Thursday, September 20, 2007

Analyzing What's Happening in Pakistan Today

Political games while problems multiply By Shafqat Mahmood
The News, September 21, 2007

The writer is a former member of parliament and a freelance columnist based in Lahore

It is like a soap opera with new twists and turns every week. The scene has shifted once again to the Supreme Court but the signs this time are not so propitious for the anti-Musharraf forces. Their application for the constitution of a full bench has been turned down and their lawyers are being grilled by pointed remarks from the bench. It is reading tea leaves again, but the betting is that Musharraf may emerge relatively unscathed this time.

It is significant that the likes of Chaudhry Shujaat who were earlier threatening the judges and holding the chief justice responsible for all their troubles, are now saying that they will accept whatever judgement is delivered by the court. In a democracy such a statement itself would be contemptuous because the question of not accepting a superior court judgement would never arise. However, since it has been certified after Nawaz Sharif's banishment that we live in a banana republic, we have to take seriously the rulers' intentions regarding a particular decision of the Supreme Court. This selective submission may be an indicator of what is to come.

Earlier in the week, the Election Commission caused a major flutter by making Article 63 of the Constitution relating to the disqualifications of a candidate inapplicable to the presidential election. Without going into arcane legalities, this qualifies the general to be a candidate as far as the Chief Election Commissioner is concerned. Whether he has the power to change an essential of the Constitution is now for the Supreme Court to decide, but one thing is clear. The independence and neutrality of the commission has taken a nosedive in the eyes of the people and its role will now be viewed with suspicion throughout the forthcoming election period.

General Musharraf's affidavit in the Supreme Court in which he has promised to quit the army office "if" he is elected as president has also led to some repercussions. In the first place this "if" is significant, because what happens if he is not elected? Will he continue as army chief and make someone else president? His wife, perhaps, as suggested by the "mumbler" with dark shades. It also amounts to blackmailing the nation. "Elect me or I will never leave the army post." What have we come to as a nation if we have to get him in to get him out?

The import of this affidavit is also that he will be a candidate in uniform. This has incensed the PPP leader and she has again started to threaten resignations. This is like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Perhaps now Benazir Bhutto will begin to realise that by engaging her in a never-ending dialogue the General has used her to divide the opposition and weaken the pro-democracy forces. He has also in the process either deliberately or otherwise dented her party's popularity. The oracle with dark shades, Chaudry Shujaat, was laughing at this prospect and promising to keep talking to her so that she loses more of her public support.

This has been a bad deal for Benazir, and was she not so focused on her court cases perhaps she would never have been so easily duped. She can still make amends by throwing her weight behind the pro-democratic movement, but we hear that Musharraf's people are yet again going to her for another round of dialogue. It is clear that being so close to his objective the General will keep promising her lollipops to stop her from going for resignations, but in the end he will leave her humiliated. She will not get what she wants, and she would have lost whatever sheen of democracy that still clungs to her.

While this soap opera continues the real battle in the tribal areas is becoming grim. Our soldiers are dying by the dozen every day and the number kidnapped is in the hundreds. We have yet to find out what made an entire unit surrender. This is obviously not just a fight with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda but also a war with our own tribes. Whatever the number being killed on both sides, it is our people who are dying. How long will this continue? What is our exit strategy or perhaps more appropriately our strategy to bring the civil war to an end and just engage in fighting foreigners?

After eight years of General Musharraf's rule, the country is in deep trouble. An entire corps of the Pakistan army is in a state of war in the tribal areas, and Balochistan is boiling. Our military has become a target everywhere. It is not a small matter that ISI personnel in Rawalpindi and our elite commando unit in Tarbela have been hit with such devastating consequences.

Even in Lahore the Defence Day celebrations were inaugurated two hours earlier to protect the army personnel from a surprise attack. It is even being said that soldiers have been cautioned from going out of their units in uniform. Never in our history was the army such a target, and this is sad. We may have problems with the political role of the army but it is our national army. Any hurt caused to it or any damage to its reputation will collectively hurt us and diminish our national power.

One small, but perhaps not insignificant, sign of this is the short shrift the Indians have given to our representation/protest on promoting Siachin as a tourist destination. Why do we put ourselves in situations where we are destined to lose face? Wasn't it more appropriate to have a quite word with them rather than take a public position and get a rebuff? More importantly, why have the Indians started to treat cavalierly whatever we say to them? Do they perceive a weakening of our power?

Going beyond security matters, lack of state control is also visible in Karachi where courts are being mobbed and prominent lawyers being killed. Troubles have also erupted in Karachi University and there has been a targeted killing of some students affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami. The citizens of Karachi were groaning under load-shedding and rain-related breakdown of infrastructure. Now they are once again faced with targeted killings and internecine warfare?

The advent of Ramazan has also seen a massive price hike, and wheat flour is heavily in short supply. The ordinary citizens, who this government claimed were happily going about their business, are groaning under this twin assault. The rich are indeed richer but not only the forty million below the poverty line but even the middle classes are finding it difficult to make do.

These are just a few glimpses into the state of our nation, and yet Pervez Musharraf thinks that he is the best thing that ever happened to us. He is now ready to put us through every imaginable difficulty, including martial law, just to hang on to power. Are eight years not enough? He has done whatever he could and the results are not so good. It is time he realises that his presence has now become a burden for the nation. Instead of putting us through even greater problems he should have mercy on us and leave.


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