Deciphering the Musharraf-Benazir Bhutto Understanding
By Ayesha Siddiqa: Dawn, October 13, 2007
THE news is not that dog bit man but that man bit dog. The news is not that Pervez Musharraf swept the elections but that eight parliamentarians voted for former justice Wajihuddin Ahmed. There should be a national search for these eight people who had the gumption to flow against the tide.
This is the real news in a country where everyone seems to be abandoning idealism and moving towards pragmatism. Why should we speak of American neo-conservatives when Pakistan has a sufficient number of its own, who have no time for values, beliefs or idealism.
A pragmatist recently admonished me for not seeing the Bhutto-Musharraf deal as the best kind of politics that would bring stability to the country. In the end, all pieces of the puzzle have come together and a new era of continuity is about to start.
All important stakeholders have struck a deal to jointly serve their personal interests and also to fight the common and greatest threat of extremism. However, what comes out of this acclaimed reconciliation will be determined by how the 'mother of all deals' was struck, what are its essential components and who are the main beneficiaries.The deal is essentially three-layered. Contrary to what most people believe that the greatest beneficiary is Ms Bhutto, it is the army that has the largest stake in the new political arrangement. The deal is fundamentally between Musharraf and his army which wants him to exit and create room for the organisation to breathe more normally.
The military has come under a lot of criticism. It was to save its tarnished image that it became important for the institution to maintain a safe distance from the most controversial man at the top.
The next important layer pertains to the understanding between the military and its external patrons that an environment must be created to allow the army to fight extremism in the country and the tribal areas in an undistracted manner. The war on terror, which has cost the army more than 1,000 lives and at times a lot of embarrassment, cannot be fought without some semblance of normalcy in the corridors of power. There are too many people critical of what is happening in Waziristan and disowning the war as an American one mainly due to their differences with General Musharraf.
The need to develop a consensus in Islamabad led to the third level of the deal which was between Ms Bhutto and the now about to be Mr Musharraf. In fact, a closer look will reveal a series of independently struck deals with leaders in exile or within the country.
Such an intricate 'mother of all deals' will have a bearing on future politics. Since the ultimate objective is to keep the military strong and intact and capable of delivering to its foreign patrons, the new political design will be such that no single stakeholder is in a position to rock the boat.
It is quite probable that the Sharif brothers will also be allowed to return to the country, contest the elections and manage to capture central or urban Punjab where they are most popular. Besides making Musharraf look good in the eyes of his foreign patrons and domestic cronies, allowing the Sharif brothers back would ensure that they stick to their bare minimum role of keeping the PPP and others in check.
This, however, is not the only way of checkmating the PPP. The present regime has achieved what Gen Zia could not with his hard coercion, which is to break the PPP leading to its disintegration. This job is being accomplished most successfully by playing on the fears of Ms Bhutto, appealing to her natural instinct to survive and gain power and through ingenious ways of maligning her.
The discussions were dragged on for a long time and allowed to become public so that the PPP leadership lost its credibility. Although Ms Bhutto can still claim her loyal vote bank, the fact remains that a number of PPP workers are so heartbroken at the turn of events that they might not even want to vote. The regime consciously calculated its steps to break the party and now believes that Ms Bhutto on her own cannot bag more than 40 to 50 seats in the National Assembly.
In the name of political stability and the fulfilment of objectives of the primary layers of the deal, the PPP would be transformed into a regional party confined mainly to Sindh where it would share governance with the MQM, of course with some presence in the centre.
The role in the centre might be curtailed so as not to allow Ms Bhutto a clear majority to form the government or to threaten Article 58 (2) (b) of the Constitution at some future date. Members of the regime desire to make Bhutto and Sharif a phenomenon of the past.
Although many believe that Ms Bhutto will be the next premier, the preference would be for someone more docile and manageable like Shaukat Aziz who has no domestic constituency or ambition beyond serving his masters loyally. Many believe that Shaukat Aziz has come to the end of his political career in Pakistan but might still be a candidate for the prime minister's slot unless Musharraf and his partners find a new face.
Both Washington and Islamabad should duly award Aziz for keeping the books reasonably balanced and pursuing the neo-liberal agenda of the state. He also does not pose problems which real politicians do, such as questioning the authority of the GHQ from time to time. A docile prime minister is the key to the deal between Musharraf and the GHQ. In any case, Musharraf has already announced that he would prefer a prime minister who agrees with his vision for Pakistan and cooperates with the army chief and him.
This formula is what the government considers the right recipe for national consensus, which it claims will strengthen democracy. The formula is highly undemocratic because it will mean an extremely weak and fledgling opposition — not conducive to democracy and good governance. It would not be surprising if Imran Khan is the only person sitting in the opposition provided he wins a seat. The other possible candidate for the opposition could be Qazi Hussain Ahmed. But again, the Jamaat is a centrist party which will eventually reconcile with the GHQ.
Are we going to get reconciliation through this formula? Perhaps not. National reconciliation is not possible without its other essential component which is the truth. Unfortunately, the issue here is that all prospective partners have come together to protect their loot and plunder and personal power, and will not necessarily come clean on their past mistakes.
Each actor will try to get closer to the GHQ and win the army chief's favour or that of the president. Moreover, the formula for reconciliation has its basis in the encouragement of criminality. The people of Pakistan have now learnt that one can plunder and get away with it in the name of saving the nation from the larger threat of extremism.
How will extremism ever end in a country where the elite has ganged up against the people, the middle class is co-opted and there is no room for idealism? In a few years, the stink from a stagnated socio-political system might become unbearable and encourage the 'wretched of the land' to look at other alternatives.
The writer is an independent analyst and author of the book, 'Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy'.