The pro-Army Pakistan Muslim League is variously named. Urdu-speakers call it the Qaf League, the English-language press refer to it as PML (Quaid). In circles opposed to the civil-military establishment, it is pejoratively known as the King's party.
In the name-calling that has always been the bane of Pakistani politics, the suffix 'Q' now stands for Qatil — killer. For PPP supporters, it is the killer league or a party in league with the killers of Benazir Bhutto.
The insinuation has came from none other than her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who cited the letter his slain wife wrote to General Pervez Musharraf after the November 18 bomb attack on her rally in Karachi. She had pointed a finger at, among others, former Punjab chief minister Pervez Ilahi and Intelligence Bureau chief Ejaz Shah.
Ilahi is unfazed by allegations. "Who has benefited from the tragedy?" he counters. "Zardari, and only Zardari. Check the authenticity of her will. Find out the amount for which she was insured," he added.
In an interview to
, the PML leader put up a brave face. He said he has asked British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley that the Scotland Yard team assigned to probe Benazir's assassination must "ascertain the genuineness of the will Zardari used to become PPP co-chairman."
"She couldn't have willed him the leadership. He's an extremely greedy man from whom she kept a distance," continued Ilahi. On what slogan will his party approach the electorate in deep shock over the killing for which he's blamed? "We'll target Zardari, the Mr 10 per cent who has become cent-percent (commission seeker) in the company of his new-found ally, Nawaz Sharif," he retorted. "Why didn't he allow a post-mortem on Benazir's body? Was he not accused of his brother in law, Murtaza Bhutto's murder when his wife was PM (in 1996)?"
As CM, he claimed, he "guarded" Benazir against terrorist attacks by banning her rallies in Rawalpindi and Lahore. For Musharraf's Liaquat Bagh meeting, policemen were stationed in each of the 350-odd houses around the park. "I put Benazir under house arrest because I couldn't at that time make those kind of arrangements for her. I'd have been blamed had anything gone amiss," his reasoning is specious.
Little surprise that Ilahi predicted a truncated PPP tenure if it won the elections on a sympathy vote. He based his prognosis on Zardari's inability to operate in a power troika involving Musharraf and Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
Ilahi was right, however, when he said power will vest in the party that secures a majority in Punjab, which has 148 seats in the 272-member National Assembly. Sindh has 61, NWFP 35, Balochistan 14, Islamabad2 and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) 12.
The mood in the country is against the Q league. But it hopes to be a factor on the strength of better candidates — amid the confusion over Benazir and Sharif's return to Pakistan, it ended up as the only choice for many — and as the sole claimant to the anti-PPP vote. "Nawaz's PML is the PPP's B-team," claimed Ilahi.
Is any such vote left after Benazir's martyrdom? Perhaps the voter will tell on February 18.