Contradiction and Confrontation

When the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) came together as an electoral entity, the ideological differences separating the six parties forming the alliance made it a practical incongruity. Skeptical as one was at seeing Islam’s warring sects rent apart by years of mistrust uniting under one banner, this could only be possible because of genuine compromise. That fact alone was enough to lull us into believing that MMA’s conduct, whether in governance or in parliamentary opposition, would mean consensus and tolerance would be prime motivating factors in keeping them in line with democratic norms. From time to time MMA did show some signs of intractability, but for most of the six months or so theirs was stable governance. The Mullahs have now discarded their cloak of tolerance, dashing any hopes that they would remain democratic and liberal in the tried and true spirit of Islam at its birth, and not act arbitrarily and convoluted according to their own narrow interpretation of religion. Having seen the Talibaan regime across the border come to grief because of their excesses in enforcing their brand of Islam in Afghanistan, one had hoped (vainly it seems) that the MMA would have learnt some lessons and been more discreet and circumspect.

The trigger for the present crisis was the wanton destruction of billboards in NWFP by government-incited inspired mobs that tore them down declaring them to be “indecent”. There are many issues to be addressed here, the first being whether a government exercising its fiat through mobs in the streets is legal? Can any government incite (and inspire) street power to take the laws of the land in their own hands, vandalizing and / or destroyed private property? Lastly given the arbitrary nature of mob rule delegated to it by the guardians of the law, what (and who) are the safeguards for the life, limb and property of the common citizen, not to talk about his / her rights of freedom of speech, of belief, of education, etc? There is no government on earth that can survive if it has lynch-mobs as the linchpin for its governance.

To add to prevailing complications in the body politic, the way the Local Bodies system has been structured at the grassroots level, governance was bound to come to a clash with the Provincial Government sooner rather than later. A fully empowered district government can hardly be expected to cede their prerogatives of authority to the Provincial Government, particularly in a country which thrives on the “client-patron relationship”? Even though some of the District Nazims belonged to the MMA, all 24 District Nazims have written to the President threatening to resign because of the “undue interference” of the Provincial government, thus bringing them into direct confrontation with the Chief Minister of NWFP and his Cabinet. It is expected that a fair number of Nazims lower down the rung at the tehsil and town level will also follow suit. With the Federal Government changing the Chief Secretary (CS) and the Inspector General (IG) of Police, the NWFP Provincial Government is beleaguered on two fronts, with the Local Bodies within the Province and with the Federal Government at the national level. In actual practice the NWFP Government of NWFP has been rendered almost powerless, one hopes that a cooling-off period will bring the JUI(F) dominated MMA Government to its senses. There is a sneaking suspicion the MMA deliberately tried provoking this crisis to mess up the President’s impending visit to the US.

The President has a difficult month ahead, not only must he contend domestically with a constitutional crisis because of the Legal Framework Order (LFO) at the Centre and the confrontation in the NWFP with the MMA, during his visit the US he will certainly be pressurised on any number of issues of US concern (and not necessarily come away closer to a solution of the core Kashmir issue). The Federal Budget is the least of his worries, a incentive-oriented, citizen-friendly and business-supportive initiative should go down very well domestically as well as abroad. Musharraf has been single-handedly steering us through a perilous course through international hot waters, the proof lies in not being bracketed with Iran and North Korea, countries labelled by the recent G-8 summit in Evian, France as cause for nuclear concern. Our policies have seldom been well thought out, when they have been, they are implemented badly. We may blame the Indians to Kingdom-come for tarring and feathering us for “cross-border” terrorism, it is we who have successfully blurred the fine-line between genuine “freedom struggle” terrorism by pursuing bankrupt policies in the face of world perception having made a 180é turn after 9/11 in defining the concept of freedom struggle. India has gone to town to tarnish our reputation but did we expect otherwise in the face of what they take to be a “proxy war”, did we expect them to turn the other cheek? It is Pervez Musharraf and Pervez Musharraf alone, bad advisors, atrocious personnel selection and U-turns in policies notwithstanding, who has stood between us and apocalypse Afghanistan and Iraq-style, circa  21st century’s version of “the boy on the burning deck”.

If there is anything that necessitates the President continuing in office in uniform for the time being, it is the present crisis. We may not like it but in the availing circumstances it is the only option we have to prevent the country dissolving into chaos and anarchy. The President needs the absolute support of the “great silent majority” and he does not need them to be sitting silently on the fence, silence will ensures that minority theocratic rule will overwhelm the moderate (but silent) majority. This country needs those who believe in its future to stand up and be counted!

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).