Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Quest for the Future of Pakistan

Pre-poll Rigging to Post-election Maneuvers; A Quest for Future of Pakistan By Agha Imran Ali Khan

(Writer has served at Pakistan Prime Minister Secretariat in 1999 and at Chief Minister Secretariat Punjab from 2002-06) -

A lot has been written in the press eulogizing Pakistani Elections 2008. Indeed these elections were sufficiently transparent in terms of voting process on the election day. Seeing a clear defeat for General ® Musharraf and his cronies in elections, the immediate euphoria among the public was so great that attention was diverted from the irreversible damage eight years of Musharraf rule has caused to Pakistan. Former ruling coalition is desperate to distract the newly elected parliamentarian from critical issues of economic mismanagement, corruption, and law and order crisis.

Inordinate delay from president in convening the session of new assembly is being viewed with suspicion, so are his repeated meetings with leaders of PMLQ (Choudhries of Gujrat). Reports of pressure on members of former ruling coalition's constituent parties to remain associated with their pro-Mushararf alliance are widespread. Former ruling coalition that spent most heavily and recklessly from exchequer in their elections campaigns and still owes a lot to national and local media and major advertising companies, has now diverted all its resources and energies towards members of PPPP and PMLN to sow seeds of discord in these parties to halt their efforts to form a national government. Elected members of major parties are being contacted, not for defection but to cause disarray and dispute proposals of the other party.

Despite the fact that majority parties have not been invited as yet to form the Government, losing parties have started rumor mongering that these assemblies won't last long and are predicting new elections very soon. New Government will face worst ever security crisis, broken Judiciary and an imminent economic meltdown. A major problem is amassing of wealth and resources in few hands (even foreign remittances were lured into papery projects by close family members of PMLQ leadership). Choudhries played a central role in this avenue in their bid to control country’s economy - particularly capital flow - their business activities and it’s magnitude and impact deserve a separate and detailed analysis.

During the election campaign, Chaudhries focused on right leaning voters persuading them as ‘icons’ of anti-Bhutto sentiments that was created by establishment in 1977 to dilute and diffuse the Bhutto legacy. Anti-Bhutto philosophy worked well till mid 90s as establishment enjoyed this cover-up to appeal to Islamist or Center-right mind set - spurning the image of a secular and whiskey quaffing Bhutto. Soon after the coup in 1999, the little remaining support of Islamic right for establishment also withered as they realized that Gen ® Musharraf is only an egocentric secular, who is devoid of charisma and vision. In 1997 endowed with the unprecedented mandate Nawaz Sharif completely severed his relationship with these forces and emerged as only true and independent political leader of right leaning population.

In 1999 the establishment assumed that since Nawaz Sharif was groomed under its aegis, he would soon become a forgotten story. They hand-picked Chaudhries of Gujrat to carve out and lead a docile, pliable and NABed political entity (as all politicians brought together were compelled by NAB - National Accountability Bureau- to join and run a kings party and eventually succeeded in forming government after an engineered election in 2002). Constituting such a political party proved to be a big failure as none of the major players of this entity possessed leadership skills. The party was virtually run by General ® Musharraf. He kept Chaudhries in check by introducing Shaukat Aziz as the prime minister in 2004.

The biggest issue today is restoration of judiciary and restoring the confidence of superior judiciary in its ability to deliver independently - this would in turn restore peoples’ confidence in Judiciary. This is extremely important as this would make operation of both executive and legislature much less cumbersome and also save it from the past tag of taking revenge on political and personal grounds.

Election 2008 was very significant and quite an eye opener as it challenged the common assumption that people of Pakistan cannot appreciate political undercurrents or realities and when they come to vote, they can easily be cheated. The voters not only rejected religious extremists and Gen ® Musharraf (both connected at one level) but have also shown that they understand the chicanery of establishment. They may be divided in their leanings towards right or left of center but today they are aware of the establishment's designs. A couple of messages they have tried to send across, are;

a). you cannot fool all the people all the times, and

b). despite their divergent leanings they are not only happy and willing to work together but also see their leaders doing so when country is passing through difficult times.

And as far as the question of preserving political identities, this can be addressed later as we must acknowledge that if they have been able to filter wheat from sheaf they can also filter right from left. Coalitions are not mergers but a sensible and sincere partnership for a larger cause – this would enable the two major parties to emerge as two major rival and progressive parties in our country in the long run like Democrats and Republicans in USA.

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