Commenting about the democratic process in Pakistan in 1970, BBC Host David Frost made the famous remark, “they are going to hold general elections in Pakistan, they are going to elect all the generals!”. After what happened to us in 1970 after the General Elections, it may not have been a bad idea to have done just that, elect all the generals! This could be laughed off as a funny suggestion if a school of thought within the Army did not seriously believe that. The tragedy is that having conducted the most free elections in Pakistan’s history, 1971’s generals could not bring themselves to hand over power to those not in line with their thinking. They convinced themselves (and many across the broad spectrum of the body politic willingly became like-minded) that “military action” was good for the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan, and thereby lost half the country. Today’s uniformed lot have generally been far more sophisticated than their predecessors, Gen Pervez Musharraf’s “Martial Law” was well camouflaged, “Chief Martial Law Administrator” (CMLA) being called “Chief Executive”. However sophistication goes by the board when power begans to feed on itself and becomes self-perpuating, it begins to affect one’s better judgment.
A banker with an illustrious career from a renowned US international bank, Shaukat Aziz’s elevation as PM will be generally welcomed in the international media as an excellent choice. A western-oriented economist with liberal ideas is in line with the western recipe for progressive democracies of the third world the perfect foil to the religious intolerance sweeping through the muslim world. In fact Shaukat represents an acid test for Musharraf, a signal to the west not only that his power base is intact and credible in the “continuing war on terrorism” but that he is intent upon instituting that “democracy” in Pakistan which may not be in conformity with western norms but will be suited both to “the genius of the people and the army’s hierarchy”. Western governments holding out for democracy in Pakistan are more pragmatist than moralist.
Pervez Musharraf is a brave man, he also is a man in a hurry trying to make up for time lost because of the two years experiment (since Nov 2002) with “parliamentary democracy”. At normal times, Musharraf is over-confident, there are that continuous over-confidence may be affecting Musharraf’s decision-making. Instead of taking on one or two controversial issues at a time he is moving simultaneously on a multiple number of fronts. In a country like Pakistan (which is always on the frontline of something) a crisis or two at one time is considered “rest and recreation” (R&R), multiple crisis at any given time considered as routine, certainly not beyond the capacity of someone like Musharraf to handle.
The immediate crisis is political. As the winning margins for Shaukat Aziz in the two constituencies in the recent NA bye-elections have shown, the powers of incumbency will always influence the peoples’ choice to vote for the government’s favorite. In both cases PPP candidates suffered massive defeat, obtaining votes far less than what they normally got in previous elections, even if one takes away 30% as “reserved by the unseen for the unforeseen”. Good news for our rulers maybe, it is not good news for democracy. Both major political parties that have ruled over Pakistan in turn for years have been marginalized by the years of military rule and the absence abroad of their leaders, “rigging” or not their vote bank has suffered. Given the CM’s factor (both Pervez Elahi of Punjab and Arbab Ghulam Rahim of Sindh were actively campaigning in the respective NA constituencies), Shaukat would have still won easily, there was no real need for more “loyal than the king” over-kill. The unified PML “league of gentlemen” is not very cohesive, after Ayub’s rule Convention Muslim League (CML) disappeared without a trace, the much trumpeted “decade of reforms” notwithstanding. There may be more defections but under further pressure and frustration, the diehards left in PPP and PML (N) may choose not to go to the unified PML but to regional parties with separatist tendencies in Sindh and Balochistan. While these regional parties still do not have credibility enough in the streets to mount a serious challenge to the Federation, on the issue of water they can arouse emotions enough to do lasting damage for the unity of the country. The first priority for the unified PML is to get its act together and get the message across to the electorate that without new water reservoirs like Kalabagh Dam, Basha Dam, etc (one of which is certainly in the works) we might as well be dead.
“Terrorism” must take pride of place in being the major problem facing Pakistan today. Given the limited means at our disposal, our law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have done a remarkable job in creating huge dents among a wide range of terrorists groups. Al-Qaeda has now taken on a life of its own (with a lot of help from US President George Bush) with disparate forces coming together across the globe, “an enemy of an enemy is a friend”. Given that Osama Bin Laden and his close associates seem to be epi-centered somewhere along the Durand Line dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that Karachi has been a long term logistics base as well as their primary conduit to smaller logistics bases within Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorists in good number proliferate throughout Pakistan. Nevertheless except for attacking high profile targets like the President, the PM and other VIPs, Al-Qaeda would have to have a “death-wish” trying to indulge in terrorist activity in Pakistan. The problem is that a number of militant religious organizations have increased their activities alarmingly in copycat fashion, the media publicity that Al-Qaeda has been getting acts as encouragement for other militant outfits to launch high-profile terrorist acts causing large number of innocent deaths and injuries. Al-Qaeda operatives certainly must be having “operational links” with these militant outfits, it is highly unlikely that they would countenance any activity that will invite reaction from our LEAs and thus disturb their “safe” houses in the urban areas, particularly now that their bases in Wana and other FATA locations are being targetted. The LEAs regularly bag Al-Qaeda operatives of some consequence in random search operations. Because of Afghanistan and Iraq there is widespread sympathy among our masses, Al-Qaeda (and other religious groupings) are certainly capitalizing on such sentiments. The unified PML major task is to mobilize public opinion so that emotions are separated from facts and terrorists of any ilk are shown as the menace to our society, they are also a grave danger to the country’s image as a responsible member of the comity of nations.
As both the President and the PM have stated, the fact that a number of Al-Qaeda operatives have been captured from the refuge given to them by Jamaat-I-Islami (JI) activists is not enough to ban JI as a party. Even with one’s severe reservations about JI’s role in sending our youth to die in Afghanistan (they never seem to talk of the connivance of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Daadullah in handing over to Dostum almost all Pakistanis supporting the Taliban defending Konduz in return for the freedom of the Afghan Taliban and himself, Presidential candidate Rashid Dostum promptly buried alive thousands of Pakistanis in containers in Shebergan), one cannot deny that JI has very faithful and activist cadres who are not only honest and committed Pakistanis but have always been at the forefront of democratic activism. Relegated to being a democratic minority, alongwith their parties in the coalition of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the JI leaders are tasting power for the first time in Pakistan. A JI ban will be God-sent for their cadres, it will create a groundswell of sympathy that may well overwhelm the streets. Individuals who have given safe haven to terrorists must be taken to task but unless there is incontrovertible evidence of JI’s active support as a party for Al-Qaeda they should not be a sweeping condemnation of JI as a terrorist organization.
It is said that the end justifies the means, in the case of Pakistan we have to watch out that the means used may well justify the end, as it almost did in 1971.