Crunch Time


That this military regime has been able to manage good governance as much as a basically corrupt system will allow without the formal declaration of martial law is no mean achievement. Yet in not being able to bring the Bhutto-Zardari combine and the Sharifs to justice as promised at the beginning of their tenure, the Musharraf government have managed to resurrect the fortunes of those who should have been politically dead and gone. The eloquent official waxing about our present rosy situation notwithstanding, what we have today is a political morass without great future for the country. Economically, we are far better off than on Oct 12, 1999, sound reforms and Sep 11 combining with really good monetary policies of the State Bank of Pakistan to provide a good base for economic resurgence.

Living in a glass house, the Choudhry Shujaats of this world do need the discretion of a front man, relatively clean (but nevertheless a nonentity outside of Lahore) Azhar is custom-built to take the heat, and if the electoral manipulation being blatantly done by the civil administration succeeds, odds é on favorite to be our next PM. Is this what Pakistan deserves? All the print and electronic media (barring PTV) have confirmed that the Choudhrys of Gujrat have Tariq Aziz as a friend, obviously he carries greater clout than Lt Gen Hamid Javed, the other Principal Staff Officer (PSO) to the Chief Executive. It is no secret that Tariq Aziz kept National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cynosure away from the Choudhrys. If Tariq Aziz was a corrupt, inefficient person, this would have been logical, but he is essentially a good man with misplaced loyalty to his friends superceding what should be responsibility and commitment to the people of Pakistan. That unfortunately happens to be Pakistan’s major problem in every level and strata of society, whether one is in politics, judiciary, the Armed Forces, civil administration, business, etc. nepotism and favouritism is always far more important than what one owes to the nation.

A PPP sweep was possible before Shahbaz stepped into the political vacuum. Barely 60 days short of the Oct 10 electoral day, the “Alliances” that the government’s functionaries have been desperately trying to cement together is not enough to stop, viz (1) a PPP-PML (N) total sweep if they decide to do an adjustment of seats pre-election, and/or (2) A PPP-PML (N) coalition post-election with other like-minded parties even without seat adjustments. PML (Q-A) has stalwarts capable of winning on their own but a PML (Q-A)-led Grand Alliance governments are only possible with massive electoral manipulation, if not outright fraud and rigging.

As a person who strongly believes in Pervez Musharraf and that he has a sincere and patriotic agenda, the present situation is unacceptable. The government’s credibility having taken a hit because it has failed to carry out accountability of the superior judiciary and men in uniform, it is now being forced into political compromises tarnishing the pristine image of the Armed Forces. Bringing Mansoorul Haq to justice was not enough, it was extremely important for the credibility of this regime to go after other “untouchables” without discrimination. Bringing in a so-called “democratic” regime that can only thrive on corrupt practices is something the military regime have been accusing their predecessors of, the stalwarts of PML (Q-A) can hardly cast stones. Incidentally character assassination is a “dirty trick” invariably used by intelligence agencies, full-scale mud-slinging (the unsigned anonymous AGENCY report) can be traced in today’s electronic world to loudmouth scoundrels desperate to avoid accountability by trying to shut those voices than can identify their hidden “monetary” connections. Remember the adage, “the taller they are, the harder they fall!”

Utopia is always a dream, it can never be a practical option. One has to take a hard look at realities, pragmatism always superceding idealism. Accepting that real-politik rules the world, one also must look for as little compromises as possible. The Armed Forces were quite right in intervening when they did, the country was economically and politically bankrupt, the uniformed must now get out of politicking forthwith. People comment that with Tanvir Naqvi around Pervez Musharraf does not need enemies, the fact remains that the Lt Gen Naqvi’s attempt at reforms has been sincere, and also partly successful. With an autonomous NAB mandated to bringing accountability proceedings against anybody deserving of prosecution, constitutional amendments proposal giving draconian sacking-of-the-PM powers to the President was counter-productive. Some things are better left unsaid, did this regime ever declare martial law? On the other hand, many of the amendments were necessary for good governance, among them, viz (1) the “graduation” qualification (2) lowering of voting age from 21 years to 18 (3) disqualification of loan defaulters, etc (4) the increased seats in the Assemblies and the Senate (5) direct elections to the Senate (now unfortunately withdrawn) etc. The problem is that theoretical Naqvi’s basic sincerity got clobbered at the altar of a very pragmatic culture, then he was unfortunate in being clubbed with the insincerity manifest in the making of the Grand Alliance.

The formation of the Azhar faction of the PML (credited to Tariq Aziz and/or the ISI) was an easy task given the mishandling of his colleagues by Mian Nawaz Sharif and his inner-Saifur Rahman-core. Shahbaz Sharif’s wearing of the mantle was received with a sinking feeling by his PPP opponents and former friends in the PML alike. While Mian Azhar had been marginalized and slighted, and the Choudhrys were frustrated in trying to rule the Punjab, others do not have a serious grouse with the talented brother. Despite the accountability baggage he carries he will more than likely carry the Punjab, but without Shahbaz seeking adjustment with the PML (Q-A), PPP may well get the opening they need to win in many neck-to-neck seats. It is in the interest of this military government that PML unites so that the two major political groups in the country, the PPP and the PML, are combatants as behoves a democracy. One must not forget that the many regional parties, of Balochistan, the MQM in Sindh, ANP and PPP (Sherpao) in NWFP will make a difference in the Provinces and in the Center. The Sindh Democratic Alliance (SA) remains an ambiguous electoral entity despite their few ethnic heavyweights. Combined as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the alliance of religious parties is a pragmatic move to improve their overall chances, JI, JUI (F), JUI (S), JUP, etc will certainly increase their overall tally.

Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf remains the real unknown factor, the reduced voting age has helped him most. A new generation of Pakistanis have grown up on his clean athletic image, will his charisma excite the middle-aged and senior citizens enough for him to become an electoral factor? In late Zufliqar Ali Bhutto’s triumph in West Pakistan against the odds of 1970, he had cobbled together quite a number of feudals who would have won on their own right, those who lost to his candidates were badly disunited. 2002 is not 1970 and Imran Khan’s political cupboard is bare of that experience and political capital, it may well be that this “reverse swing” appeal carries votes to his camp, the mood of the electorate is presently difficult to gauge.

The President must exercise control over those who speak on his behalf, in the public perception their blatant political bias is not doing him any favours. If the intelligence agencies were doing their job, Pervez Musharraf would know that a couple of his close aides are the most hated of men among his own men in uniform, and for reasons having little to do with the profession. However khakis have no business issuing political statements, the uniformed should not meddle in politics. Even the President, eloquent as usual during the Flag-Hoisting Ceremony on Independence Day, must remain above politics. He must ensure his subordinates and colleagues confirm by their word and deed that he means what he says, they must not follow a different agenda than his own. To ensure their mentor’s (but more particularly their own) longevity in office, subordinates frequently become more loyal than the king. On the other hand, if Pervez Musharraf does not really mean what he says and his close aides are simply implementing a personal agenda the President himself has mapped out, Pakistan we have a problem! This country is than in real trouble.

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