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Why Zardari Did Not Back Raza Rabbani as Senate Chairman

MAZHAR ABBAS: What actually went wrong which led to Pakistan People’s Party’s surprise decision, not only to drop the name Mian Raza Rabbani as its candidate for Senate chairman but also to settle for deputy chairman, despite clear indications that all parties had agreed on his name if PPP had nominated him.

Raza Rabbani was dumped despite majority’s view in his favor because Asif Ali Zardari had some personal and political reasons. He was not even ready to allot him a Senate seat and only got ready for it on Bilawal Bhutto’s intervention.

Zardari also denied Raza’s repeated requests for personal one-on-one meeting with him since January this year, which gave him the message about his fate. It is learnt that while Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Syed Khursheed Shah, Farhatullah Babar, Qamaruzaman Kaira and even PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto supported Raza Rabbani, the two former prime ministers: Yusuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf were among those who opposed his name for different reasons.

It all started in 2015, with the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain, one of the closest friends of Mr Zardari. While on the one hand, the former president broke all his ties with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and conveyed a strong message to him that what his government did with Dr Asim, he would neither forget it nor forgive them. Their relationship never revived and now the PPP looked more aggressive against Sharifs.

His second message was to the party leadership and former chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah who became its first casualty as he did not alert either Asim or Mr Zardari about ranger’s plan to arrest him. Sources said Shah tired to explain that even the intelligence or rangers did not inform him. He was later replaced by Syed Murad Ali Shah.

He was also angry that the PPP leaders also did not issue statements against the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain. Only Aitzaz Ahsan issued a statement over the registration of terrorism case against him, but he too refused to raise the issue of corruption cases against him.

When the party high command met in Dubai in 2015, Zardari particularly expressed his anger at Dr Asim’s case and party’s mishandling. But, he appreciated that at least Aitzaz issued the statement, but the party did not hold any demonstration in his support.

Sources said Zardari then asked Raza Rabbani to take up Dr Asim Hussain’s matter in Senate and send the same to Senate Privilege Committee. But, he and two other party senators tried to convince him that since Dr Asim Hussain was not a sitting senator, it would not be possible.

However, sources said Rabbani advised Zardari, that if the party senator raised this issue in Senate, he would not stop them from speaking their mind, but he could not refer his case to Privilege Committee.

Sources said Raza Rabbani lost the confidence of Zardari after that and although, the two did meet few times after 2015, he failed in regaining that confidence and some party’s advisers also helped in increasing further misunderstandings between the two.

Mr Zardari was allegedly briefed that while Raza was avoiding his meeting with him but, he had met Nawaz Sharif couple of times. Sources close to former chairman Senate not only denied any meeting with Sharif but also any telephonic conversation. Anti-Raza lobby within the PPP prevailed and some of them got so close to the former president that he had even refused to accept the views of party’s veteran in favor of Raza Rabbani.

Those in favor of Raza Rabbani said that during the last three years, the position taken by the former chairman against the PML-N government was a matter of record which included his decision to suspend the PML-N ministers including Khwaja Asif and his position on the 18th Amendment.

Zardari was also not happy with his party spokesman Farhatullah Babar and Raza Rabbani’s position on certain issues which, at times, caused problems for former President’s new narrative.

But, it was Dr Asim Hussain’s issue which actually cost Rabbani his second term as the Senate chairman. After Zardari’s return to Pakistan, he ensured that Dr Asim should be shifted to Jinnah Hospital and particularly asked Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to look after him. When he met Dr Asim at JPMC, the latter complained that the PPP did little for him. He also protested that his case was not taken up by the party in Senate.

Although Dr Asim Hussain was not even a candidate for the PPP Karachi division president slot, he was suddenly appointed to the post. The way he was inducted even surprised PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, as his name was not among the three names which were short-listed for the slot.

Later, Mr Zardari also issued directives to the party leaders of Sindh that at least one or two ministers would visit Dr Asim Hussain every second day and must ensure their presence during the court hearings.

On the other hand, even the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan were not happy over the manner in which Dr Asim was arrested. But, later on when Chaudhry Nisar warned about releasing the video statement of Dr Asim, the relationship between the PML-N and the PPP further deteriorated.

The relationship between Zardari and Sharif was never restored since 2015 and now the PPP and former president were looking for an alternative ally. The final outcome of Senate election despite opposition’s victory turned out to be a disappointment for some senior party leaders, who wanted Raza Rabbani as chairman Senate and believed that had the PPP nominated him, even the PTI would not have opposed his name. The PTI now claims that the candidate nominated by it was elected as the chairman and the PPP and Mr Zardari had been left with no option but to settle for deputy chairman.

As far the future of former chairman Senate is concerned, it all depends on how assertive the PPP chairman would remain in the presence of the co-chairman. What happened in the last few days and over a week clearly indicated that Mr Asif Zardari is still the most powerful man in the party and he had the power to veto the majority view. This is exactly what happened in the case of Raza Rabbani.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.






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