Benazir Bhutto's will is genuine: Arif Nizami (Editor in Chief The Nation)

Need for a breather
Benazir Bhutto's will is genuine
Arif Nizami, The Nation, 17 January 2008

LAHORE - Predictably media reports about formation of a national government comprising all major political parties have proved to be wrong. It all started from a meeting between PML(N) supremo Mian Shahbaz Sharif and the President's confidant Brig (retd) Niaz Ahmed. Sharif was quick to deny these reports claiming that such a proposal was not even discussed. However, those who midwifed this 'scoop', still insist on standing by their story without going into the possible implications of such a move.

For starters neither the PPP nor the PML(N) have categorically declined even to discuss such a dispensation under Musharraf. In order to such a proposal to fly, they would demand a government to be headed by a neutral president for starters, formation of an independent election commission and suspension of the nazims.

The Sharifs would certainly call for the restoration of the judiciary to the pre-November 3 status, while Asif Zardari would ask for a UN probe into his wife's assassination. President Musharraf has predictably denied formation of such a government that would practically mean hanging up his gloves.

He is not quite ready to do that as yet. If it were so, the present political impasse will resolve itself, since it largely emanates from the President's insistence on staying the course and keeping on calling the shots, come what may. Even Benazir Bhutto's tragic assassination has not changed his mindset about seeing his favourite party and its stalwarts in Parliament, through the general elections by fair means or foul.

What the country needs is a breather rather than politics of hate, but his repeated 'she-asked-for-it' remarks about Ms Bhutto's daylight murder not only border on insensitivity but also betray a callous disregard of our culture. Neither have Ch Pervez Elahi's vitriolic remarks about Mr Zardari and the Sharifs helped matters.

The other day when I went to Naudero, heading a CPNE delegation to condole with Mr Zardari, reacting to reports about Mr Musharraf's reported intention to visit him to condole his wife's death, he was candid enough to say that Mr Musharraf was not welcome. This was indeed sad that the grieving family was not in a position to receive the President owing to flared-up tempers and hurt feelings in Sindh.
It would have been a good opportunity for the President to end politics of hatred by offering an olive branch not only to the PPP but also to all political forces of the country. Instead he has chosen to continue on the disastrous path of confrontation. As a result the country is in an acute state of turmoil with various theories about who killed Benazir abound. In the wake of various versions floating around, there are hardly any takers for the often contradictory official versions of the tragedy.

Even detractors of Ms Bhutto, of which there are many, now concede that powers that be cannot tolerate populist political forces or even a semblance of civil or civilised society in Pakistan. Their tall claims about tolerance and enlightenment ring hollow in the face of their consistent crushing of dissent of those who stand for the rule of law in the country.

This is despite the fact that Pakistan is a powder keg waiting to explode. A spate of suicide bombings in recent weeks in major cities of the country and the situation in Balochistan, the tribal areas and the settled areas of the NWFP, including Swat, have reduced the writ of the state to virtually nil. Perhaps fair and free elections under a genuinely neutral caretaker set-up could be a way out of the present political crisis. But right now the nation is being denied this option for the simple reason that such elections despite claims to the contrary will annihilate the political pygmies and their mentors from the scene.
The President in his recent interviews has claimed that if as a result of the elections a government hostile to him tries to impeach him he will call it quits. He has also said in a subsequent interview that the next government will have to follow his policies. How is that possible under a parliamentary form of government only he can explain. However, his remarks do betray the desire to cling to power come what may and that too on his terms.

He is not willing to concede that ground realities have drastically changed in recent months. Starting from his doffing the uniform, the return of the Sharifs and the assassination of Ms Bhutto the fortunes of the erstwhile ruling alliance have plummeted. Despite Islamabad's role in the War On Terror, the West is becoming increasingly wary of Musharraf's policies, the manifestation of which are daily seen in the critical western media.

The best way forward for Pakistan would be to return to a parliamentary, federal and democratic system in its true spirit. For that to happen the army has to be seen taking a back seat. Thankfully the newly inducted Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ahsfaq Kiyani is making the right noises. The former army chief and now President will also have to play his role to set things right even if it means a smooth transition sans him, with a truly national government in place.

The President's thinly disguised disdain for Shaheed Ms Bhutto apart, her legacy in the form of her party is still intact and Mr. Zardari and son Bilawal are her true legatees. Notwithstanding valid arguments against dynastic politics, it is a reality that our feudal, tribal milieu and popularly elected governments despite their warts are still preferable to a military or quasi -military dispensations.
So far as the mini-controversy about the authenticity of Ms Bhutto's will is concerned, it is genuine, since I have seen and read the one-page document in her handwriting and duly signed by her on October 16 2007, two days prior to her fateful departure for her homeland.

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