Mr. Farooq Leghari, who resigned as President of Pakistan on 3 December 1997, has decided to stake a claim on politics. This is to be welcomed in view of the fact that Mr. Nawaz Sharif is discredited, Ms Benazir Bhutto is disgraced, Mr. Imran Khan has failed to click and Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s time is not yet ripe. However, we need to ask whether or not Mr. Leghari can fill the political vacuum which stares us in the face.
Mr. Leghari certainly has many plus points in terms of electoral potential. Compared to Mr. Sharif and Ms Bhutto, he is a paragon of virtue. Many people give him high marks for choosing to resign from the highest office in the land instead of clinging to the coattails of Nawaz Sharif and sanctioning the murder of the judiciary. He has name-recognition across the country. He has extensive contacts with politicians across the political and ideological divide. His “cultural” moorings among the Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhi and Punjabi/Seraiki people and his status as an agriculturist can be a source of political strength to him. He is educated, competent, politically experienced and current on complex issues — qualities which the professional, urban middle-classes are likely to appreciate. The military establishment has worked with him and does not perceive him to be a “threat” of any kind. And he is a devout Muslim without the controversial baggage of the likes of either Mr. Rafiq Tarar or Qazi Hussain Ahmad.
But some negative points have also been attributed to Mr. Leghari. The urban intelligentsia perceives him as a “status-quo feudal”. He is still dogged by the Razi farm issue. The alleged corruption of some members of the Leghari clan continues to be laid at his door. Many people still find it beyond them to “forgive” him for his caretaker government’s inability to string up all the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats of Pakistan within 90 days. And he is said to lack the qualities of audacity and decisiveness which are supposed to make for charismatic leadership.
Clearly, then, Mr. Leghari should not expect smooth sailing ahead. In fact, both Mr. Sharif and Ms Bhutto and their loyalists are likely to lay into him at every conceivable juncture of the route to Islamabad. He must also contend with the fact that not one new pretender to the throne of Mr. Sharif or Ms Bhutto has had any measure of political success in recent years. Not Imran Khan, not Murtaza Bhutto, not Ghinwa Bhutto, not Hameed Gull, Not Aslam beg. And this, despite the poor light in which both mainstream “leaders” are widely viewed today.
Whatever the relative weight of these factors, however, Mr. Leghari can either sit back, watch and wait for the “right” opportunity to launch himself or he can take the plunge without further ado. The first option does not recommend itself. Despite his seeming strength, Mr. Sharif is likely to wilt in the face of many economic and legal crises which confront his blundering government. By taking the road to politics immediately, Mr. Leghari will be placed in a good position to try and extract mileage from the situation as it unfolds. At any rate, when one is not in it for short-term opportunist gains, it is better to warm up before sprinting into action.
The next crucial question is: should Mr. Leghari form a political party and strike out on his own or should he try to bring all the elements opposed to Mr. Sharif and Ms Bhutto into one combined opposition Front or Alliance. A false start could be disastrous. No one forgets or forgives a “loser”. And all “losers” are doomed to extinction. Therefore, Mr. Leghari must weigh these questions carefully. It is, of course always possible for him to form a party and then seek an alliance with the other credible elements of the opposition.
There is, of course, no question of Mr. Leghari linking up with Ms Bhutto. The two appear to be more estranged from each other from Mr. Sharif, one major reason why both are out in the cold and Mr. Sharif is in the driving seat. But the question of linking up with the PPP is an altogether different matter. In view of Ms Bhutto’s great betrayal and considering Mr. Leghari’s 17 year service to the PPP, he might reasonably try to act as the true heir to Z A Bhutto. Of course, this would be a tough act to follow. But a measure of early success in the direction could conceivably rouse the PPP masses out of their disenchantment with Benazir Bhutto and kickstart Mr. Leghari’s campaign.
The efficacy of whatever Mr. Leghari does will depend, in large part, on his ability to shake off certain perceptions about his political demeanour. He must come across as a bold, decisive, anti-status quo, modern man who is not afraid break some shibboleths. Indeed, if he wants to make an omelette, he will have to break an egg. Therefore, the sooner he gets cracking out of his shell, the better. Pakistanis having nothing to lose from giving him a chance.