LAHORE - The PPP is making full preparations to give its Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari a rousing welcome on his return to Karachi on Friday (Dec 23) after staying in self-exile for about 18 months.

According to reports, tens of thousands of party supporters will receive the country’s former president at the airport. And since the PPP is in power in Sindh and it will be the first time for the province’s new chief minister to show his allegiance to the party’s de facto boss, he will spare no effort to take to the airport as many people as possible.

But the question is: What has Mr Zardari done that the Sindh government should be involved in the former president’s reception? Did he do something exceptional for the country during his stay abroad because of which he should be accorded a hero’s welcome?

He had left the country after delivering a hard-hitting speech against the military establishment in June last year.

Zardari had asked the establishment to refrain from character assassination of political parties. “If you do not stop, I will come out with a list of accused generals since Pakistan’s creation”.

He had further said that he did not want to weaken the country’s institutions, but “they [establishment] should also not try to create hurdles for politicians.”

During his stay abroad, some reports said that the former president was under treatment and would return to Pakistan when doctors permitted him.

However, political elements were saying that Mr Zardari’s ailment would not disappear as long as Gen Raheel (who was the army chief when the PPP leader delivered the said speech) was there.

And they were right.

On Nov 29 Gen Raheel retired and in less than a month the former president is returning to Pakistan. In other words, the military’s Sharif was responsible for Mr Zardari’s self-exile.

And in a strange coincidence another former president, Gen Musharraf, is out of Pakistan because of the civilian Sharif (the prime minister). He has undergone backbone treatment but is not expected to come back to Pakistan as long as his “enemy number 1” is in power here.

Will Mr Zardari be able to play a role after his return?

Bilawal says his party would put up “a strong opposition” against the government after the return of his father. “We need the great strategic skill of Zardari to overwhelm the Sharif government so that despite their two-thirds majority, they will have to implement my four demands.”

There are reports that the PPP is trying to cobble together an opposition alliance. Contacts for the purpose are being made with other parties.

But, apparently, it will be a miracle if the PPP succeeds in setting up such an alliance. As a matter of fact, it is debatable whether the PPP is really an opposition party and whether other parties in the opposition camp will like to join hands with it.

The PML-N had helped the PPP complete its five-year (2008-2013) term and Mr Zardari knows this. And in return it is now for the PPP not to create any problem for Mian Nawaz Sharif. So far the PPP co-chairman has not said anything to establish that it is an anti-Nawaz party.

The PPP’s mindset underwent a sea change after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. When the PPP returned to power as a result of the 2008 elections, it formed coalition even with the PML-Q, the party Mr Zardari had once called “Qatil League”.

In Punjab, the PPP became coalition partner with the PML-N and retained the position for more than two years despite repeated calls for it by Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to quit the setup.

Both these decisions constituted a major departure from the party’s past policy.

Then the kind of person that Mr Zardari is, he can’t be expected to have decided to come back without some kind of understanding with the PML-N leadership and the military.

Even if this possibility is rejected by the PPP and it is believed that it wants to play the role of opposition, it is not expected to get any strong ally.

The JUI-F is already with the PML-N and the ANP will like to stay with it because of its interests in KP, where it is against the PTI.

When the chips are down the MQM will also like to stay on the PML-N’s side because of the cases its leaders are facing and the ability of the federal government to arm-twist it.

Important Balochistan parties - the National Party and the PkMAP - are already allies of the PML-N.

This means only the PTI, the Jamaat-i-Islami, the PML-Q and the Awami Muslim League of Sheikh Rashid are the parties left in the opposition camp. But will any of them like to join hands with the PPP?

The PTI is a rival to the PPP as well as the PML-N. Therefore, there is no possibility of Imran Khan joining hands with the PPP. The same also applies to the Jamaat-i-Islami, which is a coalition partner with the PTI in KP.

The PML-Q and the AML are non-entities and are not in a position to harm the government by becoming part of any opposition alliance.

Apparently, this means that PML-N government faces no threat from the opposition parties.

Let’s see what the “father-son” party does against the government.