Thursday, October 11, 2007

Political Culture in Pakistan?

Presidential poll and disloyal lawmakers By Rahimullah Yusufzai
The News, October 12, 2007

Qari Gul Rahman, Hakim Qari Ibrahim Qasmi, Hafiz Abdur Rasheed, Maulana Khalilur Rahman, Abdur Rahman Rajput, Agha Faisal Daud, Ishaq Khakwani, Ghaliba Khurshid and Amna Khanum -- the list is long with names of assembly members who during the recent presidential election did something diametrically opposed to what they had been saying and preaching all along. They belong to all the four provinces of Pakistan, are affiliated to different political parties ranging from Islamic to secular to nationalist, and have varying backgrounds. But one thing common among them is that all had a sudden change of heart on the eve of the poll as they forgot their past criticism of President General Pervez Musharraf and his policies and instead opted to vote for him.

This is but one example of the fickle loyalties of our politicians. They are willing to change sides without ever repenting for having misled the people, particularly their voters, in the past. No wonder then that their electorate as well as people from outside their constituencies start believing stories about the horse-trading that prompted them to vote for someone they had been criticizing until then. There are stories galore about the money spent in the election for president even though evidence to back up such claims would be hard to produce. This is the public perception and one cannot stop common people from using their imagination to suspect that the votes of their lawmakers were up for sale.

The presidential election in itself was a non-event. The Supreme Court came to General Musharraf's rescue by allowing the poll to proceed on October 6 despite the fact that constitutional issues having far-reaching consequences were still pending before its 10-member bench. President Musharraf, still in uniform and having the power to manipulate the situation in his favour, always had the numbers to win majority of votes from the existing assemblies. It was like seeking a vote of confidence from lawmakers who were pro-Musharraf and whose political future was linked with the re-election of the uniformed president. Unwilling to take chances, General Musharraf saw to it that the outgoing assemblies elected him as president. Seeking election from newly elected assemblies would have made his task unpredictable and even tougher. However, the legitimacy and credibility for which President Musharraf has been craving since capturing power in a coup d'etat eight years ago still eludes him. He would remain a controversial president with a popularity graph that keeps falling in spite of efforts to prop up his image through an expensive, state-funded advertisement campaign.

Such is the scale of the president's unpopularity that those supporting him or making deals with him become controversial and start losing support even within their own circles and parties the moment they are seen to be cooperating with him. Benazir Bhutto must have realized by now the kind of hostility she is arousing by agreeing to cut a power-sharing deal with President Musharraf. The improperly-named National Reconciliation Ordinance, now simply referred to as the 'corruption ordinance', has made her even more vulnerable to criticism. Some of her party leaders including Major-General (retd) Naseerullah Babar, Mustafa Khar and Qazi Mohammad Anwar have abandoned her, diehard workers are demoralized, and her loyalists are having problems defending her policies and statements. It is obvious that both Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf knew that their deal-making would provoke adverse reaction in view of their past animosity against each other and this is the reason that they tried to keep their contacts secret.

Another politician who is attracting flak for his alleged links with President Musharraf's camp is Maulana Fazlur Rahman. Despite his denials, few believe him because the credibility crisis that is haunting the president has also engulfed him. In the recent past, he was described as Pakistan's most intelligent politician but now it is common to hear that he is an opportunist. His ties, real or imagined, with the president and the Chaudhry cousins, Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Elahi, are going to haunt him in the foreseeable future and also affect the electoral chances of his party, JUI-F, in the forthcoming general elections.

Most of the men and women whose names were listed in the beginning of this article are unlikely to be re-elected. Probably that was the reason for them to jump ship and betray their parties during the presidential election. Qari Gul Rahman, the MMA MNA from Karachi, justified his decision to vote for General Musharraf by arguing that it was his form of protest against the perennial differences between Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Maulana Fazlur Rahman. One is at a loss to understand how the MMA disunity could be the motivation for a lawmaker from the six-party politico-religious alliance to vote for a uniformed president who until then was being rubbished by the same Qari Gul Rahman for pursuing pro-west policies and for killing his own people in Waziristan and elsewhere at the behest of America.

The second name in the list, Hakim Qari Ibrahim Qasmi, is affiliated to the Sepah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and had joined the MMA after being elected as MPA from a Peshawar constituency. He too was a vocal critic of President Musharraf for five long years but that didn't stop him from voting for him in the presidential polls. The next in the list is Hafiz Abdur Rasheed, who is senator from Mohmand Agency and is son of pro-MMA MNA Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq. The father boycotted the polls and resigned from the National Assembly as demanded by the MMA but the son was allowed to vote. As tribal parliamentarians mostly support the government in return for favours, the general perception is that Hafiz Rasheed would not vote for someone without getting something in return. One would have to leave that 'something' to the imagination of readers. Another tribal senator, Hamidullah Afridi, led a group of five parliamentarians that was estranged until now from the federal government but still opted to vote for President Musharraf. His reasoning for the change of heart as pleaded by him to the media is unconvincing. Maulana Khalilur Rahman, pro-MMA MNA from Bara in Khyber Agency, also voted for the president and was promptly expelled by his party, JUI-F, whose leaders alleged that he had sold both his vote and soul. Ghaliba Khurshid, a female MPA from MMA's component, Millat-i-Islamia led by Syed Sajid Naqvi, also cast her vote and thus allegedly violated party discipline for the third time after having done so earlier during senate polls.

In Sindh, JUP's Abdur Rahman Rajput, MMA MPA from Hyderabad, switched loyalties on the occasion of the presidential election. For five years, he like his other party leaders was finding fault with everything that President Musharraf had done but when it came to vote his choice was none other than the general. In Punjab, Ishaq Khakwani had earned praise for resigning as minister of state to protest at General Musharraf's decision to contest election for president while still in uniform. But there he was standing in a long queue in the National Assembly on October 6 voting for the same General Musharraf and justifying his decision to do so by arguing that his colleagues had convinced him that he was wrong!

And in Balochistan, the lone Jamaat-i-Islami MPA, Amna Khanum, also ditched the MMA and voted for President Musharraf. She apparently thought this was the last chance that her vote had immense value because there is almost no likelihood of her re-election. The case of Agha Faisal Daud, another JUI-F and MMA MPA from Balochistan, is interesting. His family members had been losing every assembly election despite belonging to the respected Khan of Kalat household. He opted to join the JUI-F and won at his first attempt. The naïve clerics leading the JUI-F thought the Agha from the family of Khans and princes deserved a cabinet berth worthy of his status and they gave him the prized portfolio of communication and works. After enjoying power for five years as a nominee of the JUI-F and the MMA, it dawned on him on the eve of the presidential election that the clerics were bad and President Musharraf was good.

These are the standards of political values and loyalties being set up by our lawmakers. Ideological politics is nowhere to be seen and instead we have a rat race to grab power and make money. There is little hope that the recently-held presidential poll or the forthcoming assembly elections would herald any positive change in our corrupt political culture.

The writer is an executive editor of The News International based in Peshawar. Email:

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