OPINION-makers and political leaders in government and outside have yet to define the supreme interest of Pakistan in the present economic and security environment.
Issues of the coalition government, restoration of the judges, electing a president and the details of the insurgency in the northwest consume almost all written space and TV time.
Little notice, if any, is taken of the impact on the political struggles inside the country of the hot war that is waging throughout the world. Pakistan being the principal battleground, we have yet to recognise its full dimensions. On one side are the US, Europe and Japan with Russia, China and India giving a helping hand and on the other are the Al Qaeda and an assortment of militant organisations. It is a hot war. No quarter is given to the other side.
How our domestic politics is a direct victim of this war we have given little thought to. Consider a few of the momentous happenings in our recent past with implications for the hot world war. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry proved to be a real obstacle in our blind participation in the war on the side of the US and allies which demanded that we secretly catch and hand over our citizens to the US. So our sovereign, the combine of civil and military services, the breaker and giver of constitutions in the last six decades, removed the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Only a de facto sovereign could do it. All attempts to challenge it in the courts failed.
The lawyers and civil society rose in protest as never before. President Musharraf became dangerously weak as an ally in the hot war. To shore up his grip, the US and its allies cobbled an ill-conceived and sullied deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf in the form of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. To balance Benazir’s potential power Nawaz Sharif was imported with the help of the Saudi government, not a hidden partner of the US in the war.
Benazir Bhutto’s reception and demeanour on arrival from exile shattered the hope of putting in order a US-guided ‘democratic’ Pakistan to give the required support in the war in our northwest. She had emerged too big for her boots as Liaquat Ali, Zulfikar Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Murtaza Bhutto had emerged and had to be eliminated.
The February elections threw up Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif as leaders of the parties winning a large number of seats. The hugely unpopular Pervez Musharraf lost his utility for waging the world war and was dropped as Asif Ali Zardari signed on the dotted line to perform as Pervez Musharraf had agreed to do. Nawaz Sharif suspected of having sympathies with the fellow-travellers of the Islamic militants had to be eased out of the coalition with Zardari.
Pakistan, it appears, had entered an entirely new phase of decision-making from the moment Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry started hearing the cases of kidnapped Pakistani citizens.
The dharna of the lawyers, the induction of a new Supreme Court, the election of President Musharraf, the snatching of the leadership of Benazir’s party as a result of her assassination, the emergence of Asif Ali Zardari, the cancellation of the policy of negotiations in the tribal areas and other events have gone the way of the US and its allies. No major domestic issue, confrontation or skirmish has concluded in a manner that may be construed as a setback for the interests of the US and its allies or as a victory for the militants in the ongoing world war. All battles had to end only one way.
In fighting their domestic battles the political leaders in government have ignored the shadows of the world war. They are conducting their battles with their eyes closed. They have not paused to consider that in the high interests of the country the battles lines of domestic struggles should not be drawn in a manner that the results may be construed as a victory for the US and its allies or for the militants.
We have failed to articulate among ourselves and to the outside world our real interests. Pakistan’s interests do not lie in the victory of the US or of Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the soil of Pakistan. As for our western neighbour we want a strong Afghanistan. We want the negotiated withdrawal of the US and Nato forces from Afghanistan. We have no designs on Afghan territory.
The only way for us to succeed is to make Pakistan strong. A weak Pakistan will remain a victim of foreign interference and manipulation. Today, Pakistan is weak mainly because the people are not in power. Legislatures, the Supreme Court, the president and the prime minister sit in Islamabad only in a titular capacity. While we consume all our energy year in and year out to get into those supposedly high offices of power, we still remain at the mercy of the combine of the civil and military services. Every decade or so we are thrown out on the streets when we are suspected of not doing their bidding.
Pakistan needs to see the transfer of political, social and economic power from the British-built apparatus of state to the people. It can be done through legislative measures only if we realise what needs to be done. There lies the supreme interest of Pakistan. The goal is eminently achievable.
The writer was federal finance minister from 1971 to 1974.
Source: Daily Dawn, 6/9/2008