Shedding a few crocodile tears after great tragedy is the habit of rulers of this world presently led by US President George W. Bush. The rulers after failure in saving the lives of victims of 9/11 tragedy must resign. But at that time Bush introduced the new term of terrorism and made a pledge he would eliminate this menace. But the people may agree with me or not, but terrorists have been ruling the world.
Now again the rulers of Pakistan has been using the same terminology for saving their skin in their failure to protect a national leader, with whom the people have great love, Benazir Bhutto. The Benazir Bhutto's death seriously eroded the cradibility of the rulers of Pakistan. They at the moment are unable to control the situation. As in the past the situation is being used by the criminals for achieving their ulterior motives.
According to an influential editor of Daily Times Najam Sethi, Ms Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination has left a great void in Pakistan at a critical point in its halting and controversial evolution to democratic civilian rule. Some questions immediately arise. Who will lead the PPP now? Will the PPP participate in the elections or join Nawaz Sharif in boycotting them and agitating for the overthrow of President Musharraf? What are President Musharraf’s options now?
The question of succession in the PPP is fundamental. There are two factors that impinge on this issue. First, the politics of the PPP is dynastic and tribal in nature. Hence, the new leader of the PPP is likely to be a Bhutto. Only Bilawal qualifies for that role, regardless of whether or not he is ready to don the mantle of his illustrious mother. This means that Bilawal will be the nominal or formal head of the party. Asif Zardari will play the role of the Regent or real power behind the throne while Amin Fahim will be the face of the party in government. Whatever the sanitised elites may say or feel about this succession principle, lay Pakistanis will recognise its legitimacy and give it their approval.
The PPP’s leadership also knows that if it were to contest the elections sooner than later it would sweep to power. Alternatively, if it were to join hands with Nawaz Sharif and start agitation, it could exploit the anger in the street against the Musharraf regime and compel regime change. The situation is so volatile now - and the PMLQ has all but disappeared from the reckoning - that the Musharraf regime should not put this challenge to the test.
This means that now the PPP must be allowed to set the agenda for transition rather than the Musharraf regime, as was the case before Ms Bhutto’s death. If the PPP wants to contest the elections under the current dispensation at a date of its choosing, the government should not take issue with it. More critically, if the PPP demands a national reconciliation government headed by a prime minister who has the approval of the PPP and the PMLN to hold the elections, the government must concede the demand. That may perhaps be the only way for the PPP to persuade the PMLN to stay on its side and get a free and fair election as well as satisfy the demands of the lawyers’ community and civil society.
President Musharraf’s options are quite limited. If he tries to weather the storm by insisting on having his way by dint of state might, he risks the combined resistance of all parties and pressure groups. Without the PPP and PMLN, even the JUI will not contest the elections. In the event, no one will come out to vote for the PMLQ and a farce greater then the referendum will be perpetrated on the people of Pakistan. That will deepen the crisis, provoking international isolation and alienation rapidly. Even a non-violent, non-cooperation movement across the country will bring Islamabad to its knees sooner than later.
However, if President Musharraf reaches out to the PPP, and indirectly through the PPP to the PMLN, and concedes their demands for the holding of free and fair elections under a truly neutral administration, he can save the situation from blowing up in his face.
In the current situation, the PPP is in no mood to give any quarter to President Musharraf. That is why it is focussing on holding him squarely responsible for Ms Bhutto’s death by denying her the security she needed, even if it is not accusing him of pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, the government hasn’t helped its cause by fumbling on its version of what happened on that fateful day. Hence, it would be foolish to provoke the PPP into an embrace of the PMLN that seeks nothing less than the ouster of President Musharraf.
The government should also realise that the JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman will not be able to withstand the pressure from its voting hinterland, the NWFP and Balochistan, where it is being chided and rebuked by its rank and file to adopt a more hostile posture and boycott the elections. The other party that is also coming under pressure is the ANP, which is also vying for the Pushtun vote like the JUI. While Ms Bhutto was around, all these parties and leaders were following her lead. Now they will follow Mr Zardari’s lead because he has all the cards in his hand.
Mr Zardari has said that the PPP is conscious of following up on Ms Bhutto’s decision to contest the elections. But he must be acutely aware also of her apprehensions regarding a rigged election under the current dispensation. It is therefore likely that he will not settle for anything less than concrete guarantees of a free and fair election.
The caretaker prime minister, Mr Muhammadmian Soomro, has indicated that he might invite all the parties to a meeting to decide what should be done about the elections. If such a meeting is held, and it has become imperative now, there are bound to be two views: one “hard line”, led by the APDM; and the other “realistic”, led by the JUI, the ANP and the PPP. This would be an occasion for the “realistic” group to get the government to agree to set up a national reconciliation or consensus government to hold the elections. Otherwise, the hard line group demanding the ouster of President Musharraf may be successful.
One thing is agreed by all who look at the Pakistani scene today. Free and fair elections should be held so that the transition of power can take place without upheaval. No one should want a meaningless upheaval in Pakistan because we are already threatened by loss of internal sovereignty that may tilt the region into conflict. More democracy is the right medicine for a divided polity. It will help create a political consensus, so far lacking, against elements that have robbed it of sovereignty and have occupied its territory. That is what Ms Bhutto gave her life for and that is what Pakistan desperately needs more than ever before.
According to another comment, Mr Baitullah Mahsud, the leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, a self-avowed extremist organisation waging war against the Pakistan state, is reported to have denied involvement in the murder of Ms Benazir Bhutto. Some people are clutching at this piece of news to insist that the government and its agencies rather than any terrorist organisation were behind the dastardly act. But they should pause and reconsider.
Following Ms Bhutto’s murder, a leading Taliban leader and Al Qaeda commander by the name of Mustafa Abu Al Yazid was quoted by a known Italian news agency as claiming responsibility because “she was an American asset”. This is not the first time this news agency has received word from Al Qaeda and broadcast it. But not many Pakistanis were ready to believe this report. Why not? Indeed, some of them actually questioned the credentials of the Italian news agency and dismissed the report as lacking authenticity. Instead, they are ready to believe a denial by Baitullah Masud that comes from sources even less credible than the Italian wire service. Why is this so? Do people have a very selective criterion for judgement when it comes to such matters? Do they believe what they want to believe and disbelieve what they don’t like for one reason or another, regardless of the facts?
Having killed Ms Bhutto because she was “an American asset”, Al Qaeda has now seen the mass outpouring of grief and support for Ms Bhutto in Pakistan. So it has decided to issue one statement acknowledging its successful feat in order to motivate its die-hard followers and instil fear in its enemies and another statement denying involvement so as to avoid public outrage against its act in Pakistan. Is that so hard to understand, even if one is rightfully full of anger at President Musharraf and his government for various other reasons, including failure to provide Ms Bhutto with adequate security and fumbling with the facts of the killing?
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