Some home truths: Najam Sethi

Some home truths
Najam Sethi's E d i t o r i a l
The Friday Times, October 12-18, 2007 - Vol. XIX, No. 34

O ver Eid we should pause to reflect on the contradictions and hypocrisy in some analyses about issues that afflict Pakistan. Here are some examples to chew on.

1. "Benazir Bhutto has buried the ghost of her popular democratic father by doing a deal with an unpopular military dictator. She has thus fallen into Musharraf's trap."

Nonsense. Mr Bhutto was an anti-state-establishment populist until he got into power. Then he became the most favoured son of the state-establishment. He ditched all principled populist elements from his party, crushed the workers movement, created the Federal Security Force to intimidate opponents, rebuilt the army and used it to scuttle provincial autonomy, and invoked Islamic Unity in state ideology in competition with the secular Non Aligned Movement. After his execution, however, Benazir Bhutto successfully revived the PPP by flogging its populist and anti-establishment origins. But this became a millstone around her neck when she became prime minister in 1988. The state-establishment led by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, General Aslam Beg and Nawaz Sharif rallied to conspire and overthrow her. But she learnt her lesson well. When an opportunity arose in 1993-94, she used the state-establishment – Ghulam Ishaq Khan, General Asif Nawaz, etc – to advance her claims to power. After becoming prime minister in 1994, she dutifully did the state-establishment's bidding by allowing the army to fuel jihad in Kashmir, internationalise the Kashmir issue and acquire rocket technology from North Korea for nuclear purposes. She charmed America into relaxing the Pressler amendment which had hurt the military and she helped launch the Taliban in pursuit of the army's strategic goals. So Ms Bhutto is not anti-establishment. Unfortunately, she lost out in 1996 because she fought with her own handpicked president and embarrassed the establishment by hugely misusing her authority for personal gratification. This "corruption" factor, rather than any perceived anti-state-establishment leanings, discouraged General Musharraf from aligning with her when he seized power. And it is this same factor that he has had to eat as humble pie today in a bid to get her support when he is desperately short of political allies. Therefore she has not fallen into Musharraf's trap. On the contrary she has played her cards well (like she did in 1994) by seizing the opportunity to try and get back into power. Despite remaining the single most popular mainstream party since 1970, owing to a combination of internal incompetence, corruption and external conspiracies, the PPP's three spells in power amount to less than 10 years in 37 years. No popular party can expect to remain organic if it stays, or is kept, out of power for such a long time.

2. "The 'deal' between Ms Bhutto and President Musharraf is outrageous, the NRO is immoral."

Of course, the deal is outrageous. But it isn't any worse than the deals made by politicians with generals in the past. Z A Bhutto made a deal with Generals Yahya Khan and Gul Hasan that brought him to power as chief martial law administrator in 1972. The Jamaat i Islami made a deal with General Zia ul Haq to execute Z A Bhutto and share power in 1979. Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain made deals with Gen Zia in the 1980s and later with Gen Aslam Beg from 1988-91. The MQM, PML and MMA made deals with General Musharraf on the 17th constitutional amendment. Nawaz Sharif made a deal with general Musharraf to exchange life imprisonment in Pakistan for exile in Saudi Arabia. There is no end to sordid political deals in Pakistan's history.

Of course, the NRO is immoral. By so was the spectacular corruption of the Majlis e Shoora of Gen Zia. And it was immoral of Nawaz Sharif to absolve himself of corruption cases in 1997 and launch the Ehtesab Bureau of Saifur Rehman to witch-hunt Ms Bhutto in 1997. Similarly, General Musharraf's immorality was on display when he withdrew or shelved criminal cases against Dr Ishratul Ebad and made him Governor Sindh, and unleashed NAB to hound Ms Bhutto into exile. Why, then, are the immoralists of yesterday baying for the blood of the immoralists of today?

3. "Restoration of "full-fledged" civilian democracy and judicial activism will lead to transparency, efficiency, stability and equity."

Wrong. Civilian democrats and judges no less than military dictators have been part of the problem of Pakistan rather than the solution. Pakistan has become a deeply divided and violent society. The state lacks legitimacy, hence its writ is thinning among peoples and regions. No political party is singly able to inspire a majority of Pakistanis. Coalition governments representing different ethnic, religious, regional or social interests will be the norm in the future. It is not the responsibility of the SC to "save" Pakistan by usurping the role of the executive or seizing sovereignty from parliament. Judges should not judge on the basis of their "conscience". The tyranny of the judiciary which leads to anarchy is no better than the authoritarianism of the executive in pursuit of stability.

Instead of confrontation and hypocrisy, this is a time for truth and transition to greater cooperation, tolerance and democracy in which bridges are built between the military and civil society as much as between mainstream political parties and sub-nationalist or religious alliances.

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