Mr Zardari has been through some tough times. He lost his wife and the leader of the PPP in 2007 at the hands of terrorists. His 2008-13 government was buffeted by the Miltablishment and never allowed a moment's respite to rule. His prime minister was ousted by the judiciary mid-way though PPP rule. The PMLN didn't relent on its hostility even after the PPP had been reduced to a regional Sindhi party after the 2013 elections. He had to run away into a long exile after his political lieutenants were rounded up or harassed by the Miltablishment with the backing of the PMLN government. Now he is faced with a new round of elections in which he must fight not just one mainstream partly like the PMLN with roots all over Pakistan but also a raucous upstart like the PTI which is threatening to overwhelm and seize the citadels of power with a wink and a nod from the Miltablishment.
Under the circumstances, one might have thought that he would seek to build some sort of workable "understanding" or "common cause" with the PMLN to jointly confront their nemesis in the form of the Miltab-PTI. More specifically, since any enforced change in the schedule of the next elections, or any amendment in the manner in which neutral caretaker governments at the centre and in the provinces are formed, may conceivably be directed against the interests of both PMLN and PPP, it would be natural to expect some sort of pre-emptive move by the two party leaders jointly to stave it off. But nothing of the sort has happened. Indeed, Mr Zardari has publicly spurned the olive branch proffered by Nawaz Sharif -- who is in rather desperate straits and flapping about for some such agreement -- and seems sadistically pleased at his overt distress.
It cannot simply be a case of Mr Zardari's wounded pride at the cold and calculated manner in which Nawaz Sharif seemed in opposition and government to forget the letter and spirit of the Charter of Democracy that he signed with Benazir Bhutto in 2006. Politics may seem to be vindictive at times but it is never without cold self-interest and compromise. So what is the political logic of Mr Zardari's refusal to join hands with Nawaz Sharif against the PTI-Miltab?
Clearly, Mr Zardari has determined that his long-term opponent is Nawaz Sharif and not Imran Khan. It is the PMLN that has wiped out the PPP from the Punjab heartland of Pakistan and not the PTI. The PMLN is also maneuvering to occupy the centre-stage of political ideology - anti-Miltablishment, anti-radical Islamist sectarianism, and pro-provincial autonomy, pro-constitutionalism, pro-West, pro-minorities, pro-women, etc - that has long been a bastion of the PPP. More ominously, the PMLN is trying to set roots as a dynastic party, which makes it a more formidable longer-term opponent than the PTI which revolves around the sole figure of Imran Khan without any alternate leadership in the wings.
In fact, it is the dynastic element that seems uppermost in Mr Zardari's calculations. He has already made Bilawal Bhutto chairman of the PPP and is busy tutoring him in the art of politics. But the bigger challenge is to stop Nawaz Sharif from successfully implanting his daughter Mariam Nawaz as leader of the PMLN in his place. A good way to do that is to enjoin the public to desert the PMLN while pressurizing the courts and NAB to disqualify both father and daughter and convict them for wrong-doing. That would be killing two birds with one stone: with both father and daughter knocked out, the PMLN would lose its electoral base in the Punjab and open the way for a revival of the PPP as a credible alternative-party. Disgruntled or dislocated PMLN "electables" are being contacted so that when Mitab-push comes to judicial-shove of the PMLN, the PPP is ready and able to hook up to the electoral train in a meaningful way.
Therefore, Mr Zardari will do everything in his power to nail the Sharifs and bury their dynastic challenge forever so that Bilawal Bhutto remains the sole dynastic candidate in the party-political field. But he will ally with the PMLN government to ensure that the general elections are not postponed by the Election Commission and/or Supreme Court on the fig-leaf of the Census, nor allow any prolonged caretaker government to be installed with a mission to sort-out both the PPP and PMLN.
Mr Zardari's jig is well planned. Look out for some fancy footwork to come