An objective study of the recently held Local Bodies Election will show that politics is alive and well in Pakistan. Even though the elections were meant to be a non-party exercise, for the most part party stalwarts have come to power at the District level. While it may be too early to render a profound judgement about the new system ushered in by Musharraf and party, the hard fact remains that democracy of sorts at the grassroots level is now a fact of life in Pakistan. For the first time since the creation of the country , some power will have passed into the hands of the people, at least at the local level, provided off course that the elected ones do not abrogate either their authority or responsibility, exercising their mandate w without over-dependance on the bureaucrats meant to “assist” them. Only time will tell as to who will actually wield power, the local politician or their bureaucrats advisors. This trial of strength will take part in each constituency and if the democrats are generally successful there will be a future for Pakistan off course, in some rural areas there is no hope in the face of feudal for other democrats or bureaucrats. Unless the people believe that power is really in their hands and that they exercise it freely without prompting or interference, their belief in the system will evaporate and with that the broad aspirations for this country. For the moment there is confusion across the board and that is not unusual, the administrative practice of a century plus cannot be changed seamlessly in a matter of weeks. What is satisfying is that there is a ongoing struggle to correct the anomalies and the dire predictions of complete breakdown have, in the unmortal words of Mark Twain, been “greatly exaggerated”.
Those political parties who remain a political force of some consequence in Pakistan have shown considerable sagacity by entering alliances of convenience wherever necessary. Having more or less swept its traditional stronghold in the interior of Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is allied in places with it’s long-term nemesis Jamaat-e-Islami. But let’s not write off the other major political bloc, Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as yet. Split into two with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s ascent to power in the mid 80s, it has again split in two after he and his family’s departure to Saudi Arabia. An amalgam of heterogeneous forces having no relevance whatsoever except lip-service to the ideology of the founder of the country, and buffeted by this military regime, the PML (split) still remains a potent political machine. Among the two major regional parties, Awami National Party (ANP) has shown its strength in its traditional vote getting areas but the Muttahida Quami Mahaz (MQM) has lost out big by its surprising decision to stay out of Local Bodies elections, giving the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) a windfall by allowing them to move into the political vacuum after 15 years out in the cold in Karachi. Given a chance to do good for the people, and it is true that of all the parties the JI representatives are best motivated and equipped to make that sincere and honest effort at good governance, they will have to be really bad managers to blow this chance. MQM is in real danger of being marginalised by the bitterness of its exiled leader, their effort for rapprochement with ethnic Sindhis at the cost of the integrity of Pakistan has barely made headway. The Mohajir is a Mohajir because more than any other nationality in Pakistan, he voted with his feet for Pakistan, traversing through a trail of blood and death and despondency to come to Pakistan. Trying to undermine the two-nation theory will cut no ice with the broad mass of Mohajirs, only the extremists who have nowhere to go will remain in the field. MQM will continue to have nuisance value but Gen Babar put paid to this mass militant potential in 1985, it will take considerable repression by the military regime to build the nucleus of such an armed militia again, fortunately (1) the military rule has been extremely benign and (2) the present head of the armed forces belongs to the same constituency.
As the political game begins to unfold, one thing is clear, no single party has the electoral strength to gain a simple majority and all governments will be a coalition one. That is excellent news for the future of the country, at least at this time. Coalition means greater participation in governance and the Federation is best served with more parties in governance, moreover their inclusion means an active in-house check and balance within the government. What Pervez Musharraf must do is to stay clear of party politics but make the Presidency more powerful, keeping national security and accountability with the President. In the process he has to ensure that the Armed Forces does not get tainted by corruption of any kind, those who have shown any inclination must be retired now. A few black sheep cannot be allowed to tar and feather the entire khaki community on the strength of the regimental tie. Those GT Road warriors must be sent home.
A perennial grouse of soldiers when they come to power at the expense of civilians is that all politicians are surrounded by touts who are the major source of corruption since they act openly as the conduits (or frontmen) for “problem solving” for these interested in having their problems solved at a price, the price to be paid to the “solution providers”. In normal commercial life, agents are commonplace, they facilitate their principals in marketing, sales and after-sales service, in military procurement an agent is a bad name. In actual practice, there is virtually nothing sold either in civilian life or in the military where an agent does not have an active role and those who believe otherwise are either naéve and gullible or simply do not want to confront the truth for one reason or the either.
Whenever the military comes to power, it does so with very platonic motives, the prime being to root out corruption by effecting sweeping accountability. All the Martial Laws imposed upon this country (except this one) had summary military courts meant to mete out raw and swift justice to those they held accountable. To their credit this regime has stayed strictly as per the rule of law as defined by the superior judiciary and as such justice has not been corrupted on the scale it was done in the three previous martial laws. Nevertheless very much like the previous martial laws, the present regime has its share of namesdroppers who either pretend to be agents of the powers-that-be or are actually their touts. Whether governance is military or civilian, these Mr (or Mrs) FIXITS are very much a part of everyday life. During civilian rule the FIXITS are fairly well known, the price they demand is also well known and the risks are very little. Not so during military rule, the FIXITS are not well known in the beginning and as such an abnormal number pretend to be FIXITS and because of this the risks are much higher. Moreover some of these are retired personnel taking advantage of their regimental ties, relations, etc. One has to differentiate fact from fiction, especially difficult for civilians to discern. The problem is that sometimes lobbyists use their connections to seek suitable appointments for themselves. NDFC’s problems stem from an appointee of this regime with connections because of the old school tie taking it down the road to destruction, he is now happy as a paid Consultant of not one but two nationalized commercial banks (NCBs) National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and United Bank Limited (UBL). Almost the same thing has happened in PIA and a number of other corporations.
Unfortunately public perception gives short shrift to the truth if there is doubt. For Pervez Musharraf these touts are landmines strewn across the surface of the credibility of this regime as it sets out on the final lap of the road that it has mapped. For the objective analyst, capable of extensive study there is no ambiguity, for the masses this flawed perception is capable of being taken as the truth. For its place in history, this military regime must carry out self-accountability to ensure that the FIXITS of this world do not sabotage the best laid ROADMAPS of men.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.