The Big Clean Up?

COMMENT: The big clean-up — Salman Tarik Kureshi
Daily Times, February 24, 2008

As the previous weekend approached, a frenzy of panic descended on this vibrant, violent, vital City by the Sea. People scrambled through shopping areas, buying up already expensive vegetables, scarce food grains, milk, tea, eggs, what-have-you. There were special problems in relation to stocking up fuel for generators and water in underground and overhead tanks. Earthquakes, it almost seemed, were expected — political ones, if not seismic.

But the weekend passed with few tremors and no terrors, leaving the homes of our bourgeoisie overstocked with over-priced provisions. The MQM mopped up the seats in urban Sindh and the PPP in the rural south.

The Punjab dealt punishing blows to the Q-League, leaving it virtually decapitated, with its ‘favourite sons’ and local grandees looking around helplessly for political homes. This largest of our Provinces awarded its seats largely to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s justice-seeking party men but also a significant number to the PPP.

The Frontier routed both the Q-League and the MMA, in favour of the uncompromisingly secular ANP. If anyone had ever accepted the credibility of the 2002 electoral exercise, its farcical nature now stood unmasked.

As Hassan Abbas writes in The Guardian: “The verdict is clear. Pakistan has shown the door to the mullahs and delivered a stern warning to Musharraf. Pakistan has backed the opposition to Musharraf’s despotic handling of the judiciary, his high-handedness against independent media and his political cronyism. As a result, Musharraf’s future looks bleak, while Pakistan gets a fighting chance to puts its house in order.”

It seems that the apocalyptic, no-hope scenarios earlier being sketched by the best of our political commentators were unrealistic. The people are basically good, the nation fundamentally sound and history generally on our side.

But, wait a moment, have we really emerged into the halcyon light of democracy from the dark tunnel of dictatorship and the descending anarchy that is dictatorship’s invariable twin?

Look around, my friends, at the extraordinary economic-constitutional-societal-moral mess in which we are mired. Yes, things are bad, very bad. I believe it is necessary to point out to the English-literate readers of this newspaper, that the so-called ‘technocratic’ governments (a thinly disguised term for unrepresentative autocracies) of which our business, bureaucratic and professional elites are so enamoured, have each time left destruction and disorder behind them on their departure. That has been the case at the conclusion of each one of our military interregnums — which now account for most of our no-longer-short history.

Please recall the “pieces, the very small pieces” that needed to be picked up and reassembled, as that master of the telling political phrase, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, put it, after the double punch of what the successive Ayub and Yahya governments had done with the country. Zia’s nightmare years left our society degraded and brutalised, our Constitution mangled, our legal and ethical standards transmuted to gross bigotry by that regime’s bizarre reverse alchemy. The country was awash with guns, drugs, dacoits and sectarian and ethnic violence. The regime’s violent revenge on Sindh for supporting the MRD movement had left homes and villages destroyed and an entire population embittered against the state of which they were part.

Somehow, despite the circumscribed powers and compromised nature of the parliaments we had between 1988 and 1999, despite the very fallible and flawed governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, despite blatant misuse of powers by two successive presidents, despite the constant intriguing and plotting of the agencies and the establishment against our own governments, we somehow still managed to limp our way through the 1990s.

The incredible mess created by the present regime is arguably the worst yet. The point is that we have seen this post-dictatorship mess twice before (three times, if you count the bloody post-Partition days). What is on the nation’s side is the fact that the message of the electorate is clear: Pakistanis on the whole believe in democracy, justice and the rule of law.

But there are three daunting sets of complexities compounding the problems and standing in the way of solutions.

The first is that the agenda is very large indeed. Where is one supposed to begin? With constitutional issues? The plight of the judges? The state of the economy? The terrorist issue? The insurrection in the North-West? The disaffected Balochis? Clearly, before any kind of priorities can be accorded, some kind of credible and effective government needs to be formed. Note those two adjectives: ‘credible’ and ‘effective’.

Secondly, there is the simple fact that, whatever the talk about a ‘mini-revolution’, not too much has actually changed on the ground. A National Assembly has been elected, from which a government will, hopefully, soon emerge. But, as I have pointed out in these pages before, the President already stands re-elected, a re-election that has received the approval of the extant Judiciary, for another five years.

And, please remember, this is an executive presidency, with all the authority, if not the responsibility, to run the State. Article 58(2)b, one of Ziaul Haq’s extraordinary additions to the Constitution, is only one of the several statutes that gives the president that authority. One cannot expect President Musharraf, bereft though he may be of his ‘second skin’, to twist helplessly in the wind for long. To make life more difficult for the protagonists of ‘mini-revolution’, there is also the Senate, whose complexion cannot be altered overnight.

Finally, let us look at the four parties that have been successful. The ANP, and its leader Mr Asfandyar Wali, is neither a national organisation, nor does it have a national following. The same is true of the MQM, with the additional complication of it having been a part of the defunct regime. Even the PMLN has primarily a Punjab-based following. That leaves the PPP as the ‘chaar subon ki zanjir’. Is that a strong enough set of links for the big clean-up that faces Pakistan?

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet.


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