Once brothers in arms, PML-N, PPP now bicker away

November 22nd, 2008 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

Benazir BhuttoIslamabad, Nov 22 (IANS) They were rivals that came together to fight for democracy in Pakistan. But now the country’s two most influential parties are busy taking potshots at each other, making for an uneasy alliance in Islamabad.The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are at loggerheads once again even as the country tries to make the transition to democracy after being ruled by a military general for nearly nine years.

“It is shameful that the PPP is not fulfilling commitments by their own leader (Benazir Bhutto), who died for the cause of democracy, and is still continuing the policies of Pervez Musharraf,” PML-N leader Saad Rafiq told IANS.

In May this year, soon after being voted to power, the PML-N had pulled out of the PML-N-led coalition government while continuing to be an ally. And the tussle between the two parties touched a new low this week.

Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah, who belongs to the PML-N, brandished family pictures of the province’s Governor Sulman Taseer, a PPP leader, before the media. He said the Governor’s House had become a “dance club and we cannot allow this”.

One picture showed Taseer’s son on a beach with two girls and the other showed the governor at a dinner table with his family and friends at some private function, with a bottle of whisky on the table.

The incident was clearly in retaliation for Taseer sending a letter to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif - of the PML-N - asking him to “complete” his cabinet and “improve” administrative functioning.

The governor had also accused the Punjab government of not taking action against protesting lawyers and fulfilling its constitutional obligations.

Sanaullah’s allegations invited sharp reaction from PPP leaders. According to media reports, President Asif Ali Zardari - who heads the PPP - called PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and warned him.

“This is a sheer personal attack and can vitiate the democratic environment in the country,” says PPP leader Nabeel Gabol, adding that the governor’s office needs to be respected.

Taseer was appointed governor by Musharraf. The son of a renowned professor and a nephew of well-known poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s wife Alys Faiz, Taseer has had bitter relations with the PML-N since 1998 when he was arrested following allegations of tax evasion and other business irregularities.

Political observers say his hatred for Sharif brought him closer to Musharraf and over the last decade he became a powerful businessman and the owner of a media group consisting of newspapers and a television channel.

The incident reflects how the two parties are far from burying the hatchet.

They came closer a year after Musharraf sacked the Sharif government in October 1999. Both the parties campaigned together against the military regime of Musharaf and in 2006, then PPP chief Benazir Bhutto and Sharif signed a Charter of Democracy in London under which they agreed to have an independent judiciary and election commission, besides making parliament supreme.

But the PML-N says many promises are not being fulfilled.

It has consistently demanded the restoration of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the repeal of constitution amendments made by Musharraf under which the president can sack parliament and has the authority to appoint chiefs of the military services.

“Under the Charter (of Democracy), Zardari should resign from the party office and should not hold party meetings in the presidency,” PML-N leader Rafiq said. President Zardari, the husband of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, heads the PPP.

Rafiq said if the PPP continues with the same policies it would invite “a bigger disaster”. “We are stopping ourselves, but for how long? We are fed up with the PPP shying away from its own commitments,” he said.

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