Conspiracies seem to be everywhere and are straining the bedrock coalition between the PPP and the PML-N on which the Gilani government rests. It is widely believed that the PPP remains committed to the deal US brokered between Ms Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf to cooperate.
Now, the Feb election results show that it was a reasonably free poll. But the verdict returned a split parliament, necessitating a coalition government — not a part of Pakistani politicians’ experiences. Hopefully they will pass the test. But complications are many because the presidential camp’s intrigues and those of its supporters have various divisive and mischievous programmes. They want to be a part of the government so as to prevent the restoration of at least Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. But if these intrigues succeed and the CJP is not restored it will result in the ouster of the PML-N from the coalition government. That would please Musharraf and the US no end.
Remember, the Americans, NATO, other western powers and the phalanx of social and economic elites not only support Musharraf but also his friends’ schemes. Don’t underrate the Musharraf regime’s strength. As COAS of Pak army, his government enjoyed the support of not only all the elites but of so many of the 2002 election’s winners.
This establishment has not disappeared, nor is it weak. It comprises the bureaucracy that controls the civilian and paramilitary coercive apparatus and can command help of the army under both Army Act and the constitution. Although the current army chief is trying to be politically neutral, it does not necessarily hurt Musharraf. True, he does not have the same control over the intelligence services. But the army’s neutrality means that the it will not be supporting anti-Musharraf moves and forces. That leaves Musharraf with the panoply of bureaucratic power including civilian coercive apparatus.
There are hints that he can still use that blunt sword of Article 58 2 (b). If the political push comes to the shove, Musharraf can rely on at least police, the Rangers and other paramilitaries. Some fear he has quite a chance, especially after the MQM’s, PML-Q)’s and PPP’s strategy of weakening the lawyers’ movement by dividing them. This has partially succeeded. One believes that Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir A Malik, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, Wajihuddin Ahmed et al would be able to maintain unity among the lawyers and hopefully the movement will not fizzle out. Much rides on that.
Let’s not forget the external dimension. Pakistan is among the last some colonies where foreign hegemonic forces still exercise power. Why is it so? Partly because Pakistan has an army that cannot be supported by only Pakistan’s economy. It requires external aid, especially if it is to do the job that the Americans want it to do. They are hard taskmasters. They have implicitly threatened that if their brokered deal between the PPP and Musharraf is not respected, America will cut its aid for the Pakistan army; they would even probably take direct military action on Pakistani territory in order to fight terrorists, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Which party in parliament would stand up to Americans? Probably only Nawaz’s league.
Nawaz correctly seized on the lawyers’ movement that has changed Punjab. His position in Punjab is now unassailable. He is now in a position to give a new election date and can hope to go on to win the ensuing elections. All he has to do is to do some homework with regard to other provinces. For that he needs to transcend his economic conservatism. Can he do that? Who knows? But so long as he sticks to his ‘restore PCOed judges’ plank, his hold on Punjab will go on becoming stronger.
If the lawyers’ movement gets finally divided and starts fizzling away, it would be a tremendous setback to hopes of democracy in Pakistan, probably for a long time to come. The year 2007 memorably produced a symbol of resistance and compelled civil society, media and many political parties to start struggling for democracy. It all but succeeded and it looked Musharraf would have to go. But that has not happened largely because of the PPP’s steadfast support for Musharraf camp and US intervention.
Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari’s Murree Declaration and the earlier Charter of Democracy are documents that can still guarantee democracy. If the deadlock inside the government between the PML-N and the PPP over the restoration of the judges can be resolved and the judges, including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, are restored, everything else will be on course: Pakistan’s democratic forces have shown that they do not happily take dictation on details of the war on terror, though they regarded the problem of Islamic extremism as Pakistan’s own. As such they would have to find a suitable strategy to tackle it but that will leave the task of renegotiating limits of American power.
American strategy is based on superior firepower, based on intelligence. But intelligence in Afghanistan and in tribal areas of Pakistan is a tricky matter. Historically, informers in the region tend to work both sides of the street. The point is that a purely military approach is foolish for a Muslim state to implement in its own Muslim areas. The Taliban have in recent years been winning the hearts and minds of the people because of US methods; they are raising as an alternative state. True, Pakistan has to counter it effectively through a political strategy with a minimal military muscle that will have to remain subordinated to political methodology.
Americans do not agree with this. Gilani government technically presides over the establishment that originally sustained Musharraf who is still the symbolic head of that establishment. Since he is still supported by the various social and economic elites and also the bureaucratic apparatus, his power and moves should not be treated with contempt. Not that democracy should not be pursued vigorously. But that requires guts in leadership.
What does that mean? It means preserving the PPP-PML-N alliance intact. It also implicitly means restoring all the judges without clever-by-half treachery. Above all, it requires a firm and honest discussion with the Americans over how the war on terror is to be conducted inside Pakistan, while the terms of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation can remain but and its limits will need to be clearly redefined.
Pakistan has also to come up with a new and realistic Afghan policy. Unrealistic dreams of mini-imperialism of Pakistan’s own vis-à-vis Afghanistan will have to go. Afghanistan should be treated like any other foreign country and now that it has been admitted into SAARC, Pakistan should have a special policy of cooperation with Afghanistan without trying to gain any extra advantage.
For the rest, the civil society, the media and the lawyers must be respected and given what they want: They do not want favours: only independent judiciary and a democratic constitution. Democracy has to be preserved and developed with the government staying within the confines of law and Constitution. Reform of the constitution is the preliminary task of the new government, so that it can solve people’s day-to-day problems whole-heartedly. Economy needs to be revamped and set on the road to a development that creates more jobs, stabilizes prices and promotes health and education for the masses, without forgetting to develop agriculture and industry optimally.
The writer is a veteran journalist and freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: The News, 16/4/2008