Sunday, July 22, 2007

Paskistan: New direction for state policy

New direction for state policy
By Kunwar Idris: Dawn, July 22, 2007

GEN Pervez Musharraf inaugurated his regime on the high note of curbing religious extremism and purging the administration of corruption. His two resolves soon translated into slogans, now clichés, of “enlightened moderation” and “good governance”. How both are in tatters today is a question which lends itself to a quick, albeit incomplete, answer.

On assuming power, Musharraf instantly chose Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain as his political adviser and Tariq Aziz as an expert on administration. Chaudhry Shujaat, though himself not an extremist, is known to give comfort to radical elements. They, too, look to him for sympathy and understanding when hunted down.

Contempt for the law of the land and defiance of state authority by the Lal Masjid clerics dragged on for six months to end in horrendous tragedy only because Chaudhry Shujaat was the chief conciliator. Later, he himself admitted that it was the darkest moment of his political career spanning half a century when the last-minute agreement that he and some ulema had hammered out (permitting Rashid Ghazi and his close collaborators to escape) was not approved by the authorities that be.

It is also well known that it was Shujaat who was chiefly instrumental in persuading the religious parties to agree to the Seventeenth Amendment which saw Musharraf entrench himself in power, but that, at the same time, irretrievably drove the liberal and nationalist elements into the opposition camp. By his own repeated admission, Chaudhry Shujaat considers himself a “soul-mate” of the religious parties. His political objectives, therefore, could hardly be any different.

Chaudhry Shujaat’s worldly political aim which was to keep his arch rival Nawaz Sharif on the run coincided with his spiritual closeness to the religious parties. That he loathes the PPP is also well known. Now that the Jamaat-i-Islami’s hostility towards Musharraf matches that of Nawaz Sharif’s for him, the choice for Musharraf of an electoral ally, so critical for him at this stage, is restricted to Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI. Both, as the London conference showed, are wavering on the brink. Left to Chaudhry Shujaat, his choice, quite predictably, would be the latter and, equally predictably, fatal for Musharraf’s electoral prospects and his enlightened moderation.

The popular upsurge at home and growing world opinion have made it all but impossible for Musharraf either to get himself elected by the present assemblies or to rig the forthcoming elections or to prolong his rule by proclaiming an emergency. Even the prime minister may not feel compelled to advise him to do so. Fair and free general elections before the end of the year thus appear a certainty.

The rump Q League and defectors from other parties, even if Fazlur Rahman’s JUI were to join them, cannot hope to win seats in numbers enough to elect Musharraf as president for another five years. He now has the time and opportunity to choose partners who would elect him of their own free will and not under pressure, who would reject extremism and strive for a tolerant and liberal order. In choosing his partners, he went wrong at the beginning. He shouldn’t towards the end. It would exacerbate terror and add to the woes of the people.

Shedding presidential powers and conceding autonomy to the provinces, both in large measure, should make this switch possible, providing doubts do not linger that the aim is to isolate the extremists and their patrons and not to summon their support once again if Musharraf’s survival in power is threatened.

In such a realignment of political forces, Musharraf’s implacable foes — Nawaz Sharif and the Baloch sardars — may also choose to go along with the liberals rather than with the orthodox clerics. Their moderate colleagues will surely exert pressure in that direction. Raja Zafarul Haq and Shahbaz Sharif, both front-ranking leaders of the Nawaz League, offer such an example. Raja Sahib was Ziaul Haq’s opening batsman and still exhibits that trait. Shahbaz, too, was inducted in public life by Zia but as Punjab’s chief minister he was seen to have disowned his creed.

Suspended between the two, their common leader Nawaz Sharif will have to make his choice observing the cross currents of public opinion. In any case, after years of stumbling from one military rule to another and horse-trading in between, it is time that a shared outlook on politics and economy, rather than the greed for power, became the basis of Pakistan’s politics. Judged on the basis of this criterion, Raja Zafarul Haq would appear much closer to Chaudhry Shujaat than to Shahbaz Sharif.

On Gen Musharraf’s unexpected (maybe also unplanned) incursion into politics, Chaudhry Shujaat became his principal ally only because the two had a common friend and college-day patron in Tariq Aziz. The latter is said to possess many qualities of a gentleman but, admittedly, he is no expert on administration. Indeed, he is known as a shirker. He was always in search of a job where he had little to do, quite contrary to the instinct of most of his colleagues in income tax service who crave for posts which bring them an extensive and rich clientele.

One can only guess that it was this laid-back attitude to life or lack of interest in work that made Gen Musharraf call upon a retired general, Tanvir Naqvi, and later a raw politician, Daniyal Aziz, to give shape to his hazy, weird and vindictive ideas on administration. Both proved holier than the Pope though neither had a day’s experience in administration.

At a time when crime, chaos, bombings and gang warfare are gaining ascendancy, it is not known whose duty it is to enforce law and maintain public order and who is to be held accountable for breaches which are violent and frequent. Lal Masjid at one end and Waziristan at the other with Karachi in between point towards one irresistible conclusion that all of regime’s reforms — administrative, police, democratic and even those pertaining to the madressahs — have wreaked havoc.Realisation of this is dawning hesitantly, and in bits. In dealing with terror in the border regions, what is particularly being missed is the role of the political agent as the deputy commissioner is called in the tribal agencies.

Here is what a chronicler had to say about George Roos-Keppel, political agent of Khyber: “He could make or end a war by his own decision.” (The political agent of today’s Khyber watches helplessly as rival Islamic lashkars battle endlessly). About Arthur Parson: “Nothing pleased him more than moving fast over the hills talking to the Pathans and finding out what they thought and wanted.” And then about our own Iskandar Mirza: “He enjoyed the Frontier and the Frontier game the same way as the Pathan — getting the better of a man by a cunning trick or misleading him into some mistake that would turn the laugh on him.” Most political agents after independence came in the same mould till Musharraf heaped ridicule on them as “kings” who did nothing.

Putting public interest ahead of personal ego, Musharraf would do well to reinstate the system of administration which he calls “colonial legacy” but that to Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, is a “prized inheritance from a great enterprise.” A commission of experts and elected men may then be appointed to determine who is right.

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