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All Pakistan Muslim League: no prospects

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With Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) finally launched, Wikipedia will have to add another party to its list of 93 already in the country. The party was, in fact, already there on the Facebook with 212,929 admirers. Musharraf had become eligible to take part in politics after November 28, 2009. It was first let out that the party would start functioning in March. The delay in the announcement was presumably caused because none of Musharraf’s erstwhile political allies was willing to join the party, at least at this juncture.

The question is whether the APML would be able to strike roots anywhere outside virtual reality. With the Q-League divided soon after the 2008 elections, Musharraf’s first preference was to persuade the leaders of the party’s two warring factions to get united under him. This would have saved him the trouble of creating a new party. Musharraf’s proposal was, however, not acceptable to Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervez Elahi, who were not willing to hand over the leadership of the party to him. Some of the members of the so called “Like-minded Group”, who called on Musharraf in London, also did not agree to join his party when the subject was broached.

This left Musharraf with no choice, but to announce a new party and assign the task of organising to it to a group of people, who have never been active in politics in the past. Before he joined the Musharraf bandwagon, Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif was an unknown leader of a little heard of organisation by the name of Pasdar-e-Pakistan. Naeem Tahir and Fawwad Chaudhry do not have even this much to show while Major General Rashid Qureshi (Retd) is known only as Musharraf’s chief spokesman. This creates serious doubts about the feasibility of Musharraf’s political venture.

Another problem for the new party is that nobody knows when its chief would return to Pakistan. While addressing the media in Karachi, Barrister Saif said “President Musharraf is not afraid of any of the charges made against him – he fully intends to return and face them,” But he simultaneously added that Musharraf intends to return to Pakistan “as soon as a date is announced for the next elections.”

This implies that Musharraf might not be able to return before 2013. While it might be possible to control a fully functioning party from abroad, to create it while cooling one’s heels out of the country is like fighting a bout while sitting outside the boxing ring.

Rashid Qureshi still retains the mindset of the spokesman of a military ruler. He told the Karachi media, “Pervez Musharraf is still one of the most popular men in Pakistan” and “General Musharraf has no desire for personal power – he only intends to serve Pakistan.” He said that the newly formed APML would pave the way for his return. Does this mean that Musharraf will not return until the party is fully operational and able to remove the hurdles on the way of its leader’s return?

The party programme, announced by the Saif and Qureshi duo, leaves one neither here nor there. It is no more than “to target politics of dynasty in order to empower the masses.” Many politicians, deadly opposed to Musharraf like Imran Khan maintain they are against dynastic politics, but they also have a lot to say about national politics, economy and foreign policy. It is not feasible to create a new party only to oppose the control of certain families on politics.

It is not easy for Musharraf to return. An FIR for the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti has been registered against him on the order of Balochistan High Court. He is likely to be charged with violating the Constitution by announcing a state of emergency in February 2007. With courts, manned by independent judges, Musharraf would not like to be anywhere under their jurisdiction. Meanwhile, terrorists, who tried to target him a number of times while he was President-in-uniform, might be waiting for his arrival.

Even if he returns, Musharraf is not likely to create any dent in politics on account of his peculiar mindset.

He is not a man of the masses. For over forty years, he has been a respectable officer, in neat and properly ironed uniform and shouting orders to the subordinates. Popular politics is not his cup of tea. What is more, he is uppish and unable to cope with the type of rough politics Pakistani politicians are used to. How can a man unwilling to address a hostile Parliament for four years, face noisy and unruly crowds?

Musharraf is used to politicking with the full power of the state behind him. The District Nazims, who brought crowds to his public meetings, will no more be at his beck and call. The agencies that did political engineering on his part are no more under him. He does not possess the magic wand that created the Q-League to provide him political moorings, brought MQM into the fold, and created defections in the PPP and PML-N.

Musharraf can no more count on the army for support. The army follows the serving COAS rather than a retired general. Most of the generals, appointed by Musharraf, have left. The few who remain are about to complete their tenure. There is little love lost between Musharraf and the leaders of the Ex-Servicemen Association, who have repeatedly called for his public trial. He cannot rely on the US either as he has lost whatever utility he once had for the Americans. Washington has discovered other allies, who are even more suitable as they are elected. What is more, the army is co-operating.

There is no place for the new party in the electoral politics. If the PPP fails to deliver, it is likely to be replaced in the next elections by the PML-N or an alliance, led by it. In case the military decides to take over, it will not require the services of a discredited ex-general.

It seems that Musharraf still has high hopes. These are, however, unrealistic. He might be having 212,929 admirers on the Facebook. But can they walk out of the Facebook to organise public meetings for him and face hardships on his behalf?

Copyright Business Recorder, 2010

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