How to resurrect the pro-democracy movement in Pakistan?

Still time for a salvage mission
By Ayaz Amir: Dawn, October 26, 2007

THE anti-Musharraf movement in full bloom this summer has passed. The opposition parties fluffed it or our stars were not in the right conjunction. We have entered a new phase in our political life, calling for a shift in strategy and a new order of battle.

No army general in power has ever been removed by a popular upsurge in Pakistan. Ayub Khan, self-appointed field marshal for wars unknown, does not count. He was not army chief when he faced a popular uprising. Yahya was the army chief who conspired against him to engineer his ouster.

When the wheel turned for Yahya he went because of defeat in East Pakistan. Zia was blown out of the skies. But before that his power was diminished after the 1985 elections when Mohammad Khan Junejo became prime minister.

Gen Pervez Musharraf has arrived at the same twilight zone in his presidency. As long as he enjoys the army’s backing he will remain in power. But he faces a general election and there is pressure on him from Washington to cut a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto, which makes her (paradoxical as it may sound) his possible Mohammad Khan Junejo.

Admittedly, there is much cynicism around and the political parties are falling back into their traditional mode of mutual vituperation and mudslinging. But if they are not to make a hash of things again, if they are not to play the mutually destructive game Musharraf and his coterie would like them to play, they have to be realistic and see what the possibilities for expanding democracy are in the current situation.

Benazir Bhutto must know that Washington may have brought her back to Pakistan but Washington cannot fix the coming elections for her. The powers-that-be — under which rubric fall Musharraf, Q League president Chaudhry Shujaat, Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi, Sindh chief minister Arbab Rahim, and all those who are congenitally averse to a PPP comeback — will do all in their power to ensure that the PPP is cut down to size.

A PPP majority in the elections may be Washington’s heartfelt desire. It doesn’t suit Musharraf or his allies. Benazir can come close to winning the elections only if she has the support of other opposition parties, principally Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Simply unbelievable, isn’t it? The N League supporting the PPP? But what options does Nawaz Sharif have? He can rave from the sidelines and see his party repeat its lacklustre performance in the 2002 elections or he can play a subtler game not by entering into an open alliance with Benazir Bhutto — because the establishment won’t allow it — but a seat-adjustment formula at the district level.

Not a national alliance with drums beating and flags flying because that would scare Musharraf’s inner circle out of its wits but loose seat-winning alliances across the country — the PML-N supporting the PPP where it is strong, the PPP backing the PML-N where it is the other way round. Baloch nationalists can be a part of this arrangement as can the ANP. This is the only way to beard the lion in his den, the only way to get a pro-democracy majority in the next National Assembly.

The obstacles along this path are formidable but they are mostly in the mind, a mix of mistrust and prejudice lingering from an era long since over. The Alliance for Democracy may have fallen apart and Benazir may have cut a deal with Musharraf but Pakistan’s political landscape today is not what it was in the 1990s when the PPP and PML-N were at each other’s throats. Today their enemies are different, putting them under the necessity of looking for new friends.

Who are the persons most upset by Benazir’s homecoming? The Chaudhries in Punjab and Arbab Rahim in Sindh who see their position as Musharraf’s leading political guns threatened. The MQM is not afraid of Benazir because it is sure of its popular base in Karachi and Hyderabad. The Chaudhries and Arbab are not similarly confident because their power is contrived, a gift from Musharraf and his camarilla.

Shujaat thinks he is the regime’s Cardinal Richelieu, the power behind the throne. Pervaiz Elahi, not satisfied with the satrapy of Punjab (which is more than half of Pakistan), has dreams of becoming prime minister. That is why he is running a private election campaign, and has been doing so for some time, so as to make his run for the prime ministership unstoppable. Son Moonis is standing for MNA from Lahore. Hoardings there proclaim him ‘Pride of Lahore’, doubtless proving that there is no end to our talent for grim humour.

Who are Nawaz Sharif’s deadliest political rivals? Not the PPP for times have changed but Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi. Doesn’t this point to a convergence of interests between Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto? Don’t both share a common interest in reducing the power of the two Chaudhries?

