Addressing members of the PPP Punjab Executive Council at the Governor's House in Lahore last week, the party's Co-Chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, declared the Sharif brothers as mohajirs. His line of reasoning was that since their family had migrated from the Indian side of Punjab at the time of independence, the PML-N leaders were not fit to lead the province. Belittling their support in Lahore, he said that the Sharifs could not gather enough people at their father's funeral. Zardari's comments are a reflection of his petty feudal mind and members of any political party that calls itself democratic would be ashamed of such utterings by their leader. But trust the PPP wallahs to come up with the most outlandish justifications to defend the indefensible when it comes to their big boss. The problem is that the PPP Co-Chairman also happens to be the President of Pakistan.

While the Sharif brothers, their party PML-N and their government in Punjab, have all been criticised for a number of valid reasons, Zardari's distorted framework is far more worrisome than any failings on their part. Would he apply the same logic of immigrants being somewhat less deserving of leadership to his coalition partners from Karachi? Where is our so-called President coming from? Does he not know the repercussions of hurling such nonsense amidst an already fragmented polity? Is he blinded by his unscrupulous lust for power, so blinded that he cannot see beyond his survival in power? Is this divisive rhetoric just a lack of vision on his part or is it an integral part of a well considered agenda that he is implementing with Rehman Malik on the behest of his imperialist masters?

This is not the first time that he has chosen to couch his political diatribes in ethnically-charged terminology. In fact, his incoherent and paradoxical political narrative often resorts to ethnic-labelling, stirring emotions of victimisation among Sindhis on several occasions and pointing fingers at privileged Punjabis on several others. When he talks about a new province for Southern Punjab, he makes it a point to give it an ethnic colour. Even the PPP's war on the independent judiciary has been painted in ethnic shades, accusing the courts of prejudice against Sindhi leaders and being soft on leaders from Punjab. The heir to the PPP throne, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, parroted his father's devious logic recently when he asked the present Supreme Court to apologise for the mistrial of his grandfather more than 30 years ago.

This divisive framework has been adopted by the serf-like partymen populating Bhutto dynasty's PPP, partymen who otherwise loudly and incessantly claim that their party is the chain that links all provinces. The party no longer speaks of the problems of the downtrodden, the workers and peasants, something that cuts across ethnic divisions. As a party with representatives from all provinces of Pakistan, it refuses to fulfil its responsibility of creating a vision that would unite the people. Instead, under Zardari, the party seems to have taken upon itself the task of exacerbating divisions within the society. As PPP Co-Chairman, Zardari has every right to set whatever direction he chooses for his party, no matter how politically unsound or devious it is. As the President of Pakistan, the symbol of our federation, such behaviour is inexcusable.

President Musharraf was severely criticised by the PPP for being partisan and chairing meetings of his PML-Q at the presidency. Where does it stand today on the issue? Is it alright for the President to be partisan and to chair meetings of his party at the presidency if he belongs to PPP? In fact, Zardari has blemished the office of the President even further by speaking of the nation he heads in divisive ethnic terms. He is praised by his partymen for transferring presidential powers to Parliament through the 18th Amendment. It does not seem to matter that he continues to call the shots from the presidency and has the remote of the government in his control. It does not seem to matter that he is actively involved in the affairs of the government, whether it is about writing to the Swiss authorities, gas pipelines or foreign affairs.

Zardari's political chicanery is obvious to everyone other than his darbar of serf-like PPP wallahs. He has consistently worked to reverse the gains made by the nation through the rule of law movement. After he failed to stop the restoration of judiciary despite his untiring efforts and deceptive tactics, he has been on a crusade to make it ineffective and controversial. Against the momentum of public opinion seeking a new political culture where no one is above the law and those in positions of power are accountable, he has reinforced the traditional circus of patronage and special privilege under the garb of his much touted policy of reconciliation. Against the overwhelming public support for ending our cooperation with the US in its war against the Afghan people, he has consistently tried to please his imperialist masters.

The first thing the PPP Co-Chairman did after his party won the last elections was to pay homage to the American Embassy in Islamabad. He had much to thank his American friends for. After all, the NRO was facilitated by them. Though he was not the President of Pakistan then, it was a bad omen for the nation. Once he occupied the presidency through deceit and corruption, we have seen the hell break loose, bit by bit. Every challenge faced by the nation has become more grave, every problem bigger. There is tension in places that were peaceful and places that were tense have become unmanageable. The divisions are deeper and the poor have been further impoverished. A democratic government would have healed the wounds and made things better. Zardari's reign has delivered what his masters ordered.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.