Pakistan: D-Day Minus One - Supreme Court May Delay the Presidential Vote

D-Day minus one? Reality check By Shafqat Mahmood
The News, October 05, 2007

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

As suspense thrillers go, this Presidential election has all the elements -- high drama, uncertainty, rapidly changing situations, and a far from clear outcome. There is little doubt that General Musharraf has wrapped up the numbers game but his eligibility, as a candidate still remains to be decided in the Supreme Court. This is not as cut and dried as some people like to believe. A decision can still go against the General.

This will start a whole new ball game but let us not jump the gun. For the moment the immediate question is whether the court stops the election from going ahead. There should be a consensus on this matter. This is a crucial question because if the election goes ahead and the result is declared, it will create a momentum that will be difficult to reverse. With international acclamations pouring in and the crescendo of victory celebrations rising, the election will assume a kind of fait accompli. Theoretically it could still be overturned but the dynamics of the situation will change. The stay order issue is thus a critical part of this jigsaw puzzle and by the time you read this, it may have been decided.

While I had written last week that Maulana Fazlur Rehman has to now either put up or shut up, I had a sick feeling that he might find a way to do both. Sure enough he did. By announcing the decision to resign and dissolve the frontier assembly, he had ample opportunity to raise the rhetoric level against dictatorship and please his APDM colleagues and his hard line vote bank. Yet, by giving three clear days to the government to counter this move through a vote of no confidence, he kept his not so secret liaison with the General intact.

This man is one clever dude but it is catching up with him. He reminds me of one of those heights of this or that jokes in which a man runs so fast around a pole that he finds he is on top of himself. This is of course the sanitised version but since we use too many clichés, you can't fool people all the time. He may find his comeuppance in the future but for the moment he seems to be -- more of overused pearls of wisdom -- having his cake and eating it too.

Can't say the same for Benazir Bhutto because while Fazal is being clever, she is like a bull in a china shop. (These clichés are getting to be a bit much). She is clearly the anointed queen of Pakistani power politics in the future but she does not seem to understand that there is no longer any need to publicly please the Americans. They have already put their heavy weight vote in her ballot box. Yet, she insists on going for the overkill by promising them free fire zones on Pakistani territory. God help us.

She should learn from Fazal who reserves these loyalty oaths for off the record meetings in private. We will never know what he told the American Ambassador when she came a-calling but I can bet my last rupee that it was not a reiteration of his long-standing support for the Taliban. If anything he would have made a case for how he is the best person to finish them off if made the next Prime Minister. Publicly of course what he says is entirely a different question.

It is the reverse for Benazir. She says things she should not say publicly such as the Dr. Qadeer matter and allowing Americans to bomb Al Qaeda in Pakistan. This demoralises her supporters and makes her adversaries jubilant. What she says privately, even if it is right and principled -- one hopes -- does not matter because no one will ever know for sure. This is one hell of a way to do politics.

Even on the deal question, Benazir is using the media to put pressure while the General and his team are more comfortable with behind the scenes bargaining. Whatever the nature of their agreement in the future, I am sure she is driving these conventional military men nuts. They are not used to washing their dirty linen in public (more clichés') while she informs everyone and their uncle about when and where she will turn on the taps.

Having said that, the conventional wisdom is that Benazir Musharraf deal will go through because the big uncle sitting across the seas has ordered it. It is a sad reflection on our ruling elite that the American will and dictates are instantly believed by the people as a clinching factor on all issues affecting our future. When asked by Kamran Khan, Musharraf of course denied it and went to great lengths to say how his decision-making is not influenced by them at all. Please. Who are we trying to fool?

The one factor that is keeping the possibility of a deal between Musharraf and Benazir alive is the American pressure. Otherwise there was no way that the Q league would have anything to do with the PPP and no way that the hard headed establishment of this country would ever countenance dealing with Benazir. They would have refused even if a cool headed analysis told them that Musharraf needs to broaden his support base by taking a popular party on board his sinking ship. Too much bad blood has accumulated over the years between PPP and the establishment and were it not for the Americans, there would not have been any forward movement on this matter.

It is for this reason that the marriage of convenience (cliches galore) will not last for long. Benazir will get her slate wiped clean and Musharraf will get some credibility in his presidential grab. There is little likelihood of a stable political arrangement after the general election. Imagine, the coalition that is being talked about is the PPP, JUI (Fazal), and the Q league with Musharraf as the godfather. Will this ever work?

Anyway, this is for the future and after the general election. There is a long way to go between then and now. Even if the court rules in favour of the General, there will only be unrest and possibly turmoil. A large swath of our people will not see him as a legitimate President of this country. The charade of the October 6 election would not solve anything.

The more worrying part is that with the country is so divided; the future general elections will also become a bone of contention. I would not be surprised if the Q league seeks a year's extension of the Assemblies tenure through imposition of emergency. Even if the General resists this, the temptation to fiddle with election process will be great. There seems to be little likelihood of free and fair polls in these circumstances.

The time to live dangerously has begun for the land of the pure. Let us keep our fingers crossed.

Also See: Decision of stay of Presidential Poll Expected today: The News

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