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Enter a new Abbaji: Some deception, some truth -by Shaheen Sehbai

-by Shaheen Sehbai

ISLAMABAD: Underneath the political heat and partisan grandstanding on the streets of this Capital city, cool and cozy drawing rooms are humming with numerous stories and theories, narrated by players, big and small.

Some of these stories are astonishing, some plausible, mostly narratives of deception and disinformation, yet these give an inkling of what may be going on.

In one such setting recently, a key actor of the Dawn Leaks drama spoke for three hours to three prominent TV anchors, two senior journalists and a high voltage politician. Not once was the word “off-the-record” mentioned. Juicy questions and juicier answers were so gripping it was difficult to believe them, and even harder not to do so. It was open to reporting or if no one dared, keeping it under wraps.

Naming names or even giving an indication would burn many fingers, clip many wings. But these background chats and musings could throw light on how events shape up.

Whatever was said was cross-checked with many people, in and out of government and other politicians and officials. Some confirmed selected portions and bits, others denied specific points, many were not at all in the picture. Overall it was a mix of truth, fiction, deception and disinformation, a hodgepodge of events, actions and theories put together. But that is Islamabad at its best, at any given time. Among many other disclosures, was revealed the emergence of another “Abbaji” in the power and influence corridors. He is a real person but who is he, though known to many, cannot be revealed. His role in recent decisions of immense national importance, however, emerges as critical.

The original Abbaji was the father of our prime minister who controlled and guided the national scene from his Raiwind Darbar. I had interviewed Abbaji in 2000, when wife Kulsoom was campaigning for her husband’s release from dictator Musharraf’s clutches. Then he had revealed that Musharraf and his wife were regular visitors to his Raiwind lounge and Musharraf had tried to persuade Abbaji several times to replace Nawaz as PM with Shahbaz. Nobody filled that Abbaji role for years. So when talk of another Abbaji rising on the horizon started, all eyes and ears got focussed on the guy who was talking, not worried that recent events had turned some into disposable scapegoats and others sacrificed to be rewarded later. He thought he was one of the latter.

The new Abbaji is said to have links with the political players dating back to the 90’s era when the famous conspiracy to create the IJI against Benazir Bhutto was hatched. Nawaz, who never abandons friends, recognised that this new Abbaji was made a victim because of him in 1993. He duly compensated him and kept him in a high office until all had to wrap up their bags in 1999.

Fast forward: Time flew past in a whiff and then came the current stage to make critical decisions. Lo and behold the new Abbaji was in a position to make a difference.

As the story goes, he is said to have slipped into a well guarded official residence, covered by a blanket on the rear car seat to avoid recognition. Safely in he conveyed important messages. Later recently he was seen in a car driven by a key minister to an ex-bureaucrat’s home, a frequent partying resort.

In this context you should see the on-going Panama circus, we were told by the Dawn Leaks guy who claimed confidently that things suddenly changed for two important members of the Sharif camp, both on top positions. They lost their clout and their roles were redefined. Nothing more specific can be said. Unbelievable though it may seem, plausible it does appear as their roles were cut to size.

Another juicy bit came about a meeting in Karachi where PPP maestro Asif Zardari was so annoyed with a nosy spook who was trying to ask why Zardari had violated some unwritten understandings and sidelined Bilawal to lead the PPP himself. At one point Zardari almost expelled the guy from the room. Watch the reaction, we were told. Within days Zardari felt unsafe and took a quick exit for an indefinite period. All main opposition parties in Sindh, including specific groups and individuals, started getting direct calls to join hands, dump PPP and even jump on the PTI bandwagon.

Many have already obliged and others may be on their way. Cases against Dr Asim and even Dollar girl Ayaan Ali were reactivated and Uzair Baloch and Sharjeel Memon were kept on the side as weapons that JITs could become lethal if people did not behave.

Yet another ‘breaking news’ was about the behind-the-scenes moves and counter-moves in the Dawn Leaks episode.This bit could at least be more believable as this guy was also part of the rumbling and tumbling.

A stage came, he narrated, when the PM was about to opt for the ‘nuclear’ option, or so he had indicated. A 30-day “no contact” period was mentioned. Some possible movers, shakers and replacers were alerted to stand by. That would have been an equivalent of Zardari’s “brick-by-brick” bombardment threat.

No specifics can be mentioned but suffice it to say that saner minds, possibly with new Abbaji’s intervention, prevailed and a little tactical retreat was thought to be in order. The crisis was defused but bitterness lingers on in many minds.

A malicious story spread when a change in Pindi was on the cards was also narrated. Those who were behind the story were identified, including a journalist who was questioned and made to disclose his sources before he was let go. Others were punished. Again no names can be given.

One piece of information was mysterious. As the role of the social media had grown all institutions were using it, some more aggressively. In one case 700 to 1,400 IT persons were deployed on this front. The results were fantastic with image building acquiring new definitions and results appearing on large banners and posters on the streets.

Then came the change and all the 1,400 IT guys suddenly disappeared and even took their social media IDs with them, someone who knows was quoted as saying. But they are not gone, the Dawn Leaks guy claims. They are still operating from different locations. Whether for the same purpose or at cross purposes, he is scared to say.

When asked about current issues like the JIT and Panama case, this insider brushes them aside with contempt as mere ‘deception’. He says neither the PM nor anyone is seriously worried and going about their ‘business’ normally. He thinks the JIT can be a useful tool to clear the Sharifs forever and the corruption of the Sharifs will never raise its head again.

The way the SC and JIT are coming under fire from both the government and its critics, shows either there is a remarkable restraint to complete the job or, according to some including the insider, they are close to being compromised. Maybe Abbaji knows.

What if the PM has to make way for another man in his party, without derailing the system? The answer to this question was yet another shocker.

While Ayaz Sadiq is the new intermediary, the new foreign minister-in-charge, the wild card to be a replacement PM could be a man from Narowal, Ahsan Iqbal. Why so? He has his own connections in the left-right quarters.

If Nawaz Sharif knows about these connections, Iqbal’s chances may be considered as nil to zilch to nothing. But again, if Abbaji prevails, anything can happen.

Contributed by the esteemed Shaheen Sehbai