari’s Naudero speech paid dividends to the AKPP is nothing but deeply fallacious and flawed. In one sense, the AKPP’s triumph is also the victory of the establishment especially keeping in view Nawaz Sharif’s sturdy campaign to end its role and clout in elections, and making and breaking of governments in the state and Pakistan. Among others, this was his major agenda item during his election speeches. Certainly, the establishment would have felt uneasy, had PML-N become victorious because then it would have been unable to have a government of its choice in the traditionally sensitive area. A serious allegation that has emerged in the AJK elections is the distribution of millions of rupees by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in several constituencies on the eve of the elections. Prime Minister Sardar Attique Khan said in a TV show that he has got record from the concerned post office of just one constituency where BISP funds of more than Rs10.25 million were doled out just a few days before the polling. There is a dire need to launch a genuine full-scale investigation into this alleged blatant misuse of the BISP money, which is not meant for the promotion of electoral politics. The real Kashmiri party, the MC, was restricted to an embarrassing position that it blamed on rigging by the AKPP and the inefficiency of the election commission. PML-N leaders feel that the performance of their party was more than satisfactory just three months after its creation in the state. Ahsan Iqbal does not believe that the split vote resulted in the defeat of the PML-N and says his party would have bagged five more seats had the faulty electoral rolls and manipulation by the federal government not played a dominant rule. The results have proved that the MC was out of pace with ground realities, he adds.