A Zardari masterclass

For the past few months, Asif Ali Zardari has been camped in Lahore. And he hasn’t been sitting idly twiddling his thumbs at his desk deep inside the Bilawal House compound in Bahria Town. No. The former President has instead spent his time rubbing shoulders with leading businessmen and advocacy groups for Pakistan’s major industries. 

In the past three weeks alone Mr Zardari has met with members of the business community on three official occasions. The last one was a discussion with a delegation of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) — one of the most important industrial bodies that exist in Pakistan. 

With Minister for Industries and Production Syed Murtaza Mahmud and Senate standing committee on finance and revenue chairman Saleem Mandviwalla on either side of him during most of these meetings the message the former head of state is trying to project is very clear: the solutions to Pakistan’s economic problem lie with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

The posturing is a clear tactic for upcoming elections. In the absence of the bruised and beaten PTI, the PPP is positioning itself to emerge as a contender in Punjab’s politics and a possible leader of a coalition government. The only problem is that the PPP has long had an image problem when it comes to the economy. Every party has a few ‘finance guys.’ The PML-N has Ishaq Dar chiefly, but they also have other options such as Ahsan Iqbal, Musadiq Malik, and briefly Miftah Ismail. The PTI had Asad Umar, Hammad Azhar, and Taimur Jhagra. But the PPP has no strong candidate for the position of finance minister. They have instead relied on technocrats like Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and Shaukat Tarin to guide sensible but uninspiring economic decisions. 

Now, the biggest question on everyone’s minds is the economy. Will the IMF agreement pull through? Will Pakistan default? How will the inflation and cost of living crisis be managed? Everyone is thinking along these lines and Asif Ali Zardari has judged the country’s temperature perfectly. That is why he is now pushing ahead to try and portray himself and the PPP as bearers of economic reform — a reputation the PPP has not had since the time of its founder. 

And by all indications the strategy is working. Business leaders and industry associations have grown tired of the brash behaviour and unending empty promises from Ishaq Dar. That is why they have been more than happy to listen to Mr Zardari and imagine him in charge of the economy. It must be said that the PPP has played this entire matter very shrewdly. 

It is clear to most that follow Pakistani politics that the biggest winner from the vote of no confidence that ousted former prime minister Imran Khan from power and all the events that ensued has been the PPP. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has enjoyed international exposure and good press from his stint as foreign minister, a position once held by his illustrious grandfather. The party has also benefited from changes in accountability laws and have had their legal woes cleared up. The PPP has at the same time avoided blame for the economic crisis in the country since all the guns have been pointed towards the prime minister and his fiance czar. 

This has created a situation where at the same time that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been calling Ishaq Dar “my Uncle Dar” in parliament Mr Zardari has been running a shadow finance ministry and offering solutions to get Pakistan out of this economic quagmire. It was always apparent that whenever elections took place the parties that had banded together under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) would go their separate ways. The purpose of the PDM ended the very day that Imran Khan was removed from office and Shehbaz Sharif’s continued occupancy of the prime minister house has simply been by the grace of Mr Zardari.  With elections approaching, Mr Zardari has managed to bring his party into an enviable position. 


  1. On a different note these may contest separately but post election would form a stable PDM like alliance as the three major ones hold whole of Pakistan despite having their favourite bases. And now thanks to the military they have someone other than than to act as the boogie man. They were testing the waters if a coalition is workable and low and behold yes it’s very effective.

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