Walking on the beach in the morning nowadays one can see dozens of ships in the Outer Anchorage waiting for a berth at Karachi Port, a few months ago there was no waiting time. This may be a crude measure but a sure indicator of good economic times ahead, Pakistan’s stock market not being a good barometer. Three years ago, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime had brought us to the verge of economic apocalypse, in his turn he had inherited a horrendous situation from his “democratically” elected predecessor, Ms Benazir Bhutto. In a period of world recession, an enormous amount of luck has combined with doggedness and hard work rather than any imagination or innovation to bring Pakistan close to economic recovery. September 11 may have brought gloom and doom to the western world, not so Pakistan. Despite a number of immediate crisis, both internal and external, we have been a net beneficiary of the atrocious event for the long term. The pace of our economic recovery before Sep 11 was painfully slow, for a short time thereafter it became very scary economically as exports dried up with thousands and thousands of confirmed orders cancelled. Slowly but surely (thanks to Uncle Musharraf’s blend of pragmatism with realpolitik about Afghanistan bringing in millions of dollars in liquid assistance and massive debt re-scheduling), we are well into a full scale recovery in the foreseeable future. Because of the threat of “money-laundering” forcing money through normal banking channels rather than “Hundi”, home remittances by Pakistani expatriates, less than a billion US dollars in 2001, may go upto US $ 3 billion in financial year 2002.
Oct 12, 1999 cast the leaders of the two “major” political parties in absolute disarray, PML (N) disintegrating politically. This military regime did not even bother declaring martial law or putting troops in the streets as a “show of force”, there being so much apathy among the masses about politicians and politics in general. Three years later the military regime have contrived the revival of the “down and out” politicians, their other “major” achievement, lies in managing something the politically astute Gen Zia contrived to avoid assiduously in a decade-plus “divide and rule” policy, possible collaboration between the two major political parties. The combined “political” genius of civilian bureaucrat Tariq Aziz and army bureaucrat Maj Gen Ihtesham Zamir (alongwith other geniuses of the unknown kind) may manage another “first”, the major political parties of Pakistan uniting against the Armed Forces, and that too when they are facing an implacable enemy deployed in full strength on our borders. That will leave the “Kings Party” with only “Kings” in the Party, a possible PPP-PML (N) Coalition government may then try to reverse in the face of the National Security Council (NSC) all the reforms that have taken place, a substantial percentage of which have been excellent Musharraf initiatives. On the other hand, crying manipulation and rigging, the major political parties may even decide to boycott the elections. For the first time in its long history of chequered military rule, the Pakistan Armed Forces will seemingly be allied with a sorry bunch having unsavoury reputation. How Fakhr Imam, Abida Hussain, Khurshid Kasuri, etc joined them is beyond imagination! We will then be in worse condition than at any time of our history since 1971, up the creek and without the credibility of the Armed Forces as the proverbial paddle to bail us out of the growing political crisis we have managed to entangle ourselves in. One had the same feeling of impending doom about the Referendum, the people voted for Musharraf in droves yet a hostile media forced a perception otherwise.
The leopard does not change its spots, no predatory animal changes it’s behaviour. In Pakistan (as in most countries), the average politician feeds on the masses, and to be successful he must rob the nation’s till, that is the oil which keeps his political machine running. Politicians of humble origin have become very, very rich (and some honest rich politicians have lost most of their wealth in the practice of politics). Both Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif came into politics riding on their family wealth, but they are far richer today than when they entered the political arena. It does not need a financial genius to figure out that they (and their kith and kin) benefitted financially from the windfall of office. Give and take a few wrongfully nabbed, the accountability conducted by NAB over the past three years confirmed this. Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Federal Interior Minister Maj Gen (Retd) Nasirullah Khan Babar entrusted the PPP government’s chief hitman, then DG FIA Rahman Malik to ferret out the complicated chart of how the Sharif family engaged in money-laundering of hundreds of millions of US dollars. In Mian Nawaz Sharif’s term as PM Saifur Rahman’s Ehtasab Bureau targetted the Bhutto/Zardari combine as “a corrupt couple” who had amassed enormous illegal assets and liquid wealth abroad through dubious means, why does Ms Benazir avoid the cool air of Switzerland like the plague? Musharraf’s NAB, which has far more credibility than their politically-oriented predecessor agencies says both were correct. In a 180 degree turnabout, we are now called upon to believe Mian Sahib when he says that Ms Benazir is an asset of the nation and we are also to believe Ms Benazir when she says poker-faced that Pakistan needs a leader like Mian Nawaz Sharif, and this is not supposed to be an odd couple! Who says politics does not make for strange bedfellows?
The disqualifications are also a surprise. Imran Khan’s papers being selectively rejected may force “Mr Clean” to join the ranks of the disreputable. If Tehrik-i-Insaaf can manage seat adjustments with MMA, Imran will have a number of seats in Parliament. Farooq Leghari may have a handful of strong candidates in his Millat Party, he will be hard put to get elected himself. To their credit the religious parties are sticking to their alliance, alongwith pragmatic seat adjustments they will get far more seats than they have in any Legislative Assembly in Pakistan. One must give credit to Jamaat-I-Islami’s Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who will have his hands full keeping his partners moderate, the odd anti-US diatribe aside! As for the MQM, there is a silent strength about their present political poise which is commendable. If they can avoid militancy and pressure tactics, this grassroots urban movement will increase their tally of seats. There is a maturity in the MQM stance which makes them the likely swing vote in a close race for governance, both in Sindh and the Center. The King’s Alliance will certainly get seats, both elected and manipulated, in the face of the PPP, PML (N) collaboration they are in deep trouble, even individually where any Party colours normally do not matter. In Balochistan, a grand alliance of regional parties will make an alliance with the national mainstream.
Even a cursory survey of the political candidates gives two immediate impressions that, viz (1) they are mostly children of a richer Being and worse (2) the new emerging faces are also children of a richer Being. Children of a richer Being rely on a bloc of a mere 25% of the votes cast, very few manage 35-40%, to take them “first past the post”. Except the MQM candidates, who are “children of a lesser God”, almost nobody gets more 50%. To have real democracy on the pattern that the President keeps talking about, there is no substitute to “run-off” elections i.e. if any candidates does not get elected with 51% majority of the votes cast, the first two getting the maximum votes face each other in a face-off. Aspiring candidates will have to go to all their constituents for votes, that is democracy, everything else is a farce. The present electoral system is flawed as it can be inordinately influenced by wealth, this wealth will find it far more difficult to circumvent the majority in a “run-off” system. If children of a richer Being can manage more than 50% of the votes cast, and one daresays quite a number can and will, they have a right to rule and more luck to them. However the sorry fact remains that today’s democracy is weighted heavily in favour of children of a richer Being.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).