Safe passage for Pakistan

Ghazi Salahuddin

We may detect some similarities between commando culture and cowboy culture. After all, there always seemed something personal in the bond between Pervez Musharraf and George W Bush. And this thought may remind us of Hollywood’s classic John Wayne westerns. One similarity could be the tendency to shoot from the hip. In cowboy culture, it would be to shoot first and ask questions later. Well, are you thinking of March 9, 2007?
In any case, we may also recall John Wayne riding into the sunset, when the story has ended. In Musharraf’s case, another reference comes to mind: old soldiers never die; they just fade away. But Musharraf seems to be taking his cue from Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night… rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Still, there is nothing poetic about this long, painful departure of President Pervez Musharraf. For all this week, headlines have been promising a decision within hours. One morning they announce that the deal is done and the next day that it is undone. Analysts, quoting official sources, keep telling us that the president would have to resign before the agony of impeachment is set into motion — if a safe passage is assured.

The general impression is that the army, though it has evidently distanced itself from politics, would not want its former chief to be humiliated. At the same time, so many ex-servicemen remain hawkish, demanding Musharraf’s trial for treason. Meanwhile, hectic diplomatic activity has gone on behind the curtains. We are told that mediators from the US, Britain and now also from Saudi Arabia are making hectic efforts to find a solution to the flaming political impasse. This newspaper, quoting reliable sources, reported on Saturday that “if the international mediation succeeded, President Musharraf would leave Pakistan forever”.

Incidentally, this high drama is taking place at a time when we find ourselves in deep crisis. This was particularly the week that inspired serious deliberation on the present state of affairs. On Thursday, we celebrated our Independence Day. It was attended by that ritualistic show of patriotic fervour. Those touching, emotionally uplifting national songs did provoke some hope that we can come together and make a new beginning.

At the same time, dire warnings about what could happen to Pakistan remain in circulation. There are indications that the United States is distancing itself from Musharraf. The White House has said that President Bush believes only Pakistanis should decide who they want to lead their country and observers see this as a signal that the US would not rescue Musharraf from an impeachment move. But the real issue is whether the US is also distancing itself from Pakistan.

Perhaps it is Pakistan that needs a safe passage into a future that protects its integrity and its democratic dispensation. We do need to worry about it against the backdrop of dark apprehensions by foreign experts about Pakistan becoming dysfunctional as a federation. One focus is on our struggle against militants and terrorists in the tribal belt, with intimations that the Taliban are gaining influence in settled areas. Combined with rising commotion in the economic sector – the price of dollar being an alarming indicator – the challenge for the present government is truly formidable. But its quality of governance breeds despair.

All this would demand that we get the Musharraf issue out of the way as soon as possible. And it is not just the departure of Musharraf that has to be hastened but also the restoration of the judges. They belong together as an obstruction in the path of our democratic revival. In spite of all this confusion that surrounds us, we must not forget that it was the lawyers’ movement, in close cooperation with the media and civil society, that led to the outcome of the February elections and the predicament in which Musharraf finds himself.

On Friday, the Balochistan Assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding of Musharraf to seek a vote of confidence or step down. Again, the tally was decisive. The resolution was adopted by 58 legislators in a house of 65 – and there was no one there to oppose the move. Thus, all four provincial assemblies that are a part of the president’s electoral college have overwhelmingly rejected Musharraf. Add to this the defections that have taken place in the King’s party and you can certify that Musharraf must go.

Yet, there is still a great deal of suspense about how he will depart. Also on Friday, the ruling coalition of the PPP and the PML-N finalised its draft of the charge-sheet against Musharraf to be presented to parliament when the impeachment process begins. A joint session of parliament is expected to be summoned in a day or two. But it would not come to that if Musharraf is willing to resign.

I have referred to Pakistan’s birthday and how it came in rather ominous circumstances. Musharraf’s own birthday fell on August 11 and at least this year, it was not a lucky day for him. By the way, General Ziaul Haq’s birthday was August 12, though this proximity does not make much astrological sense because it is hard to imagine two military rulers who were so different in their personal tastes and inclinations. At some level, they have been very similar. Their legacy would be comparable in terms of what the country had to suffer during their rule.

We will have time, though, to assess and analyse Musharraf’s legacy after he has departed. How many more hours or days it would take is uncertain. We continue to hear from his fast diminishing supporters that he would not resign and fight the impeachment charges. Whether the army leadership would like that to happen is also a big question. Indeed, one keeps on wondering what the army leadership is thinking. Much has depended on their wisdom and their actions in our unfortunate history.

And when it comes to learning from history, both our army leaders and our ruling politicians have a lot to ponder. Their wisdom and their prudence, as well as their intellectual abilities, will charter the course our country will take in the immediate future. Musharraf’s departure is foretold but its consequences are very variable. As I have said, we need a safe passage for Pakistan.

On Friday, all major foreign newspapers suggested that Musharraf was ready to resign, that the Musharraf era was over. They also seemed to share the concern expressed by The New York Times: “His departure from office seems likely to unleash new instability in the country as the two main parties in the civilian government jockey for his share of power. It would also remove from the political stage the man who has served as the Bush administration’s main ally here for the last eight years”.

The writer is a staff member. Email:

Source: The News, 17/8/2008

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