Strange as it may seem, it has emerged upon reflection that what is happening in Pakistan, may be chaotic from a practical perspective, but there is gradually emerging a pattern of clearly designed goals behind the PPP-led administration policies. It would seem that Zardari by intelligent use of the opportunistic circumstances has ensured the attainment of three fundamental goals to keep himself in power and by a corresponding strangulation of potential adversaries’ capacity to challenge. In Pakistan, these adversaries are traditionally considered to be the Army and the major political party in Opposition to any incumbent administration in office. The goals are: (1) to ensure his family fortunes now running over 2 billion dollars remains totally protected from state prosecutions by virtue of the NRO, (2) that the Judges’ matter remains unresolved as long as it is possible to keep the Musharraf’s November 3 actions in place, and (3) to utilise the army for doing what the US may wish, leaving that institution alone to bear the total burden of failure or success as may finally emerge in the ensuing imbroglio. A moment’s analysis might help substantiate this point.
The mandate for the parliament in which the Zardari-led PPP was given the reins of governance was to undertake at least the following actions within 100 days of its inaugural session (1) the implementation of the Charter of Democracy signed personally by Benazir (2) to achieve the reversal the ethos of 17th amendment, (3) restoring November 2 judiciary, (4) ending the fundamental effects of military dictatorship of October 12, 1999 so as to ensure that any future coup d’tat does not occur, and (5) the reappraisal of the Musharraf’s total support of the Western demands over this War On Terror by possibly fashioning anew such policies to maintain Pakistan’s interests in this matter in view. This is what was categorically stated unequivocally by the prime minister in his inaugural address to the parliament. Did he not, in deference to this assertion order the immediate release of the judges detained by the preposterous order of the president when all those who defied his illegal assumption of power were just jailed?
However, nothing of this nature has occurred since then which would indicate that we have a democratic administration in place which is genuinely receptive to public expectations. There are two fundamental matters in this context that require scrutiny: (a) the matter of judges’ restoration, the paramount domestic issue of great public support, and (b) the obvious matter of great significance for the country having manifest foreign implications, namely the ongoing strife in the tribal region adjoining Afghanistan because of US demands and consequential pressures for doing something on the ground.
What is the attitude of Zardari towards these issues? On the domestic issue of judges, the stand adopted is simply evasive with missing of several agreed upon deadlines with his Coalition senior partner, the PML-N for implementing the same. On the external matter, he has done the remarkable thing by abdicating the constitutional powers of the civil government over this matter; Gilani has repeatedly acknowledged that it is for the army to do as it wants since the problem is of strategic nature. Superficially this looks if he were simply placating the position of General Kiyani, the current COAS, in operations involving the deployment of the forces. But in reality he has achieved the unbelievable and a sinister result is conceivably being achieved.
Now it is for the army to not only formulate, a priori, the political policies towards this very complex issue, but also undertake the dangerous job of actual fighting, which some would say is both difficult and messy proposition! We have seen in the last few months the unpleasant results of this domestic war undertaken by the country’s armed forces with the militant elements in this region. If the army succeeds, well enough. If they fail, which seems more likely given the ground realities of the terrain, logistics, history and the morale of the relevant army units, too bad.
In any case the US pressures would be on General Kiyani and not the PPP who can then simply submit when thing go awry that they have done exactly what Washington really desired. In case of failure the wrath of the people as well foreign pressures would adversely impact the already damaged image of the army because of the retired general’s dictatorship for the last many years. So by adopting this masterful ploy, Zardari in theoretical perspective achieves the result of enfeebling the army for the foreseeable future. He said so, ironically in philosophical terms, at Benazir’s funeral, that the best revenge against dictatorship in Pakistan was democracy. Few realised what was the far-reaching conception of “democracy” that the PPP co-chairman had in mind at that time.
The modality of marginalising Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N, the other adversary, has been in the more traditional style of Byzantine diplomacy: outwardly remain highly gracious but in reality do what is considered prudent or necessary. He wanted to buy “time” which was successfully achieved by giving various dates on the matter of the restoration of judges only to renege from such overt commitments upon the arrival of the relevant times of performance. Then he effectively rendered the PML-N into a non-speaking opposition in parliament by taking them into a Coalition. Zardari was thus deeply disturbed over PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s refusal to accompany him and Prime Minister Gilani to their US visit later this month. It is reported that Zardari would fly to the United States with the prime minister during the latter’s first official trip to Washington for meetings with senior American officials. Had Nawaz Sharif gone, Zardari would have become to the Washington’s Pakistan lobby, the clear civilian to lead the county. Nawaz Sharif’s earlier refusals, including the previous one when the PML-N chief had declined to go to Saudi Arabia with the PPP leader and Gilani for a meeting with King Abdullah were similarly orchestrated by the PPP government.
But all is not within the PPP co-chairman’s control. In all these matters the US perspectives from Islamabad’s angle are constantly visible. I understand that Washington will deliver to the prime minister several key messages including a firm assurance that US has got over its Musharraf phobia and was willing wholeheartedly to politically and economically support the new government. There would be a timeframe to test out the new leadership in Pakistan and to give them political space to do something tangible. It is said here in the States that broadly the time being given to the PPP government is six months to one year in which the Americans will patiently try to work with the civilian government, modifying their habit of issuing orders to military rulers who in turn would issue orders and get things done. The Bush administration would emphasise that decisions regarding the War On Terror should be taken keeping the interests of Pakistan’s allies, their goals in view and every party must be consulted and taken into confidence on these decisions. Would this be acceptable to Zardari? Or would he to “save” himself simply pass on the buck to General Kiyani?
While top US military, intelligence and government leaders are repeatedly making their positions clear, including their annoyance at failure of Pakistan to deal with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Fata, and press for more military action, there is a sort of resigned acceptance in some influential pockets of US government policy making apparatus that if a dialogue with the militants can produce positive results, the new government should be provided the space to try this option. Washington is officially telling everyone that US is not interested in Pakistan’s domestic affairs but there is a growing expectancy that the new government should exercise its authority over major domestic issues, including the economy and domestic terrorism.
But on the other hand the scepticism expressed by some, including the president of the Supreme Court Bar that Washington is not allowing the restoration of judges remains there to be evaluated by the analysts and historians at a future time. But what evidence is there for such hypothesis? That also needs to be presented by those who can in a scholarly manner. There is, however, equally no doubt the US has been seen to be doing too much of late in the domestic political affairs of Pakistan.
To reassure the new Pakistani leaders that Washington had shifted gears and changed its Musharraf-centric policy, an important list of new benefits has been prepared by the US officials, which will be revealed during the talk’s with Gilani in Washington. But the fact remains that the government also has to show that it is infact in political in charge of the country. How that is possible without Nawaz Sharif being on board, is most difficult to swallow. There is also the ultimate test for Zardari of exhibiting some modicum of nationalism. Can he do so in the circumstances in which he has placed himself?
Only time will tell but it is certain that Zardari has ushered in a channel of operations through which he is aiming to perpetuate his hold over all the power bases in the country to neutralise both the army and Nawaz Sharif, the two strongest element of the society. His difficulties, as articulated above lie in the larger sense of the people of Pakistan and the perspectives outlined above with respect to the US and its manoeuvres in this region. With the US getting more and more involved in the quagmire of Afghanistan military crisis, Pakistan desperately needs an enlightened and farsighted leadership which understands the finer nuances strategic affairs.
The writer is attorney-at-law (US), barrister-at-law (UK), senior advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan, and professor Harvard University
Source: The Nation, 30/7/2008