Zardari’s broadside on Tuesday against the army was not an emotional outburst. It was a calculated move to ward off the rolling reach of the current operation in Karachi against lawlessness, violence, extortion, corruption and the vested interests of those involved directly or indirectly in the mess. It was also possibly a move to demonstrate that Zardari still is the real top leader of the party and Bilawal will have to wait to take his turn.

First let us see what the PPP Chief said while addressing in Peshawar, an oath-taking ceremony for PPP office-bearers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federally administered Tribal Areas. Politicians are better suited to run the affairs of the country, he said adding that: “you (meaning COAS) are here for a three-year term while political leadership is here to stay… I know the art of war better than anyone else… anyone who tries to disturb us will get a befitting response. Be wary! If this doesn’t stop now, I shall come out with a list of generals who have been accused starting from the time Pakistan came into existence. And then you will spend the rest of your lives providing explanations… if I give one call, the whole country from Karachi to Khyber will come to a standstill. The lockdown will continue tell I call it off… I can create havoc—Eent say eent baja doonga.” Zardari also had words about NABs activities: “Stop victimizing us. Be warned, be warned”.

Coming from a protagonist of reconciliation, this tirade took everyone by surprise. His party has since endorsed his stand and expressed solidarity with him. The major point being made is that the army has stepped out of its domain and trespassed into the politician’s bailiwick.

As expected, there was a sharp reaction from the PML-N government and most of the political parties. The Prime Minister while addressing a high-level consultation meeting in Islamabad said that Zardari’s tirade against the armed forces was “inappropriate and unacceptable” particularly at a time when the military was engaged in a crucial war against terrorism. The Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan called Zardari’s speech inappropriate and insulting. He has, Nisar added “tried to cover up his party’s short comings and weaknesses by targeting a national institution”.

Nawaz also called off his scheduled meeting with Zardari, thus snubbing him and simultaneously expressing his solidarity with the armed forces. He is also reported to have discussed the matter with General Roheel who presently is on a visit to Russia.

As a counter-step, Sindh’s Chief Minister in a letter to the Director General Rangers Sindh has expressed his displeasure and annoyance at the recent raids on offices of two civil agencies in Karachi asserting that the Rangers were overstepping their mandate of fighting only terrorism and crime. The CM after referring to the mandate given to Rangers by the government of Sindh under the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, held Ranger’s raids on the Sindh Building Authority and the Line Area Development Project as instances of their “going beyond their authority and mandate”.

Mention here may also be made of an earlier statement of the Corps Commander Karachi Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar in which he expressed his serious concern about the failure of the political administration and how criminal mafias operated unchecked in the metropolitan city. Later on June 16, the DG Rangers in a press conference spelt out details of a briefing given to the Apex Committee headed by the Chief Minister in which it was revealed that more than Rs 230 billion were being extracted every year in Karachi in various devious ways through syndicated activities and the ill-gotten money used to finance crime and terror. Mr. Zardari is out to scuttle the Rangers-led operation to cleanse Karachi of the mafias that have destroyed the peace in Pakistan’s largest and most important metropolitan city making the lives of the people utterly miserable. Obviously those in power in the Sindh province cannot escape the blame for this disaster. Court observation also exist which refer to militant wings of political parties and how they protect and encourage the criminal gangs and anti-social elements to run their nefarious activities.

Mr. Zardari is a slick operator and knows how to play political games. One must recognize his remarkable shrewdness demonstrated in his winning the highest political office in the country which kept him safe from the clutches of law and the courts for five years. Remarkable indeed how he carried the opposition along and created quite an impression by surrendering certain powers as also helping bring about historic amendments in the Constitution.

Will this rift between Zardari and Nawaz continue or will there be a patch-up as in the past?  This time, however, the odds are against an early reconciliation. The army has been blatantly challenged and stung to the quick, at a time when it enjoys power, prestige and popularity. At this juncture, PML-N is certainly not in a position to let its relationship with the armed forces be damaged.

General Raheel Sharif is committed to carry the Karachi operation to its logical end. PPP’s record of misgovernance, seeped in corruption in Sindh, stands exposed. Its involvement with infamous and unwholesome racketeers has also been publicized. If Zulfiqar Mirza is to be believed, most of the party’s leadership is corrupt. With this record and reputation, it will be difficult to counter the resolve of powers that wield authority at the federal level to cleanse the Augean Stables in Karachi.

At the same time, let us not forget that PPP has an impressive record of struggle and resistance. Over the years because of tainted and poor leadership it has lost its luster and inner strength. Can a wily operator like Zardari still use the cards of the supremacy of the civil authority, provincial clout and a wide-awake independent judiciary to mobilize widespread support and create a situation in which the military will find it difficult to impose its will? Zardari has already renewed his friendship with Altaf. MQM and PPP together can do a lot mischief in Karachi. Their MNAS and Senators can also kick up a lot of dust in the two houses and create problems for the PML-N government.

One thing is clear. Pakistan has hit a rough patch with much at stake inside the country and abroad.