The power game being played in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan at the behest of President Bush has been badly affecting the common people. The terrorists have been terrorising and killing the people, but the rulers can do nothing. The main responsibility of the rulers is provision of security and good life to the people. If they cannot do that they have no right to call themselves as rulers.
According to an editorial comment, What we are going through is a moment of acute tension between two options: to go for a cooperative but relatively imperfect transition or a blunt but relatively ineffective confrontation; and let the chips fall where they may in the hope that when the debris is cleared, Pakistan will be right side up. Talking to CNN, Ms Benazir Bhutto has said that she is still waiting for an answer from General Musharraf, and if he has rebuffed America’s latest recommendations brought to Islamabad by Deputy Secretary of State Mr Negroponte, how can he respond to her? Feeling the public pressure at her back, she has asked him to take off the uniform, remove the Emergency, revamp the Election Commission and the interim government, free the media, and scrap the local government setup to facilitate free and fair elections in January. If he doesn’t agree, he could conceivably face agitation and a possible collective opposition boycott of the elections.
General Musharraf has been gradually trimming his sails to accommodate criticism but is hesitant to do the big deal that can assist in the transition he still wants. He has now actually given January 8 as the day for the general elections, having first said “before February 15” and then “before January 9”. He has begun the process of removing the ban placed on the media after the imposition of Emergency, and the establishment is making conciliatory sounds about letting the two big TV networks resume their work. There is a distinct possibility that he might suspend the local governments too. And although he remains vague about when he intends to lift the Emergency — because he first wants to get himself validated as president for another five years from the judiciary and get his PCO validated by the next parliament — there is a possibility that he might remove the Emergency before the month is out after amending the PCO to ensure his safety from prosecution. So if he takes the right decisions now, he can still retrieve the situation somewhat; otherwise, the list of demands from the opposition will grow till it becomes a single-item challenge aimed at making him go.
Ms Bhutto has her own options to test with the rest of the opposition inside the APDM. Her leverage on General Musharraf will increase as she negotiates the future course of action with the PMLN leader Mr Nawaz Sharif and his APDM allies. But to give herself this strength vis-à-vis the general she has to agree to some fundamental demands from them. The foremost demand from the six-party alliance is boycott of the January polls; and the alliance will not come to the APC called by her unless she makes clear her position on the planned boycott. The idea of the boycott has been arrived at after the APDM felt that Ms Bhutto was still trying to get the general to decide a “power-sharing” formula with her. So she will have to choose quickly between the idea of a chancy boycott and the idea of having a go at the elections in less than a level playing field.
It is General Musharraf who has to “give”. The ability to take options and reject confrontation is his. The politicians may have entered a blind alley as far as he is concerned, driven by a wave of public passion not always given to a careful examination of the odds that face the country. But if he thought that he could get out of trouble through the cracks that always existed in the opposition, he should now take another look. It is not difficult to see which way the country is hurtling even if he relies on the PTV window still open to what is happening in the streets. The PPP is demonstrating to the maximalists in the APDM that it has the capacity to agitate and confront the government, its demands stiffening by the day in tune with the emotions of the people. But by so securing its vote bank from tilting towards its more radical opposition rivals, it is also gradually cutting the ground from under its own feet as far as negotiations with General Musharraf are concerned.
The army is finally eyeball-to-eyeball with Al Qaeda in the Tribal Areas, but this war is going to be very difficult to prosecute in a vacuum of political support as was seen earlier during military operations. Al Qaeda is in control of a large swath of territory where the population has now more or less accepted its rule and is seen to be arrayed against the army as if it was an invading army. If General Musharraf opts for confrontation, he might have to fight wars at the same time: one with Al Qaeda and the other with the people of Pakistan. After that, victory or defeat will lose its meaning. If the people win and the general has to go, the politicians who take over will have to negotiate with Al Qaeda on a totally different premise. It will have to be talks on Al Qaeda’s terms, with the clerical parties supporting the wrong side, about the timetable of the Talibanisation of Islamabad. So for the sake of Pakistan, General Musharraf must open the way to a free and fair election as demanded by the opposition.