Pakistan is a country without consensus. Even on the most basic issues, those that relate to existential questions, there is hardly any unanimity of opinion across our people. What are the basic tenets of Islam, and how should these be reflected in our laws? Is democracy better than all other forms of government? Are Taliban good, or bad? Is there a need to reform our legislative framework to construct a more palpable separation between religion and the State? The division of public opinion becomes even more caustic as it relates to political issues: Are the different political parties doing a good job in their respective national and political governments? Should Kalabagh dam be built or not? Is there a need for creation of additional (smaller) provinces? Does the PML-N high-handed in its approach of governance? Is PTI leadership foolish in his approach towards the Taliban? Is PPP looting public wealth in Sindh?


In this quagmire of (violently) divided public opinion, there is probably only one issue, at this particular point in time, on which the public consensus is as close to unanimous as can be expected in a country of nearly 200 million people: Is the General Raheel Sharif led Army, which is fighting a decisive battle on our Eastern border, whilst also busting the myth of Karachi’s no-go areas, a heroic institution that towers above our political junta and even judicial clout? The answer, at this time for this military, with this leadership, in this particular point in our history, is a resounding yes!
In the circumstances, it is hard to understand what – if anything at all – did Asif Ali Zardari hope to gain from threatening the Pakistan Army leadership? While trying to guess Zardari’s Machiavellian techniques is usually a futile exercise, it seems that his outburst stemmed from one of four reasons.


First: the recent tightening of the circle, by the military and intelligence agencies, around the BB murder case, may have the PPP leader more nervous than ever before. In particular, the arrest of Uzair Baloch, who (allegedly) has confessed to the murder of two key witnesses in the BB case, including one Khalid Shehensha, cuts really close to the bone for Zardari. The popular perception as well as material evidence connects Uzair Baloch to the former President, giving further credibility to the fact that Asif Ali Zardari somehow orchestrated the assassination of BB, in turn “inheriting” PPP and instantaneously making him the most influential political leader of that time. If, with assistance from the military and intelligence agencies, this nexus is developed further, it would cut Zardari from the very base of his political party and its supporters, who still rally around the slogans of a martyred BB and ZAB.


Second: for the first time, there is an increased perception (at least in the Zardari camp) that the military is assisting the law enforcement agencies to target Zardari’s financial interests. In the past, he has been politically targeted by the opposition parties and, most notably, by the Iftikhar Chaudhry led judiciary; but never before have his financial interests (domestic and foreign) been under any real threat. And this, for a man popularly known as Mr. 20%, may be a line too sacred to cross.


Third: it conceivable that some part of Zardari had hoped that the PML-N government, along with a few other parties, would support his taking on the Army, if for no other reason then simply in their own mutual interest and longevity. In the midst of the PTI dharna last year, when PML-N had its back against the wall, and the entire nation kept looking toward the ‘third-umpire’ for a final verdict, it was Zardari’s support of PML-N, in the parliament, which saved the day for the incumbent government. And so it is not improbable for Zardari to expect that now, when he is pinned against the mat, that PML-N leadership, and all other (religious) political parties who oppose military’s ongoing actions in Zarb-e-Azb and Karachi, may take this opportunity to support a drumming up of rhetoric against the Khakis.


Fourth: some part of Asif Ali Zardari is holding on to the mistaken belief that the military, as an institution, owes him one! After all, in one of the bleakest periods of Pakistan Army’s history, when Osama Bin Laden was caught residing in a house within a stone’s throw distance away from the Pakistan Military Academy, it was Zardari who resisted the temptation to name and shame Pakistan’s military leadership. Just as the entire nation was clamouring for heads to roll, Zardari granted extensions to General Kiyani and General Pasha. And while some members of the Supreme Court kept calling for General Musharraf to be put in the docket for abrogating the Constitution, Zardari held back his hand, and initiated no such action during his term in government. In the aftermath of these restraints, Zardari perhaps mistakenly believes that obliging outgoing and retired generals would somehow grant him credit with Army as an institution. Overlooking perhaps the most cardinal distinction between the philosophy of Army, as oppose to our political parties: the Army, as an institution, is larger than the personalities that constitute it. The institutional interests and esteem of Army is never sacrificed or subdued for any one or group of its officers.


As the dust is now beginning to settle, one thing has become clear: the former President has bit off more than he can chew. And no measure of deflection and explanations by relatively unblemished personalities within PPP – e.g. Kamar Zaman Kaira and Sherry Rehman – can stem the bleeding. From a socio-political perspective, this was probably the most inopportune time for Zardari to attempt to take on the Army leadership. Mistakes of the past granted – and there is no doubt that the Army and its leadership of the past has made more than its share of political and constitutional debacles – for now, General Raheel Sharif and his men are proving to be God-sent. The blessing of history, support of the people, and a touch of divinity, all rest in their scales. And the political scales of Zardari, on other hand, have nothing to offer but corruption, crime and debauchery.


For once, it seems, that the great Machiavellian king of PPP, has utterly and miserably miscalculated his move. A move, which might cost him his throne.