May 222008

Till the PML-N ministers walked out of the federal cabinet, Pakistan was a State in paralysis. Ineffective governance in the face of looming crisis is criminal neglect, mass perception takes it to be worse. The attempt at national reconciliation by Asif Zardari had given the PML-N political indispensability far exceeding their second-place status in the national electoral polls. While leaning over backwards for compromise and cooperation with the largest party in Punjab is certainly required, in the hard world of politics display of goodwill is taken to be weakness. The PML-N treated it as such.

The de-facto chief minister of Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, has always been an able administrator, the model of effective decision-making and implementation thereof, the hallmark of good governance. For the PPP, the junior partner in Punjab, this stark contrast to the state of federal limbo was very damaging politically. To add injury to insult, the PPP ministers and workers in Punjab were very deliberately and callously sidelined. Ten years out in the cold, the frustrations at being denied accessibility even when nominally in power was demoralising hardcore PPP workers. The PML-N walkout created an opportunity for the PPP to rectify this anomaly, and a huge cheer for the presidential camp. A PPP loyalist in place in the Governor’s House was needed to prevent losing party workers in hordes, Musharraf badly needed a friendly presence to needle the Sharifs on their home ground and keep them on tenterhooks. The PML-N call for support of the lawyers’ movement in the streets was the last straw for the PPP. Ominously, all roads converging to Islamabad and Rawalpindi are in Punjab.

A long-term PPP loyalist with liberal political beliefs but not very active politically in the recent past, Salmaan Taseer is a very successful entrepreneur. His achievements are based on sheer brilliance, without using contacts or influence. His surprising inclusion in the federal caretaker cabinet signalled a Musharraf connection, therefore the strong reaction from the Sharifs, and the PML-N speaking darkly about palace intrigues meant to topple their government. Their greater fear is possibly that Mian Shahbaz Sharif will not be able to freely exercise the absolute control he hitherto had.

The PPP must go the democratic route of running the federal government (with or without the PML-N), similarly supporting the right of the PML-N to rule in Punjab. Any attempt to destabilise the Punjab government is unacceptable and deserves strong condemnation. Salmaan Taseer is sensitive about how his conduct will be judged, therefore his readiness to go to Raiwind for reconciliation. The PML-N should reciprocate for the betterment of Punjab. Is Taseer not far better for the Sharifs than Manzoor Wattoo breathing down their necks a la 1993?

Offence being the best defence, there are signs that the Empire is now preparing to strike back. The perception of continuing absolute authority in the public mind is quite a virtuoso performance by Musharraf, given that this avid bridge player’s only remaining power base is the ISI controlled by talented cousin Lt Gen Nadim Taj. As for who is Darth Vader, take your pick between him and Tariq Aziz. The distancing of the Army from politics is a myth as long as uniformed officers in the ISI manipulate political power. For the populace the Army and ISI are synonymous, the perception of their meddling in Pakistani politics is very much alive and well, and will probably remain so. All principal political federal and administrative appointments are presently subject to “clearance” by Nadim Taj. So let’s not fool ourselves! When the stakes are high, those who can manhandle one of Pakistan’s living heroes like twice-over Sitara-e-Jurat Brig Mohd Taj on a purely private matter are capable of anything.

Unsubstantiated rumours are afloat that Musharraf will replace Kayani with Nadim Taj as COAS of the Pakistan Army, sooner rather than later–i.e., before the constitutional amendment to be tabled by the PPP takes away his powers to appoint the Service Chiefs. Even when trial balloons do not fly, the desperate will gamble, throwing caution and calculated risks to the wind. Take Mian Sahib’s fate when he tried the same, the abortive attempt to install poor Ziauddin Butt (who was then DG ISI) as COAS in place of Musharraf on Oct 12, 1999.

Musharraf’s preparation for Mian Sahib was probably meticulously taken from Luttwak’s “How to Stage a Coup de Etat.” It took only two SSG companies, one flown in from Mangla airfield, the other by road from Tarbela, to topple the Nawaz Sharif government, III (Triple One) Bde leisurely rolled up to the PM’s gate more than an hour or so later. The rest of the Army remained mostly blissfully oblivious. “Lessons learnt” from the elementary mistakes Ziauddin Butt made, viz (1) failing to use his ISI detachments to immobilise Mahmood, commander of the10 Corps, and Aziz, the CGS, and (2) wasting time in the Prime Minister’s House instead of heading to the GHQ and establishing his authority.

June 6, 1944, the day the Allies invaded Normandy in France to free Europe from Germany in World War 2, is universally known as “The Longest Day.” Sixty-four years and four days later, June 10, the day of the lawyers’ “Long March,” could well be Pakistan’s “Longest Day.” If confrontation in the streets spins out of control, it will severely test Pakistan’s democratic stability, adequate reason to proclaim an emergency and return the country to dictatorial rule. The ultimate irony, the legal fraternity being used in a “judo ploy” to topple the very democracy they are struggling for. My friend Aitzaz Ahsan is inadvertently an instrument of convenience for the man he hates, Pervez Musharraf. History is replete with idealists who have made gross miscalculations in mindlessly pursuing dreams, resulting in a long dark night of helplessness and frustration for the masses, the exact opposite to their democratic objectives. Remember Zia-ul-Haq’s 90 days?

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s one-point agenda is the removal of the president from office and his subsequent trial, not the restoration of the pre-Nov 3 superior judiciary. Was the PML-N electoral mandate for the pursuit of private vendettas or for providing good governance? Multi-facetted multi-dimensional crisis is overwhelmed by one immediate critical need, food on the table for 70 percent of the population, and the means to afford it!

Mian Sahib must revisit his priorities, why not a hiatus on baying for Pervez Musharraf’s blood and concentrate on helping the PPP cope with the desperate requirements of the Pakistan populace? The president should continue as a constitutional monarch, reining in his talented cousin from playing “patriot” games. Musharraf still has the aura of presidential power, he is not yet “an emperor without clothes.” Unlike those whose survival is dependant on him and want him to cling to power come “hell or high water,” his genuine friends want a dignified graceful exit (duly indemnified) in the not too far distant future, at a time of his own choosing.

With everyone minding his own business, Asif Zardari can goad the PPP to get on with governance. The people do not want rhetoric and/or posturing, their immediate daily need is one “sukhi roti.”

The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email:

 Source: The News, 22/5/2008

 Posted by at 8:09 am

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