Unless conspiracy experts want to read all sorts of deceit and make-believe in it, the latest opinion expressed by the PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari about President Pervez Musharraf marks a significant turn in national politics. From the stance that “we can live with President Musharraf” to his being “a relic of the past” is a journey that is not without its ups and downs. And somewhere in the foundation of any possible equation, there is President Musharraf’s unremitting ambivalence that has come back to haunt us.
The conflict was simmering under the surface because of the lawyers’ movement, but it burst forth when the PPP got its “constitutional package” ready to address the twin problems of restoration of judges and the curtailment of presidential powers to dismiss the assemblies. The president reacted to his spokesman’s remark that he would “go at an appropriate time” by making him say that the PPP-PMLN coalition doesn’t have the two-thirds majority in parliament either to impeach him or clip his powers.
Thus the PPP, through Mr Zardari’s latest remark, has moved closer to the more radical position of the PMLN. It has also edged closer to the position of the lawyers’ movement that wants to get rid of the president through the restored Supreme Court. Will this remove pressure from the PPP to adopt the universally favoured radical change in Pakistan while Pakistan’s allies in the war on terrorism want a gradual transition? The latest remark by Mr Zardari may not assuage the misgivings of the lawyers’ movement but it will certainly have a salutary effect on the PMLN.
When the PMLN took out Article 58(2)b from the Constitution after the 1997 elections, the PPP in the opposition voted for it. Both parries had been alternately hurt by the power of the president to dismiss governments. After taking over in 1999, Mr Musharraf decided in his wisdom to keep the leaders of both the mainstream parties out of the country, after which he preferred to take on board the very religious parties that were opposed to his liberalisation of Pakistan, in order get the power-to-dismiss back in the 17th Amendment.
It is now known that President Musharraf was forced to take the leaders of the mainstream parties back because of the pressure of external powers. Those who think that he issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), to make possible the return of Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Zardari, from the depths of his heart should take a look at his interview to Jemima Khan in which he accused the US and the UK of having forced the NRO on him. Clearly, he is a cold-blooded strategist who knows how to use ambivalence as his weapon.
There should be no hesitation in saying that in the coming phase of politics in Pakistan he cannot play any major role and might consider making a graceful exit himself at some stage. If the PPP coalition doesn’t have the two-thirds majority — the law minister Farooq Naek says it hasn’t so far — the president will stick around, but it will be in the midst of a rising graph of popular anger against him. His own party, the PMLQ, will not be able to bear the pressure of supporting him for long and could be on the way to splintering after developing “forward blocs”. The 2008 elections were a verdict of sorts and the people are interpreting the results against him.
It would, of course, be to the advantage of the president if the PMLN and the PPP continue to drift apart, and the former is unable to properly digest the latter’s move simply because it is attracted to the radicalism of the lawyers. In the event, far from being a fly in the ointment, the president would then survive nicely through a policy of divide and rule. After all, the PMLN’s motive behind supporting the lawyers is the removal of President Musharraf. The PPP-PMLN wrangling is now impinging on governance as the people increasingly want the coalition to devote time and energy to the economic crises being faced by the country. The sooner Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari make their historic compromise, the better.
Daily Times Editorial