In Rawalpindi, for instance, the PPP and the PML-N share an interest in putting a zip on the biggest lip in Pakistani politics, Sheikh Rashid. They won’t succeed unless they field a common candidate against him.

Musharraf can’t be assaulted frontally. He presents too strong a line of defence for that. But whether in love or war a frontal assault is seldom the best policy. That is why down the ages the best captains of war have favoured the indirect approach: rolling an enemy’s flanks or taking him from the rear. So if Musharraf is not to be assaulted frontally, the next best thing is to whittle away at his satellites in the Q League.

Both parties should put up a single candidate against Moonis in Lahore and against the Chaudhries in Gujrat, and so on. As the elections approach, my reckoning is that voices from the grassroots calling for a seat-to-seat adjustment between these two major parties will grow louder.

The holy fathers (of the MMA) are sincere only to themselves. Only a fool will trust them. Any party taking them on board is likely to find it an unwelcome bargain in the end. They should be left to stew in their own juice. Indeed, no outcome should be more welcome than for Maulana Fazlur Rehman to be hoisted on the petard of his own cleverness.

But for Imran Khan and others of his ilk to train all their guns at Benazir Bhutto is to bark up the wrong tree. There will be a time and place for opposing the Daughter of the East. But that is not yet because today’s problems are different.

The last thing anyone should want is for Musharraf to cast himself in the mould of a Suharto or a Hosni Mubarak. That will be the end, giving rise to a level of frustration and despair we won’t know how to eliminate. No, we must look to safer alternatives.

Benazir is the camel who with American help has entered the Bedouin’s tent. It is in the national interest to see that the camel occupies more space, leaving progressively less space for the Bedouin. But for that to happen, our political parties will have to chuck the baggage of the past and leave their adolescence behind.

So why not cool down the overheated rhetoric regarding deals, betrayal of ideals and the dry-cleaning of corruption? Let us concentrate on essentials, on first things first. Let’s see Musharraf getting out of uniform and the Chaudhries confined to Gujrat where they belong. The long march to idealism and high principles can be resumed later.


Unknown said…

This blog of yours sucks big time the reason behind is ZERO participation by you
Unknown said…
My dear friend,
This blog is meant for collection of news items and analysis articles for research purposes.If this irritates you then kindly visit others blogs that provide commentary by bloggers.
Hassan Abbas
Anonymous said…
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Unknown said…
Dear owner of watandost:

I'm please to see contribution in your own blog even though you are bit rude in your response.

I guess the word I used "sucks" got your attention but that was solely directed to provoke your response.

Nonetheless, I'm of the view that the owner of the blog should actively participate in the discussions so that the participants are able to establish their opinions objectively.

The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.
~Marcus Aurelius
Anonymous said…
Musings on a Saturday morning

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

FOR many decades, having resolved to never again allow my mind to boggle over anything that may happen, or anything that may be said, or anything that may be done in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I must admit to having been close to defeat yesterday.

On the front page of Dawn, which comes to those who count on each of our dreary national mornings (those who do not count merely yawn), we were told that chairperson for life of the Pakistan People’s Party, Benazir Bhutto, ‘former prime minister of Pakistan’ as she is now styled by all and sundry, had sent a legal notice to Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim for allegedly defaming her. Rash Rahim had publicly stated what today cannot be stated, ‘that Ms Bhutto had plundered wealth of around Rs90bn and that she must return the amount’.

This, according to the legal notice sent to Rahim by Benazir’s lawyer, is a ‘wild and false allegation’ aimed at ‘character assassination’, it is a ‘false and fabricated allegation’ which has ‘disreputed and defamed’ Benazir’s reputation.

