Potpourri - Five Main Actors in Pakistan

VIEW: Potpourri —Farrukh Saleem
Daily Times, September 5, 2007

The Anglo-American plan depends on a package of constitutional amendments but fails to appreciate the reality that a uniformed president about to lose his uniform can no longer bend even his own parliamentary followers as per his whim

There are five main actors in our Theatre of the Absurd: Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf, the United States and the United Kingdom. Of the five, Bhutto, Sharif, the US and the UK desire a democratic transformation. Under an Anglo-American plan, Bhutto is engaged in negotiations with Musharraf in order to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy. Sharif also seeks a democratic transition but is bent upon taking a confrontational stance.

Of the five, Bhutto, the US and the UK desire a peaceful transition. Musharraf’s goal is regime longevity. Sharif, on the other hand, is counting on riding the anti-American, anti-army wave.

Musharraf’s spectrum of choices is shrinking by the day. His tripod of a compliant judiciary, American alliance and a civilian façade is falling apart piece by piece. If events continue their current trajectory, then Musharraf will be forced to let both Sharif and Bhutto come back to participate in transparent elections in which he (Musharraf) will have no role to play.

Sharif’s anti-army, anti-American ride lacks both wisdom and wit. In essence, Sharif is letting the crowd lead as opposed to him leading the crowd. In his anti-army anti-America ride Sharif is aligning himself with forces that represent the past (and not the future). His alignment is the equivalent of isolating himself from the reality of the world around us. Confrontation is the last thing Pakistan needs and extracting political mileage out of the anti-army anti-American wave is not in our larger long-term national interest.

Bhutto, at the risk of losing a great many urban votes, is attempting a peaceful transition to democracy. Bhutto is among the few Pakistani leaders who recognise that Pakistan faces not one but two contradictions: democracy v. dictatorship and extremism v. moderation. The solution to our twin contradictions is not an easy-to-take anti-army anti-American ride but a complex multidimensional strategy.

Bhutto has charisma and charisma is a divine favour that produces strong emotions in others. Bhutto’s large emotional following is disappointed; disappointed at what Bhutto is doing with the general. Beyond emotions, negotiating a peaceful transition is actually the best way out of the current logjam.

To be certain, there’s a new kid on the block. And, it will be a mistake on the part of our five main actors to discount the power of the fresh entrant to the corridors of power. The new kid on the block is Pakistan’s civil society comprising the legal fraternity, the judiciary and the media. The new power is bent upon making all actors play by the book, the book called the Constitution. The long arm of law can make any Anglo-American plan irrelevant. Actors counting on somehow tricking the long arm will not only be disappointed but discredited at the same time.

The Anglo-American plan depends on a package of constitutional amendments but fails to appreciate the reality that a uniformed president about to lose his uniform can no longer bend even his own parliamentary followers as per his whim. English wisdom and American wit may after all fail to install their favourite troika — the current president, a new COAS and a new PM — to rule Pakistan. The Anglo-American solution to our twin contradictions may work but only as a temporary arrangement. The ultimate solution has to be home-grown.

For our invisible forces, there are so many moving parts all gyrating at such a fast pace that managing them all or producing an outcome of their choice has become next to impossible. Right now, our potpourri smells neither cedar nor lavender.

Dr Farrukh Saleem is an Islamabad-based economist and analyst

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