Choices for Pakistan

Deal or transition? By Dr Farrukh Saleem
Daily times, September 02, 2007

What are Mohtarma's demands? One, no uniformed president. Two, free and fair elections. Three, general amnesty for all politicians. Four, no term limit for prime ministers. Five, a balance between the powers of the president and the prime minister.

If diplomacy is 'letting someone else have your way' then Mohtarma is diplomat par excellence. General amnesty, Benazir benefits and so does Nawaz. No term limit, Benazir benefits and so does Nawaz. No uniform, everyone comes out a winner. Here's the mother of all prizes for all of us to cherish: Benazir is doing it all through pure, undiluted diplomacy -- no violence, no chaos, no blood on the streets. If Benazir can manage half of what she is demanding she will be a diplomat par excellence in my book.

Transition there's going to be; transition from a military-led regime to a democratically elected government. Should that transition be peaceful or violent? There are political forces whose path to transition is through violence -- street battles and blood on the street. Benazir's adopted path to transition is non-violent -- court battles, dialogue and diplomacy. Forces of darkness always seek blood; forces of future are non-violent.

Transition there's going to be but transition doesn't take place in a vacuum. Internationally, the 'war on terror' is a reality. Domestically, Pak Army is a reality. Transition would have to take into account the two realities. Forces of extremism have their eyes and minds shut, forces of moderation must win. Why is Benazir helping a general when he is at his weakest? Here's why: Reality has decreed us two contradictions. First, democracy vs dictatorship. Second, moderation vs extremism. We must, at all cost, save Pakistan from a fate similar to Afghanistan's (read: pre-emptive attack). Reality thus demands a simultaneous solution to both of our contradictions.

Benazir's proposed transition stands on three pillars: non-violent, continuity in policy and national reconciliation. Benazir wants free elections, so does Nawaz. Benazir wants politically-induced court cases shut, so does Nawaz. Benazir wants a levelled playing field, so does Nawaz. Benazir wins, Nawaz wins, we all win. And, so does Musharraf. Here's how: Musharraf gets to hold free and fair elections. If the parliament elects him president, good for him, long live democracy. If the cup misses the lips, Musharraf still wins for giving Pakistan transparent elections.

Nawaz also represents forces of moderation -- and forces of moderation must win -- but Nawaz has somehow aligned himself with the forces of darkness. These are the forces of international rejectionism (a "political theory centred on the belief that the only way for the world to function successfully is for the current order to be 'rejected' and overthrown in an international revolution"). These are also the forces of isolationism. Yes, Nawaz's defiance has his stars rising but he must reject rejectionism as well as isolationism in all their forms and content.

Transition through violence means chaos and blood on the streets. Chaos is favoured by forces of darkness. These are the forces bent on seizing through blood of others what they can't through ballot. Forces of moderation -- and that of the future -- must avoid both streets and blood.

Back to democracy we must. Benazir's proposed transition means no blood on the streets. With no blood on the streets, she wins, Nawaz wins and we all win. So does the 'rule of law'. After all, one cannot establish rule of law by first breaking it on the streets. Trust the streets or trust the ballot box. Have faith in blood or in courts.

She's done a deal, they say. What's the big deal, I say. Free and fair elections, they say. That's no deal, I say. Free elections is the law. She's done a deal, they say. What's the deal, I say. No uniformed president, they say. That's no deal, I say. That's the law. She is playing her cards, they say. Playing to get power, they say. Can't get it, I say. Not if people don't vote for her, I say.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:


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