Several significant events have unfolded over the past few days – On Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif called PPP vice chairman and reported PM fronter runner Makhdoom Amin Fahim an “untrustworthy person” because of his connections with President Pervez Musharraf. On Geo TV, he said, “Makhdoom Amin is a respected man for us but we are suspicious of his contacts with the president, and we fear that he may become a proxy of President Musharraf.” Asif added, “We are the coalition partners and we don’t want any controversial person to be a prime minister. We do not want our coalition with the PPP to be jeopardized because of Amin Fahim.”
To compound these statements, the Daily Times on Tuesday reported that PPP sources said that Asif Ali Zardari, the party’s co-chairman had suggested that he wants to become prime minister, and “until the ground is paved for him, he would nominate a trustee for the interim period.” The Times added, “The possibility of Amin Fahim becoming prime minister has been ruled out, particularly after Nawaz Sharif’s between-the-line message to the PPP that he expected the nominee for premiership should be strong enough to implement the agenda of the coalition.” In this scenario, only two options are left for this alleged “interim period,” media outlets reported – Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, “if the choice has to be from the Punjab,” the Daily Times added. However, noted the news agency, “some insiders say that Zardari might spring a surprise by nominating a dark-horse like his sister, Dr. Azra Fazal, who is an MNA-elect.”
Edging Fahim out of the PM spotlight has been gradual and subtle until yesterday’s statements, [also see March 6th post]. Following these developments, news sources reported that Fahim disputed the claims, and termed PML-N Asif’s allegations “totally baseless.” According to The News, “He, however, refused any comment, which could create any rift between the PPP and the PML-N, adding that both the parties had reached an accord recently and he would not like to make any comment in this regard.” Nevertheless, Fahim reportedly “hit back” in what he called “a character assassination campaign,” reported Dawn today, particularly on Asif’s allegation that Fahim is in “constant contact” with Musharraf.
While Fahim’s reaction is expected, one cannot help but feel slightly sorry for the PPP veteran politician, the once-expected PM nominee. The reality is that Fahim has been elbowed out of the race, in favor of candidates that are more “attractive” to the overarching coalition. Given the PML-N’s power base in Punjab, choosing a Prime Minister who is from the region is definitely a strategic and very political move. And let’s face it. The new PM will only be in the spotlight for a short period of time before Zardari is allowed to take the public reins of the party, rather than just the background seat.