The multifold comedy continues to unfold and confound. The military continues to act on the National Action Plan against militants and terrorists, and nabbing politicians, bureaucrats and their front men as part of its self defined extension of the fight against terrorism. And those getting caught in the cross hairs continue to entertain and baffle with their mind boggling antics in the form of threats, theatrics, and acrobatics as a response. The scene now distinctly resembles one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where actor John Cleese as Sir Lancelot the Brave, after having cut off both arms and one leg of a challenger in a duel is still being taunted by him to be a man and fight, says in incredulous contempt, ‘What will you do, bleed on me?’

A few weeks ago, Mr. Zardari had railed against the military when the Rangers raided the Sindh Building Control offices and arrested some bureaucrats close to the PPP leadership and said to have been involved with the Karachi land mafia. Not only was he made to reinterpret his own words and explain that he was referring to past misdeeds of the military and criticizing generals long retired, but his two best PR wizards were unleashed on the media to obfuscate his ‘eent se eent’ threats and essentially say ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’. Moving right along then, the military went ahead and nabbed Dr. Asim Hussain, a very close associate of Mr. Zardari for alleged corruption linked to terrorism.

This had been preceded by several weeks of low level noise from the MQM on the disappearance of its party workers and raids on its headquarters in Karachi, known by its address as 90. However, none was too bothered then. The Sindh government led by the PPP, smug and under a perhaps a false sense of security, had seen no wrong in the execution of NAP targeting the nexus between political actors, corruption and terrorism. But after Mr. Zardari’s unfortunate reaction, one fine day, the MQM leader Altaf Hussain decided not to be left behind and to up the ante with a tirade against the military, beseeching NATO, India and other little imaginary friends to his aid. He was duly banned from television screens – not a bad thing per se, given his propensity to terrorize television channels into airing live his hours long inebriated and unintelligible ‘addresses’.

As a side issue though, many would argue the ban on Hussain torturing a hapless 200 million at any hour of his choosing with his sometimes tear inducing, sometimes comical and most times downright embarrassing fulminations, is an abrogation of his fundamental right to freedom of speech. But a more honest evaluation of the entire phenomenon of his addresses peals something entirely different to an individual’s freedom of speech. When the entire spectrum of 50 news channels are terrorized into telecasting live hours and hours of under-the-influence drivel, and the freedom of choice of viewers is taken away, the occurrence cannot be clothed and dressed as freedom of speech. To many, the ban on Hussain has come as freedom from fear (for the television channels) and freedom of information and choice of viewing what they will (for the public).

However, coming back to NAP, and the slaps both PPP and MQM received, the leaders of these two parties decided to change tack. After Dr. Asim Hussain’s arrest, Mr. Zardari began to pressure and attack the federal government and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The party doesn’t tire screaming itself hoarse reminding the government of its support during the containerized threat from PTI in its heydays of Generals Pasha and Islam’s Operation Gibralter. Mr. Zardari has accused the ruling party, PMLN, of the ‘politics of the 90s’ meaning its political victimization. Whilst the PPP must be continued to be credited with full marks for its wisdom and altruism at the time, and full marks for remaining on the right side of history, its current irrational accusations hold no water. The allegation is absurd. The PMLN, by all appearances, remains grateful to all political parties, in particular to the PPP, for their support to its government and hence the democratic dispensation when elements in the establishment were bent upon uprooting all gains democracy had made. Moreover, the PMLN has no cause to take revenge or victimize one of the largest and the most mature political party of the country. No one understands better than Mian Nawaz Sharif now the strength of unity of political parties. And of course both PPP and its leader know this very well, and also know very well that it’s the military calling the shots and the Prime Minister hardly weighs in on these decisions. Yet, Zardari and the PPP continue to point fingers at Nawaz Sharif. The spectacle is at once bewildering and understandable; at once perplexing and pitiable; at once bemusing and pathetic.

Clearly, Mr. Zardari wants to lash out, but at the military and Raheel Sharif he cannot. So the scapegoat is the Mian Nawaz Sharif. A similar strategy of pressuring the PM is being taken by the MQM which now seems to be following Zardari’s antics almost on queue, but of that later. Not having been able to give the military a push back, Zardari appears to be trying to force the federal government/ Nawaz Sharif to take sides. Fine. But what next? Does he really expect the prime minister to take his side? He HAS to know the PM cannot. For that would unravel all of the gains. Should the PM do that, he will be out. And the military will be more in than in. Then what does Zardari hope to gain from this mantra? The only answers that come to mind are as absurd as his game. Are these the lashings of a desperate man? Or the best available strategy under the circumstances? Painting a picture of victimization at the hands of the Sharifs could well gain back some ‘shaheed’ cred for the 2018 elections. The party is in disarray, finished in Punjab, the most important voting province, and unwilling still to demonstrate governance in Sindh, the province it rules. Perhaps shahadat the old hag, will restore it some whilst keeping the PMLN on the backfoot.

The MQM, too, has taken to pressurizing the civilian government, moving its guns away from its actual nemesis, now resigning, now talking, now not talking. The party tendered resignations from all assemblies as a protest against the Karachi Operation, seeing an opportunity for doubled pressure on the government. But the government is clearly not in the driving seat far as this matter is concerned. And the MQM knows it too. Soon as the PM agreed to a monitoring committee to oversee the Rangers’ operations in Karachi, the COAS Raheel Sharif made a significant statement reiterating the operation’s continuance without change in direction.

However, the most stumping, almost hilarious development has been the complete change of conditions from the MQM for returning to the assemblies: it has dropped all demands of producing missing party workers picked up (supposedly) by the military/ Rangers/ law enforcement agencies, as well as dropped the demand to put an end to extra judicial killings of its workers. What is the party demanding instead? Your guessed it: for its leader Altaf Hussain to be unbanned from the electronic media, and to be allowed to carry on its ‘political and charity activities’ (read being allowed to collect hides after Qurbani).

This change of demands is so weird, and yet so telling, it doesn’t bear comment at this stage. And so continues the tragi-comedy of the current political stage and the NAP, ‘.. will you bleed on me??’