It is incomprehensible. What does the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its uber-magician co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari really want in Punjab? In a province where the party has been adrift for as long as one can remember, perhaps since the days of Ghulam Mustafa Khar, why does it seem as if its rudderless ship is once again headed for the rocks?
It is well known enough that all roads to Islamabad pass through Punjab. And yet the PPP’s political strategy vis-à-vis a province that holds the key to the capital is bewildering, at best. Without a decent showing in Punjab, the party will struggle to form a national government the next time round. Punjab accounted for approximately half of the PPP’s seats in the 2008 general election, and central and northern Punjab for some 25 per cent of its haul in the previous polls.
But lacking a charismatic leader in the province, a message tailor-made for increasingly urbanised, richer, more educated Punjab denizens and an effective party machinery, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in two-thirds of Punjab – central and northern regions (including Islamabad) with a combined 100 directly-elected National Assembly seats – PPP candidates have been left to their own devices to fight their battles alone.
Outside PPP circles, then, mystification reigns: why would the party leave unchecked its decades-old decline in Punjab? And wherefrom comes the PPP brain trust’s confidence that re-election is still within grasp?