The statement of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in which she accused President General Musharraf of promoting terrorism was read by the tribesmen living on Pak-Afghan border with interest.
According to them, this is now the last-ditch effort to disintegrate the country. This is the first time that a leader of Pakistan has accepted the fact that her country has been promoting terrorism. In the past it promoted terrorism. Most of the tribesmen think only the army is not responsible for promotion of terrorism. Actually the politicians always used the army for creating terror and fear in the society.
Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto warned that the threat of terrorism in the country’s northwest tribal zones would not go away while a military government was in power, agencies reported.
“The root cause of the problem lies in the government’s inability to enforce its writ in the tribal areas,” Bhutto told Canada’s CBC public television channel. “As long as we have a cabinet ... that needs the threat of terrorism to sustain a military dictatorship in Pakistan we’re never going to get rid of terrorism,” she said of the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf.
Bhutto has been issuing statements, but on one hand, she is also holding talks for a deal with the army. According to a newspaper comment, talking to the PML leaders in the southern Punjab constituency of his re-election campaign, President General Pervez Musharraf said that he was in favour of “national reconciliation”, but that it would happen after the general elections, on the basis of the strength of the political parties in the new assemblies.
He repeated his allegiance to the leadership of the PML and it was clear from the TV coverage that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi were both satisfied with his renunciation of the policy of a “deal” with the Pakistan People’s Party.
Unless the “confidential understanding” with General Musharraf that Ms Bhutto mentioned earlier was related to a post-election arrangement, she will be put off by the latest show of loyalty by the president to the anti-liberal leadership of the PML.
On the other hand, the PPP rank and file would be happy that a deal that brought them no honour in a landscape of extremes was finally put off. PPP psephologists must have been relieved that the vote-bank which the party was about to lose might now be retained, provided Ms Bhutto turned confrontational like Mr Sharif.
But if the coming vote is dependent on postures of confrontation, what is the combined opposition in APDM planning to do? So far the final decision has not been taken although the Jama’at-e Islami has declared some marches to test the political waters. On the legal front, the battle is on with one petition about his return filed at the Supreme Court by Mr Nawaz Sharif and another on President Musharraf’s re-election filed by Qazi Hussain Ahmad. If the Court allows Mr Sharif to return to Pakistan the “turmoil” General Musharraf dreads will actually start taking place.
Ms Bhutto says that her ARD alliance with the PMLN is intact but no one including Mr Nawaz Sharif believes that. As for APDM, the PPP made it clear in London at the time of the APDM’s birth that her reasons for staying away were not related to her deal with Musharraf but to an unwillingness to back an agenda that was against her party’s ideology.
Her objections, it appears, were not based on political strategy like those of the JUI’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman but on deep-seated party values. While Maulana Rehman has resiled from his position of opportunistic rebellion, she is unlikely to go back into the fold of the combined opposition without dire provocation by General Musharraf.
As for the PPP’s national standing, it seems that the “politics of the deal” has not dented it too much. In a recent poll, in which one expected the PPP to figure somewhere at the bottom, it was in the second place to the PMLN only by two points. This position will only improve when the battle of the election campaign is joined and the vote banks collide on their traditional polarities. Given the predictable direness of the post-Musharraf period, Ms Bhutto may well like to sit in the opposition in the next parliament and see how the APDM combine makes a mess of things.
It is not only the presidential re-election that the opposition is protesting but also the present machinery of election. The PPP too is committed in the Charter of Democracy under ARD to ask for a new consensual Election Commissioner and a consensual caretaker government. The opposition also knows from past experience that local bodies play the most crucial role in getting the incumbent party re-elected. The politicians of Pakistan “discovered” the local bodies in the 1990s, not because they loved grassroots politics, but because they could use them as hidden electoral infrastructure assets.
If the deal with the PPP is off as General Musharraf says — and we don’t believe him — it might come with force after the elections if the PML scores badly. If the president is hopeful that he can weather the coming storm without taking on board a party that actually shares his agenda, then the big change expected from him may come after the elections. The problem is that the elections conceived on this line of thinking so far don’t look like achieving the level of legitimacy needed to be called free and fair.