Sep 132008

If you strengthen the provinces, you automatically strengthen the federation — that has always been the reality, though we have spent decades opposing this principle and believing that a strong centre means a strong federation

Asif Zardari is the president of Pakistan, whether many like it or not. There are millions of Pakistanis that voted the Pakistan People’s Party into power, without knowing much about Zardari except for allegations from his past, which provided no cause for hope or encouragement.

However, Zardari has two advantages over his predecessor: He is democratically elected; and the people at large, despite what Zardari’s cronies might feed him, expect him to behave no better than he has in the past. Far from being a negative, this perception is a great plus since even a minor positive move by Zardari will bring him an unexpected bonus.

Meanwhile, there are several critical policy areas that need to be addressed by the new president.

On terrorism, so far the impression is that Zardari has clearly made his pact with the Devil — the United States — giving it carte blanche to attack across the Durand Line. If that is correct, then not only has he placed the Pakistan army in an impossible situation, he has put Pakistan on the path, alongside the US, to defeat in this war.

Whether or not it began as an ‘American’ war, it is undoubtedly now ‘our’ war; one we cannot afford to lose. Zardari will need to find the courage to explain to the US that with each cross-border attack, the perception of the US as the enemy strengthens across Pakistan. This makes it increasingly difficult to convince the population that the suicide attacks we are suffering from are not the consequence of US incursions, and that despite US attacks this is still our war against terrorism.

Zardari will need to frequently seek and heed the advice of the army chief, and he will have to support the COAS’ decisions. Zardari is fortunate to have the services of a competent democrat as army chief.

Corruption will need to be addressed not because it is next in importance to terrorism, but because this is the baggage from Zardari’s past. Already there are many new rumours afloat. But people will give him the benefit of the doubt until, perhaps, new rumours emerge. Zardari will need to be extra-transparent in all government dealings to ensure that his past does not catch up with him.

Provincialism is another key issue. Zardari has made promises, but has recently asserted that political agreements are not scriptures, and has broken every promise he has made so far. However, he must realise that Balochistan is very delicately poised; he will need to go even further than the promised levels of autonomy to appease the Baloch.

The province not only provides the country with the most efficient natural gas, it also is the richest in terms of mineral resources. What is more, it has the strategic port of Gwadar, the significance of which has been explained in a previous article. (Shaukat Qadir, “Strategic significance of Balochistan”, August 16)

If Pakistan is to tap into potential commerce flowing from Central Asia, whether through Afghanistan or China, Gwadar is the key to our economic future. A promising start on this front could be the shifting of Gwadar Development Authority from Karachi to Gwadar, and encouraging the GDA to employ as many Baloch citizens as possible.

If you strengthen the provinces, you automatically strengthen the federation — that has always been the reality, though we have spent decades opposing this principle and believing that a strong centre means a strong federation. However, if Zardari helps empower the provinces, he will also strengthen Punjab, which voted the PMLN to majority in the provincial assembly. The presence of a governor who Zardari had to rein in, and the frequency of aggressive statements from Manzoor Wattoo, even as the president assures Nawaz Sharif that the Punjab government will not be destabilised, is a matter of concern for all.

A takeover attempt in Punjab would be unwise, because it can rebound to the entire country. Shahbaz Sharif has a reputation of being an achiever; let him be. It is possible that under the younger Sharif, Punjab manages agricultural growth that eases some of our national crises.

The issue of constitutional amendments and strengthening the parliament remains. While Zardari has got past the thorny issues of reinstating the judges, indemnity for Musharraf and legitimisation of the NRO, he can easily abide by his promise to do away with Article 58 2 b as well as the amendment that gives the president discretionary powers to appoint/sack services chiefs and the CJCSC.

It is now a recognised that we have, de facto, moved from a military dictatorship to a civilian one. Zardari as the all-powerful president, in doing away with Article 58 2 b will seek to retain the authority to appoint and sack service chiefs. This move will be opposed by the PMLN, and consequently Zardari will end up retaining both. Also, despite opposing dictatorship and the retention of these powers, most educated Pakistanis are prepared for this eventuality.

If they are retained, it would be wise not to misuse these powers. Else, despite what Zardari’s cronies tell him, he is surely aware that neither him, personally, nor any moves under these clauses, will enjoy popular support.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI

Source: Daily Times, 13/9/2008


 Posted by at 11:15 am

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