Once upon a time, in the eighties, Gilani was a young minister in Prime Minister Junejo’s cabinet. At that point, Junejo wasn’t quite getting along with his Punjab chief minister, Nawaz Sharif. Most worryingly, even Ziaul Haq was convinced Nawaz was getting too big for his britches and had forgotten that the position he occupied was a generous gift from the General.
Zia expressed his reservations before kingmaker Pir Pagaro who promised to “fix” Nawaz. The next day, Pir Sahib called Gilani and instructed him to leave for Punjab and start laying the planks of his campaign as future chief minister. Gilani immediately went off and set up shop in Lahore.
As he mixed with dozens of political heavyweights, news spread that change was a-comin’. Big names like Nasrullah Dareshak, Aashiq Gopang, Malik Allahyar Khunda, Makhdoom Altaf, Rafiq Laghari and others flocked to see Gilani for secret meetings. There were reports that Manzoor Wattoo was becoming restless. When Chaudhry Parwaiz Elahi contacted Gilani and hinted at wanting to leave Nawaz, it seemed like a job well done.
The chief-minister-in-waiting couldn’t wait any longer and sent a message to the Pir saying the seeds of mutiny had been sown. Pagaro told him to wait.
So while Gilani waited in Lahore, rubbing his hands in silent expectation of torpedoing Nawaz’s career, the by now shaken chief minister arrived to meet his master in Islamabad. No one really knows what transpired during the meeting between Nawaz and Zia – expect that, after it was over the General announced before the media that the chief minister’s fort was secure. Junejo followed up with a similar statement that there would be no change in Punjab. And the final clincher came from Pir Sahib himself: there was a rip in Nawaz’s sack that had been patched up. It was indeed a job well done.
This turn of events created panic in Lahore, of course. The MPAs who had so readily lined up behind Gilani scurried away like roaches in the light. They all realised that they had been used. Gilani understood too.
A hangdog Gilani arrived to meet the Pir and asked him why he had done what he had done. Pir Sahib smiled. “Bacha, this is politics,” he said. “Nawaz was showing the eye to the General so I told him I’d teach him a lesson. I selected you because you are young. You don’t have absolute credibility in politics yet, but you come from a powerful political family in Multan; plus, you’re my relative and it would have been easy for you to convince MPAs to leave Nawaz. Thank God my hunch was not wrong. You have not disappointed me.”
“But this means you have used me,” a heartsore Gilani replied.
Pir Sahib smiled again. A defeated Gilani left, having learnt an invaluable lesson: that there are two kinds of politicians – the first, who masters the art of using others for his political gains, and the second who is always used by others for their political gains.
But over two decades after this incident – which reporter Rauf Klasra narrates in his book, Aik Siyasat Kaee Kahaniyan (One Politics, Many Stories) – any guesses what kind of politician Gilani has turned out to be?
After the 2008 general election, many wondered why exactly Gilani was selected by Zardari: because he would be a strong prime minister or because he would be a pushover prime minister? At the time some had, perhaps naively, suggested Gilani had the capability of being either. After all, he had resisted Benazir’s demands to use strong-arm tactics against the opposition when he was the National Assembly speaker in the mid-1990s. And he had suffered years as a political prisoner under Gen Musharraf rather than splitting from the PPP. Which is perhaps why the day after Gilani’s election as prime minister, one commentator wrote: “Gilani himself sets the limits of what he will and will not do.”
Nearly four years later, has he? If anything, the problem with this prime minister is that he’s good for absolutely nothing but being used by others. Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. But Gilani has been religiously consistent in who he is: a pushover. Yes, President Zardari has used him again and again to get through political crises of all sorts. But what use is he outside the universe of political wheeling and dealing – where the economy is a gigantic mess, the security situation fragile, at best, and governance absolutely beside the point for the government?
Yes, Gilani has a special knack for starting near where he thinks the opponent is – at the fifty-yard line – and then moving closer to his position, and that has helped pull the government out of many a political crisis. But what does that mean for the poor, hungry, unemployed voter who doesn’t have electricity or gas, health or education, protection or justice?
Maybe, Zardari gets this now, and hence all the mutterings about a change of guard? Especially with Javed Hashmi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi both joining Team Imran, Gilani isn’t much use in Multan either. And he seems to have burnt all his bridges with the army also. Sp, why keep him at all, especially when his greatest quality – an instinctive subservience to the ends of others – has become redundant?
(From News International)