If some miracle does not happen, President General Pervez Musharraf is set to become president of Pakistan on Saturday, October 6.
The next five-year term will be very tough for the president as now he has to take decisive steps for establishing rule of law and the elimination of terrorism. Actually the rule of law will control rather eliminate terrorism.
Gen Musharraf gave a wide-ranging interview to a private TV channel where he raised a number of issues of which there can be two opinions. For instance, he claimed he enjoys popularity and that his desire to continue to hold the office of president is simply dictated by the interests of the country. This is generally the view most rulers acquire on account of the reports they receive from the sycophants gathered around them. He has pooh-poohed the opposition’s attempts to gather crowds. While the opposition’s performance has been below its own expectations, it could be dangerous to underrate it.
Gen Musharraf’s claim that the development undertaken during his tenure equals all that was done from 1947 to 1999 is liable to be dismissed as gross exaggeration. There are a number of living monuments like the Tarbela and Mangla dams, the Steel Mill and the Motorway that stand out as landmarks of development under his predecessors. Little attention was in fact paid by the present government to increasing power supply and had the IPI’s not been inducted by the PPP administration, the country would have faced the worst power crisis in its history. Half-hearted attempts to build a consensus on Kalabagh Dam failed to produce any result because Gen Musharraf could not persuade some of his closest allies in Sindh of the need for its construction.
While the economy improved to an extent, according to many as a result of the post-9/11 windfalls, poverty levels also increased and, what is more, the gap between the richest and the poorest widened. The last five years have been marked by numerous scandals that include two major KESC crashes, the sugar scam and artificial shortages that led to food inflation hitting the common man badly. Pakistan was forced to import sugar from India that was not fit for consumption.
Many would challenge the claim that the media was ‘granted’ freedom. The media is in fact still paying for whatever freedom it currently enjoys as witnessed on Saturday in Islamabad when the police mercilessly beat up journalists. During the last seven years, newspapers have braved denial of advertisements while no less than 22 journalists have died and many more suffered incarceration.
The President is right to criticise the politicians for being intolerant and for victimising opponents. But are things different now? It was hoped that Mian Nawaz Sharif would not be forcibly exiled particularly after the Supreme Court decision. To many the so-called national reconciliation ordinance that restricts amnesty to the PPP leaders excluding Mian Nawaz from its purview smells of vendetta. To ensure a smooth run-up of the elections, as Gen Musharraf desires, the government needs to provide all parties a level playing field.
Former foreign secretary of Pakistan Tanvir Ahmad Khan has discussed the situation in Pakistan. He stated that Four factors stand out among the causes of increased turbulence in Pakistan’s politics.
One, the presidential tenure of President Pervez Musharraf and that of the assemblies was coming to an end. It led to renewed hopes of a genuine change after several years of apathy and despair. Musharraf was at the apex of a system that controlled every facet of national life through functionaries whose true provenance was the army.
Two, despite achievements in certain specific fields, his system of governance was no longer perceived by the people as either efficient or clean.
Three, the empowerment of the media basically through the heroism and spirit of sacrifice of a new generation of journalists has become a factor of change. Assisted by the technology of 24-hour broadcasting and fast-spreading internet and messaging services, the media makes it difficult to sweep the failures of governance and corruption under the carpet.
Four, a weightier factor emerged from the American need to avert another defeat in Afghanistan after the fiasco in Iraq. Washington could not take the risk of losing Pakistan, a key element in the US war in Afghanistan, to forces that may adversely affect the commitment of the Pakistan army to that war. The US interest in Pakistani politics shifted from monitoring it to managing it covertly and eventually not so covertly.
The events triggered by the chief justice affair, including his triumphant reinstatement, created expectations that Musharraf would realise that his best option was an orderly transition to a more representative democratic order. The West has its own variant of it. Its preference for his absolutist rule looked increasingly incompatible with the unexpected democratic upsurge in Pakistan. Alone, the Pakistan army was not winning the battle even on its side of the border. The next best option was to help broaden the base of the regime without compromising the strategic framework for Pakistan-US partnership in the Afghan war. A coalition of forces that would guarantee this partnership should also act as a dyke against extremism and religious radicalism now threatening Pakistan’s own polity.
This is what brought the focus back to Bhutto. It is cynical to argue that Bhutto has participated in the secret dialogue only to bring to an end the cases that kept her in exile. In Pakistan’s case, crime, punishment, and for that matter retraction from politically motivated allegations, is a matter of an ordinance or two. She does have a vision of a modernistic and tolerant society. She realises that not since 1970 has the federation been so vulnerable to the growing ethnic, religious and ideological fissures in the body politic. How much positive impact she can make on a fast-deteriorating situation if she is a junior partner in a coalition comprising the military, the King’s own Muslim League, the MQM and possibly Maulana Fazul Rahman’s pragmatic faction of the MMA must be weighing heavy on her mind. A fragile coalition of innately antagonistic forces is emerging to pursue different interests and agendas.
What has been secretly negotiated so far is not national reconciliation but power-sharing that aims at reforming the existing dispensation from within. But the enterprise is full of caveats.