Power play after Musharraf

By Kunwar Idris 

THERE was jubilation when Gen Musharraf arrived forcibly on the scene. There was jubilation again at his forced departure.

Hope for a better future lasted but for a few months after Oct 1999’s surprise military coup. The hope can now be seen fading away much faster — within days of the triumph of the political forces over the coup-maker.

Doubts were widely expressed whether the disparate coalition that was united only in its common hatred of Musharraf would be able to hold together once he was gone. The leaders of the two mainstream parties have beaten the most cynical of cynics by the speed at which their consensus is dissolving into a contest for power.

The irony of it all is that a nationalist descendant of the Red Shirts — Asfandyar Wali Khan — and an arch conservative cleric whose seminaries gave us the original crusading Taliban — Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have now together been exerting pressure to persuade the heirs to the politics of Jinnah and Bhutto — Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari — to evolve a consensus on the main contentious issues: first, who should be the president, second, when the judges can be reinstated and whether the chief justice should at all be reinstated and, third, whether Musharraf should be tried or allowed to while away his time in safety — playing bridge and golf here and abroad.

In whatever way the ongoing feud ends, the uncertainty, violence and inflation besetting the country will not go away and may even be prolonged and increase in intensity for their sole concern seems to centre on who will wield the real power. And it is of no concern to the terrorists who are in power. The myth that terrorism would subside when Musharraf goes has exploded tragically and doubly.

The Shia killings in Kurram and Dera Ismail Khan, home of the mediating maulana, underline the fact that the sectarianism being instigated by our own fanatics is more lethal than the insurgency being fuelled by foreign fighters in the borderlands. For sectarian mayhem and violence in other forms the ascendant politicians cannot, for once, blame the deposed Musharraf or his policies or America’s and our war on terror. The blame falls entirely on them.

No matter how the coalition settles its internal differences its leaders must take time out from their revelries to give the country an administration which is united in checking the spread of homegrown violence (as far as their ingenuity and resources permit) and also one that saves the economy from sinking deeper into recession (as far as the world economic forces permit).

Alas, every indication is to the contrary. The administration of public affairs, whether general, economic or legal is in total disarray, and deteriorating. In making appointments to public offices Musharraf would sometimes cast favouritism aside and go by merit. The new government in its five months hasn’t done that at all. It is sheer coincidence if a favourite also fits the bill of merit. Round pegs in square holes are far too many to be recounted and could lead to ill-will if they were to be, but I will still refer to one.

The Planning Commission is necessarily and traditionally headed by administrators with proven ability and experience in finance and economic planning. Among them in the recent past were Ghulam Ishaq Khan, M.M. Ahmad and A.G.N. Kazi. Able economists Mahbub ul Haq and Sartaj Aziz, just to name two, assisted them.

Recalled from exile and appointed to this post now is Salman Farooqui who hasn’t worked for a day in planning or finance nor has the academic background to do so. A dozen advisors and members will surround him. Knowing Salman as I do from our days in the Sindh government he would make a good minister of general description or of public relations but he is surely not the one who should be arguing Pakistan’s case for economic assistance in the World Bank, IMF or in the consortium of donors. It will be of interest to note that the Indian counterparts of our chief executive and planning chief — Manmohan Singh and Montik Singh — are economists of world renown.

Politicians are driven by their own considerations. But for once if they were to let national interest prevail over their fancies they should agree to choose a president who is respected nationally, can rise above party politics and whom the prime minister, cabinet and bureaucracy can also respect and seek counsel from. They should not fear a president fitting this description even if Article 58-2(b) were to stay in the constitution. He would not dissolve parliament even if he felt that it should be. Instead, he would advise the prime minister to call for fresh elections.

If Article 58-2(b) is repealed and other executive powers like the appointment of the service chiefs and chief justice revert to the prime minister, such a president would indeed become a symbol of unity and source of inspiration rather than a laughing stock as were Fazal Elahi Chaudhry and Rafiq Tarar (imagine, costing a million a day).

It would be good fortune for this floundering federation if a president answering the stated description were to come from restive Balochistan. However the names that keep coming up are, sadly, of party bosses or of their friends, close relatives and party loyalists. When a president is overawed by the prime minister (as were Fazal Elahi and Rafiq Tarar) the commanders are tempted to take over (as were Ziaul Haq and Musharraf).

Demanding higher priority than Article 58-2(b) or the fate of the chief justice is putting the state machinery in order. Parliament should not be content with ratifying ordinances alone. It should hold administration constantly accountable through its committees and question hours. One day in a week must be set aside for the prime minister to answer questions. He hasn’t done that even once in five months.

The subject needing foremost consideration is the structure and functions of the government at all three levels — federal, provincial and district. Musharraf’s devolution plan empowered the nazim but undermined the authority of the provincial governments. The provinces while they were expecting to be more autonomous were altogether sidelined. The centre, instead, acquired direct control even over those few subjects that belonged to them. The politicians have relished their victory long enough. They should get down to serious business before it all goes sour.


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