Asif Zardari’s December surprise was ultimately unveiled with a whimper rather than a bang; his announcement that he and his son Bilawal would compete in by-elections to join the current National Assembly, while significant, was not as seismic as the previously expected launch of a nationwide movement against the PML-N.

Nonetheless, there is some insight to be gained from Zardari’s decision to become a part of parliament on the eve of the 2018 elections. With the PTI largely spent as a force capable of taking on the PML-N, exhausted after a grueling year of fruitless attempts to pin the government down on the Panama Leaks, the leadership of the PPP possibly sees an opportunity to mount a comeback in Punjab and engineer the party’s return to relevance at the national level. Already, the PTI itself has indicated that it would be willing to join the PPP as part of a broader opposition coalition against the PML-N, and there has been considerable speculation that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari might take the position of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly once elected. It might therefore be reasonable to expect that if the PPP and its allies are able to mount a credible anti-government campaign prior to the polls in 2018, and if Bilawal is able to make effective use of the pulpit provided to him in the National Assembly (it is worth noting that Imran Khan, by contrast, has repeatedly chosen to stay away from parliament), the party just might find itself mounting an unlikely recovery after its annihilation in the 2013 elections.

Of course, the re-entry of the PPP into the national political arena does not necessarily imply the ushering in of a new era of progressive politics. The PPP has long been a shadow of its former self, and there is little reason to believe its newest incarnation offers an alternative to the corrupt, inept, and indifferent brand of politics that was its stock-in-trade during the years it was in government from 2008 to 2013. While the party does deserve some credit for its ability to complete its tenure amidst uncertain circumstances and a fragile transition to democracy, and while it can also be lauded for initiating reforms in some keys areas (such as the passage of the 18th Amendment), its dismal governance record and reputation for feckless venality played no small part in its electoral defeat four years ago. There are some who place a considerable amount of hope in Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, seeing his eventual leadership of the party as being a potentially transformative moment, but there is little evidence to support this notion at present.

Whatever Zardari’s reasons for returning to Pakistan and parliament, one small detail that escaped attention was what he was wearing when he made his big announcement at the Bhutto Mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Baksh. More specifically, nothing was said about the fact that Zardari was wearing a baseball cap.

In the past, Zardari has often been photographed wearing a traditional Sindhi cap and, like many other leaders in his position, has routinely had to don a variety of headgear – turbans, pagrees, skullcaps – for a variety of ceremonies, rituals, and meetings. Yet, he has not really been known to be partial to baseball caps.

It might stretch credulity to make the following point, it can surely not be coincidental that, when making his big comeback speech, Zardari chose to emulate the sartorial example of a politician over 11,000 kilometers away who set out to defy the odds with an insurgent campaign directed against the status quo, and who succeeded in doing so after pulling off one of the biggest political upsets in recent history. This man was none other than Donald Trump.

Now, it could just be that Zardari chose to wear a baseball cap because it was convenient and practical, perhaps to keep the sun out of his eyes or to keep his hair in place. It is also possible that no thought whatsoever went into the choice of headgear, which would be fitting given how that is generally the approach taken by most politicians in Pakistan when it comes to questions of policy. However, it could also just be that Zardari, consciously or unconsciously, sees himself as Trump, if not in substance than certainly as someone well-positioned to ride a populist wave of anger and resentment to power. As every corner of the world reels from the effects of a surge in anti-status quo sentiment that has reshaped the global political arena, Zardari might just feel that he and his party might just be able to exploit similar tensions within Pakistan to take on a PML-N that looks increasingly electorally unassailable.

That this could actually happen is far from certain. The PML-N has had a considerable amount of time to consolidate its position, particularly in Punjab, and has benefitted from the presence of an Opposition that has largely shown itself to be toothless. It has also managed to survive the perceived threat posed by the military establishment under the popular General Raheel Sharif, and has so far weathered the storm whipped up by the Panama Leaks. If Zardari harbours Trump-esque intentions, he would also have to contend with the presence of Imran Khan, a man who many would agree bears a more than passing resemblance, in style if not substance, to the president-elect of the United States. At any rate, Zardari’s return means that 2017 could prove to be a very interesting year.

Postscript: Merry Christmas. It is an innocuous phrase said by billions around the world, both Christians and non-Christians, as a pleasant holiday greeting on December 25. It really is not different from saying Eid Mubarik or something similar. Yet, predictably enough, the ‘fine’ minds that have taken it upon themselves to protect the Muslim Ummah in Pakistan have been doing their best to whip up righteous indignation over the phrase, claiming that all those who utter it are automatically accepting the basic tenets of Christianity (including the idea that Jesus Christ is the son of God), thereby committing blasphemy against Islam. That this is absurd and ridiculous goes without saying and one suspects that in a normal country, such claims would be mercilessly ridiculed and ignored. It should not be surprising, therefore, to find that the opposite is the case in Pakistan, where social media has been flooded with people doing their best to use this as a means to call into question the faith of their fellow citizens. Why demeaning another’s beliefs, while also calling for their murder, is essential to cementing and defending one’s own beliefs has always been puzzling, and this would all be tragically funny if it did not have such serious implications; on Friday, Shaan Taseer was implicated in a blasphemy case for broadcasting a Christmas message and criticising the blasphemy law, and one suspects that it is only a matter of time before such tactics are more widely deployed by the intolerant bigots who seek to silence and eliminate all points of view that differ from their dreams of millenarian apocalypse.