Five major power centres exist in Pakistan today, and many smaller ones complicate the state of limbo we are in. On Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s death, her “will” was read out. With the party leadership in a state of shock, no one questioned the document, giving Asif Zardari space to stage-manage a stunning political coup. Nearly all of the late Mohtarma’s close aides who had rendered sacrifices within the country for over a decade were shunted aside, unelected or indirectly elected cronies were installed by Zardari’s diktat in the party’s Central Executive Committee. Democracy at its best? Unlike the PPP, PPP (Z) leaders are almost all beneficiaries of NRO, the blackest of black laws, with a short unambiguous agenda on behalf of their mentor: make money quickly and leave Pakistan, or whatever is left of it, economically and politically bankrupt.
The title and trappings of office make the prime minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, another power centre, although most of his authority is nevertheless exercised by others. A good man with impeccable political credentials, he was preferred over Ahmad Mukhtar because the Defence Minister would not be a rubberstamp. Put into government to serve as camouflage, one cannot club genuine and committed PPP party activists with PPP (Z).
The Presidency’s powers have now diminished considerably. Many want Pervez Musharraf out of office and prosecuted on a number of counts, but he remains in contention. What about the groundswell of public opinion comparing him to the present lot and concluding he wasn’t so bad after all? Musharraf would do well as a constitutional president if he does not interfere with governance.
The Sharif brothers’ political combine in the Punjab is another major force. Unfortunately, the mass support of the only national popular leader in the country today, Mian Nawaz Sharif, does not translate into many electoral seats in other provinces. With capable and elected leaders to counsel him (as opposed to those surrounding Zardari), the manic obsession about the superior judiciary in exclusion of the many serious problems confronting Pakistan causes reservations about Mian Sahib’s judgment and priorities. The PML-N leader should shun confrontation; politics is the art of compromise.
The most potent power centre is in a state of ambiguity. Engaged in a balancing act juggling options between disparate forces and issues, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has managed to redeem the Army’s image by withdrawing lock and stock (if not barrel as yet) from civilian life and ensuring free and fair elections. The no-win situation includes counselling the US that “hot pursuit” into FATA will further exacerbate anti-American feeling, while keeping passions in the ranks from reacting to bloody provocation. Pride notwithstanding, the Pakistani Armed Forces can hardly take on US military might. Having ensured “democracy,” it is hypocrisy to salute the rather crooked lot in “constitutional” control of the country. When criminals function in the name of justice, justice becomes a crime. The perception of Kayani’s constituency cannot be different from that of the common citizens of Pakistan. Commitment to democracy and the Constitution notwithstanding, can the Army gamble with missing the failsafe line before the country dissolves into chaos?
Numerous challenges continue to pound the ramparts of the state, (1) domestic terrorism with international connotations and nuclear proliferation accusations compounded by AQ Khan’s latest outburst puts us on collision course with the West, (2) economic meltdown along with rising oil prices and continuous downward spike of the rupee, (3) an alarming food shortage causing inordinate price rises, (4) manufacturing shutdowns force-multiplying unemployment, (5) serious separatist challenges in Balochistan, and (6) endemic insecurity among the masses because of rapidly eroding confidence in the political leadership. With the buying power of salaries rapidly eroding and food prices inflated astronomically beyond the reach of the common man, a Dec 27-type apocalypse will come when a man sees his children go hungry. This is aggravated by our media testing the limits of both freedom and licence by giving primetime to terrorists spreading their bloody message, thus serving as the terrorists’ most potent weapon.
Few options remain to stem the rot, the foremost being that the coalition government (or even the PPP content) should start functioning, instead of indulging in rhetoric and posturing. Sincere long-term commitment requires Asif Zardari to contest elections and become prime minister. And/or let Yusuf Raza Gilani do his job and not be dictated to! As for the blatantly corrupt, the NAB can give names for the Exit Control List (ECL) in less than one hour, their presence a God-given opportunity to question how they could afford their fabulous lifestyle abroad for a decade on their salaries as bureaucrats. One real option must be reconciliation between the Presidency and PML (N), for democracy to function and counter challenges there is nothing better than a popular leader running governments.
Musharraf’s counter-coup imposed martial law without calling it such. Lt Gen Moeen Ahmad of Bangladesh refined Musharraf’s “1999 Pakistan model” into the “Bangladesh model” in early 2007 by not making the mistake of sending uniformed officers and men into civilian jobs. Unfortunately almost every military chief who takes over civilian power discovers his own immortality in governance as “the saviour of the nation” and his intentions become suspect. Disappointing for me personally, Moeen is no exception. With loss of credibility the “Bangladesh model” will fail its primary aim, to cleanse the body politic of the corrupt.
To quote my article of June 29, 1995, “Why do martial laws fail?” “Martial Laws fail because the initiators of all extra-constitutional rule ride into town on tanks with the lofty Aim of saving the country, relying on that platonic national purpose to make themselves credible. They soon adjust the Aim to more material (and less patriotic) reasons of self-perpetuation. The original Aim remains publicly the same, becomes an exercise in self-delusion. This diversion of Aim means that one individual or group is simply replaced by another (or others), instead of being a transition mechanism that provides for and facilitates the process of the democratic system being repaired and renovated to reflect the real genius and aspirations of the people.”
In both models, the Army went wrong in (1) not including clean and aboveboard electable representatives from major parties in the caretaker setups and (2) its chiefs putting personal ambition over national interest. The ultimate option staring us in the face is the route of last resort, a refined “Pakistan model” with both positive and negative lessons learnt from the 1999 Pakistan and 2007 Bangladesh military interventions. Uniformed personal must stay out of government, supporting the honest and capable in running the affairs. Uniformed persona must also shun a second life in politics and/or government. With a swift return to democratic rule (with continuing and fair accountability to include the judiciary and the military). Pakistan has hope.
The country is not yet in a state of anarchy, the federal government is. As time goes by, in a rapidly deteriorating situation, damage control and recovery of stable governance will be much harder. One can only pick up the pieces if there are any pieces left to pick.
While we are not a failed state, if we act too late, options or not, we are doomed as a state.
The writer is a defence and political
analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9 .com
Source: The News, 17/7/2008