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Sunday, January 20, 2008

PAKISTAN: THE POLITICAL IMPERATIVE.
BY
Mohammed Yousuf, Advocate (Amicus)
Ask a man on the street and he would identify three most urgent and compelling problems of Pakistan:

The threat of foreign intervention / overt operations in FATA and NWFP in the name of curbing religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. Resulting Violent Reaction against the state, state actors and institutions.
Collapse of law and order situation. Insecurity and loss of faith of people in the government and State Machinery.
Shortage of essential commodities and rising cost of energy. Uncontrolled inflationary trend in the economy.

Ask him about the solution and he may be confused but sure of one thing: the present political dispensation has failed to deliver. He may paint the worst-case scenarios: dismemberment of the country or a civil war.

The response of the intelligentsia would not be much different. When Benazir Bhutto spoke about balkanization of Pakistan or Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari says that rigging of the general election would lead to the dismemberment of the country or Musharraf tries to assure the nation that there is no danger of the country’s breakup, they only heighten the concern about the future of Pakistan.

The polarisation in the length and breadth of the country, lurking volatile ethnic temperatures, suicide bombings, visible subversive activities and manifestation of massive violent reactions of people, on going insurgencies in Balochistan and North West, the skin deep hatered in people of Sindh on BB’s killing in Pindi, the potential of MQM-ANP (MOHAJIR-PUSHTUN) AND MQM-PPP (MOHAJIR-SINDHI) CLASHES IN SINDH, the scheduled 18th February Elections, are lethal elements for a recipe for disaster.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT THAT NEEDS TO BE FACTORED IN IS, THERE ARE ELEMENTS WITHIN THE ESTABLISHMENT, THOSE ARE FED UP AND THUS BENT UPON FORCING A COURSE CORRECTION IN OUR FOREIGN POLICY, WHICH THEY PERCEIVE TO BE HOSTAGE TO US WHIMS.

THERE IS AN INVISIBLE ELEMENT THAT IS MAKING SURE THE ELECTIONS UNDER MUSHARRAF ARE NOT HELD. THEY SEEM DETERMINED TO STEER THE COUNTRY FROM MUSHARRAF’S DISPENSATION. FOR THEM THE RESULTANT HUMAN OR ECONOMIC COST IS WORTH IT.

THE TRENDS SHOWS THAT THEY HAVE ALL THE TIME AT THEIR DISPOSAL TO ACHIEVE THEIR OBJECTIVES.

One can’t be right all the time. When many things go wrong at tactical level, there is some thing wrong with the strategy. Then it is time to take responsibility. At this juncture, the buck has stopped at Musharraf because he is seen as the one, taking strategic decisions. Which have continually gone wrong, particularly, since early last year. The erstwhile, Prime Minister/s and their governments have been and are only the second fiddle. He has out lived the political system that he tailored. It is not in a position to withstand the gathering storm. There is no sense in prolonging the agony of the nation.

The foremost task before those who matter is to give the country, in short run, a political set-up and, in long term, a political system that is capable of steering the country out of multiple and multi-faceted crises and dangers.

Despite or, perhaps, inspite of the present State of the Union of Pakistan, the country is geared for general elections on 18 February 2008. The idea seems to be that Musharraf would remain at the helm and a weak or pliable Prime Minister, perhaps from the PPP or the PML (Q), or any other conceivable permutation, would be there, to project a democratic fa├žade.

The questions arise:

Will any such political set-up be able to successfully respond to the challenges confronted by the country? Will the party or coalition in power like to take unpopular decisions on economic front?

Is it in national interest to continue with present policies in FATA and NWFP?

How to put balm on the wounds an scars in Baluchistan and Sindh?

Will the new set-up be able to provide “leadership” to the nation, while working with Musharraf, at cross purpose with their mandate to redeem the nation out of its multiple predicaments, those have come to visit the nation owing to the policies pursued by Musharraf?

The whole scenario should be viewed from a different angle also.

As one would say, at tactical level;

The law and order situation is very precarious. There is a real threat that the general elections would be marred by extreme violence. What is particularly dangerous is the country’s visible slip towards inter-provincial disharmony or outright hostility between its ethnic and linguistic communities. The breakdown of law and order that was witnessed in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the selection of targets by the riotiers speak volumes about what is in store if the drift is not checked promptly.