Now, Benazir is well acquainted with the works of William Shakespeare and of the tragedy of Othello. The Moor, at one point, whilst Iago is convincing him of his wife’s infidelity, cries out: ‘Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!’With no desire to dilute the gravity of the matter of the alleged defamation as reported by this newspaper of record, founded by none other than that man of great perspicacity, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to quote again from the news item: ‘The notice informed Mr Rahim that the damage caused to Ms Bhutto could be compensated only by publishing an apology in newspapers...’ — at this stage one must pause and wonder. An apology for what? For repeating what has been repeated hundreds of times in the national and international press. And to continue: ‘…and by payment of compensation of Rs100m which would be given to charitable organisations in the country’.

The plunder may not quite be to the tune of the alleged Rs90bn — the $1.5bn that is the standard figure quoted by the governments that have succeeded Benazir and their various agencies, and the media, and with which we are all familiar — but one may ask Benazir that of that amount, or of a lesser or greater amount, how much has been donated to charity?

Seasoned counsel Farooq Naek must be admired for his tenacity, for the manner in which he battles on, and on, regardless. However, this matter of the defamation may be too weighty for him to carry alone and he may perhaps consider enlisting the help of that eminent jurist Fakhruddin Ebrahim, and borrowing from the legal and political wisdom he has acquired over the years.

At this stage of the national game, it must be admitted that the chances of the coming to pass of the prophecy of our Founder Maker are bright indeed. For the betting man, the advice is, put all your money on the probability that, as Mr Jinnah once told a young friend, “you will see that each government of Pakistan will be worse than the preceding one.”

A welcome addition to this newspaper is the weekly column by Kamran ‘Mickey’ Shafi, my good friend. He is, as all who know him know, endowed with a good sense of humour — in this land of ours, a rare and admirable quality. Years ago, when once discussing with him the affairs of the PPP and the part he played, he admitted to total dedication. If Benazir asked him to wash her car, he said, he would do so. When asked what then — he said he would continue to wash the vehicle until told by Benazir to cease doing so. The possibility now is, with him being highly critical of his leader’s latest alliance, that he would not grab the chamois leather with his past alacrity.

In Mickey’s veins flows the blood of an eminent statesman, his grandfather, Sir Mohammad Shafi, and his father, Iqbal (Iqi) who was of a kind that is no more made in this fraught world. Whenever Mickey springs to mind, with fondness I am reminded of Iqi, a shipping man, who had a habit of repeating himself thrice. When Iqi was asked how he was, before one could get to the matter at hand, his reply was likely to be ‘very busy, very busy, very busy, pal, snowed under, snowed under, snowed under’.

One day in 1973, soon after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, president of Pakistan and its first civilian martial law administrator, had decided to step down and anoint himself as the democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan, news had it that he was casting his eye around for a suitable person to appoint as his president. His mind’s eye had alighted upon Begum Shahnawaz, Iqi’s sister. I rang Iqi immediately to ask him whether she was still alive as I had not heard of her for decades. Yes, but very long in the tooth, I was told. Then it could be true, I said, that Zulfikar intends to install her in the presidential palace. Yes, yes, yes, pal, very true, very true, very true.

She qualifies, she cannot see, she cannot hear, she cannot speak. She qualifies, she qualifies, she qualifies.

Iqi’s dreams of glory soon faded. He rang four days later to tell me that there was bad news, pal, bad news, bad news. Unfortunately his sister had regained her hearing. It was Fazal Elahi Chaudhry who had qualified and who managed to survive the Bhutto days.

To end, we come to the issue of those who are now destined to misrule over this country. Long ago, in Bombay there lived a Parsi by the name of Dinshaw Daji, a solicitor and a partner in Sir Jamshedji Kanga’s firm, Payne & Co, which has nurtured many a legal giant (or ‘joint’ as some of our dialects have it) — Palkhiwalla, Narriman, Sorabjee to name but three. Daji was engaged by a young Parsi wishing to divorce his wife. The custody of a young son had to be considered. My father, a friend of the family, went to Daji. Dinshaw, he asked, please ensure that the child’s custody is given to the father.

Rustom, replied Daji, after examining all the documents the judge is going to have a damned hard time deciding this matter. He will have to choose between a third-rate father and a fourth-rate mother.

Such is the fate of the democratic Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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