The conciliation between the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League (Nawaz) was inevitable.
Nawaz Sharif had taken the initiative for it when he was Saudi Arabia’s guest in Jeddah. He had telephoned Benazir Bhutto and had reportedly offered her support to help her become Pakistan Prime Minister. Subsequently, the two issued a joint “Charter of Democracy” from London, asking the people of Pakistan to join hands to save the nation from the clutches of military dictatorship, defend their fundamental, social, political and economic rights, and form a democratic, federal, modern and progressive Pakistan as dreamt of by the founder of the nation.
Unfortunately, both parties’ attention is now fixed on who the next Prime Minister will be, and who between them will get which portfolio. Their resolve to end military rule has receded into the background. Understandably, the two parties cannot take on the armed forces straightaway, but they should at least make it clear that the military will be answerable to civilian rulers. If nothing else, both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, PPP’s acting chief, should be agitating for the removal of President Pervez Musharraf. Voters rejected him when they defeated the PML(Q), the king’s party.
It is obvious that when Musharraf failed to woo Zardari, the Pakistan government revived a Swiss corruption case against him. This is sheer blackmail. I do not want to go into the merits and demerits of the ten-year-old case, but it is obvious that Musharraf has got annoyed because Zardari has refused to be the stalking horse. All this is having a negative effect on the country at a time when it needs to settle down.
Nawaz Sharif, who has matured while in wilderness, is said to have saved the situation. He gave unilateral support to Zardari while insisting on quickening the process of reinstating the 60 dismissed judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar M. Chaudhry. That the matter has been left to Parliament to decide would only lengthen the process. The lawyers have already renewed their agitation. A two-thirds majority in Parliament is not required for the reinstatement of the judges because Musharraf insisted on an oath to avow loyalty to him. When he has been rejected by the people, there is no legitimacy to what he has done.
Election is a process of electing representatives to rule the country. This is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Pakistan has emerged from the process nearly unscathed. There was very little violence and even the polling was not rigged to the extent it was feared. America was looking over Musharraf’s shoulders and, therefore, he could not do much. He knew the US state department doubted his credentials. What made the elections somewhat free was the decision by General Ashfaq Kayani, the Army Chief, not to interfere in the polls.
Thus Musharraf’s game was up. Probably the armed forces would like Musharraf’s exit in an orderly manner. That should be possible if Parliament were to pass a simple resolution asking him to quit. I wish he would step down on his own, knowing well that he is not wanted.
Pakistan has, however landed itself in many problems. It is not a failed state, but an uncertain state which still can take any course: theocratic, despotic, or just chaotic. When I visited Karachi and Lahore a few days ago, I found hardly anyone optimistic about Pakistan’s future. However, the country is not falling apart, as is the general impression. Different forces — religious, political and criminal — are competing among themselves for more space. In the short run, they are heightening fears, but in the long run, they are threatening the country’s integrity.
Ultimately, the confrontation may well be between the political forces and the extremists. The nation’s fate depends on the outcome. Fortunately, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a combination of six religious parties, has been defeated squarely. The best thing that has happened is the sweep by Asfandyar Wali Khan’s Awami National Party in NWFP. He is a grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi. This proves that secular forces, suppressed for the last 60 years, have reasserted themselves. Still, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban of the area, now lying low, are a big challenge because they control parts of NWFP.
The late Benazir Bhutto, who now stands taller than her executed father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was prophetic. In her hand-written testament, she said that she "feared for Pakistan’s future in the face of extremism and dictatorship." Indeed, extremists are present all over the country, including Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. But they have not affected Pakistan’s day-to-day life. A bomb blast here or a stray killing there is a daily occurrence. But this is no longer the handiwork of the Afghan Taliban. The election results show they had been lionised by the ISI to get more money from America. They would find the new government uncompromising in the war against terrorism.
The real culprits are the Pakistani Taliban, the creation of successive governments which once dreamt of having Afghanistan as their satellite state to get the much-wanted "strategic depth." They still have the support of the ISI and 35 per cent of the Armymen who are reportedly jihadis. It has been reported that some soldiers did not fire at the Taliban in Waziristan because the latter were Muslims. The mere word "democracy" cannot bring about coherence among political parties. They seldom meet and do not ever discuss any strategy to retrieve the country from the grip of military rule. Their egos and claims verge on the point of arrogance. They hold their durbar — a feudal relic which Pakistan proudly retains — where they pontificate about democracy and equality before an array of sycophants and retainers.
Feudalism is still too deeply entrenched in the country to allow the idea of equality to germinate. A PPP leader like Aitzaz Ahsan, left-of-centre, can stem the rot if made Prime Minister. Makhdoom Amin Fahim is a good person, but Pakistan wants a strong, democratic hand to guide it.
The common man, groaning under the burden of rising prices and lessening income, is a confused and disillusioned spectator. That is the reason why he does not come out on the streets. He does not see anything for himself in what is going on, except a change of masters. He too wants Musharraf to step down, not because he is a dictator, but because he has not improved his lot. Again, the military is hardly a relief, because his main predicament is, how to send his children to school and at the same time sustain his family. It is not that he does not get angry, but he tends to be unconcerned when he sees very little for himself in any set-up.