The post-election scenario is uncertain. If elections results are not accepted, the situation may become worse. Even much before the polling day, aspersions are being cast on its fairness. Except for the PML (Q) and some of its allies, all other parties have serious reservations.

The two principal stakeholders, the PPP and the PML (N), have persistently complained about the government measures that they perceive as unfair and made it known. They are participating in the general elections under protest and, according to their own version, to expose the rigging by the government. JI, the TIP and the PKMAP have boycotted the general elections claiming they can never be fair and transparent under Musharraf.

The present caretaker set-up is nothing but an extension of the PML (Q), the PML (F) and the MQM coalition. If any real or perceived rigging takes place in favour of the PML (Q) and the PML (F), it may backfire and plunge the country into a serious turmoil. Incumbent interim set up is even worse and is seen to be the surrogate of the President.

There is no guarantee that there would be smooth sailing between the President, who is not answerable to anybody, and the future Prime Minster, who would be a political figure and answerable to the parliament. Potentially the situation would remain volatile as there are serious policy differences. The civil society may prevail upon the Prime Minister to reinstate the pre-PCO judiciary or make other decisions that Musharraf may not like. If Musharraf tries to play one party against another the country would be the loser.

Musharraf become President through extra-constitutional measures. His presidency is controversial. Even if, somehow, parliamentary elections are held, its results are accepted under compulsion and a coalition is cobbled, the lame duck President is not likely to command the respect or have moral authority that is imperative for steering the country through the present dangers and threats to its security and unity. Besides, he may even fail to get legitimacy from the would be Parliament.

The need of the hour is to have a government that is able to take tough stand on international issues and unpopular decisions on domestic front to overcome the economic crisis that is likely to aggravate and to arrest the socio-political unrest.

The imperatives:

Formation of a national government that has broad acceptability and is backed by the armed forces of Pakistan. The national government should have representation, political or apolitical, of the principal shake-holders, in particular the PPP, the PML (N), the MQM, the ANP and the JUI. This is not to suggest that the PML (Q), the PML (F), the JI, the PKMAP or the TIP should be ignored. But the core should be formed from the afore- mentioned five parties. If the Baloch nationalists agree to be on board, it would be enormously beneficial for the federation.

To make a fresh start is inevitable, even if Musharraf has to step down as President. He has done his job at a very crucial moment in Pakistan’s history. But in the changed circumstances, he has lost his worth. His continuation in office would be carrying, thoroughly discredited, past baggage. His presence would hamper making of fresh initiatives to resolve crisis in FATA and NWFP or holding of credible general elections. It would be appropriate, if the Chairman Senate fulfills his constitutional duty to serve as Acting President.

The 9 March 2007, 12 May 2007, 18 October 2007, 3 November 2007 and 27 December 2007 are like scars on the nation’s mind. We can make good for at least what happened on 9 March and 3 November 2007 by reinstating most of the pre-PCO judiciary, barring some. This would greatly strengthen the civil society and the nation’s faith in the country’s future. The common people would begin to repose trust in state institutions.

In due course, the national government, facilitated by the armed forces, would be able to create necessary conditions for holding of fair and transparent general elections. The formation of an independent Election Commission and presence of a national government would bestow legitimacy to the general elections whenever they are held.

Obviously some parties, mainly the PPP, would oppose the postponement of general elections. But if Musharraf agrees to step down, the PMLN AND PPP may find it difficult to turn down the idea.

No one knows how the future unfolds for Pakistan. But without a fresh beginning there is hardly any chance that it would come out of the quagmire unharmed.

MUSHARRAF, HIMSELF, COULD DO THIS BY GIVING A ROAD MAP FOR FUTURE, WITH A BUILT IN MECHANISM FOR EASING HIMSELF OUT, ON A FUTURE DATE, AS HE DID WITH HIS UNIFORM. THIS COULD ENSURE SMOOTH SAILING FOR THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT, WHILE KEEPING HIM AS THE SKIPPER FOR SOME MORE TIME.

The stark reality facing the nation dictates a time out for reflection and collective actions. It is for him to abdicate or be succeded, now or after 18th February.

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