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Bush, Pakistan Leaders In Dilemma

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Muhammad Khurshid
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Who did what and who is responsible for the present mess in Pakistan? This question should be kept away as now the question arises whether this country of the 'pure' will survive or its name will be removed from the world map. The greedy politicians and rulers are still busy in their power game without any knowledge about the threats being faced by the country. Prices of essential commodities reached to a level the people like me cannot afford to purchase. The stock of these items have been ending without any further supply. The situation is very critical.

The tragic murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has endangered the very solidarity and integrity of the country at stake.  President Musharraf is in a dilemma. The whole administration is in a disarray. There is complete confusion what will happen next. Most of the people think that the United States must not insist on polls on time as without maintaining order the holding of elections will aggravate the matter. All attention should be given to making a new administration consisting of honest people, who have no desire to befool their own people and world just to fill their pockets with dollars. These are the real terrorists.

According to an editorial comment, the venom with which the rioting in Sindh and other provinces has unfolded after the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto indicates the level of public discontent and frustration with the Musharraf establishment. Therefore it would be dangerous under these conditions to think of postponing the January 8 elections by six weeks or so, regardless of whether or not the administrative difficulties faced by the Election Commission (EC) are genuine. Now the news from Islamabad is that the EC will consult the stakeholder parties on Wednesday and decide what is to be done.

The EC will argue that the destruction of its essential properties in Sindh and the situation in parts of Balochistan and the NWFP makes it difficult for it to proceed swiftly with the elections. It is reported by the EC that destruction of electoral properties in Sindh has affected 9-10 districts. If this reality is true, the parties will have to take cognisance of it and decide what is to be done. Since it is the PPP which will be most affected, it should survey the scene cold-bloodedly and decide whether it wants to postpone elections only in these districts that are so affected. But it should stick to the deadline of January 8 for the rest of the country — barring the few localities elsewhere — and pressurise President Pervez Musharraf to hold the elections on time as promised if it wants to gain maximum advantage from the sympathy wave for Benazir Bhutto.

Staggered elections normally attract complaints of unfair influence. If a party wins big in the first segment it causes a stampede in the elections that come later. In the case of the nine districts of Sindh the postponement will probably redound to the advantage of the PPP; therefore it makes sense to agree to postponement there in its own interest. Since the PMLN is disposed to favour any decision that the PPP makes in this matter, one cannot see why the PMLQ should object to this arrangement even if it fears the pro-PPP surge in the country after the tragedy of January 27.

The PPP has already stated that it will resist any postponement of polls in the country. That means that if the EC decides to call off the elections until end-February as speculated, the PPP may well decide to go into agitation mode. If that happens, the PMLN is sure to follow suit, since we are going through an unprecedented phase of PMLN-PPP political collaboration these days. Add to that elements in the APDM that are calling for a boycott of the elections, and the sub-nationalists that are alienated and hostile, and President Musharraf might have to contend with real agitation on the streets. To defuse that situation, the PMLQ and President Musharraf may have to suffer the imposition of more stringent conditionalities from the opposition.

Thus, instead of elections on January 8 under the status quo, the establishment may have to confront demands for the replacement of the caretaker government with a national government, the dissolution of the EC and its replacement with a new agreed Commission, and the dissolution of the local governments. On the other hand, holding of a full or partial election on January 8 is predicted to throw up a hung parliament. That should suit the PMLQ because, despite the sympathy wave — hate wave for the PMLQ — many of its solid candidates are still expected to win. Considered objectively, the holding of the elections on January 8 will benefit all the parties that want to take the parliamentary route to change.

The worst affected by postponement is likely to be President Musharraf whose decline and fall is being predicted at home and abroad. If as a result of the January 8 elections a hung parliament is produced with possibilities of a PMLN-PPP coalition headed by a moderate prime minister in the person of Makhdoom Amin Fahim, we will be able to kick-start the system, with a president with less power but still in place. But if they are postponed, then all the negatives accumulated by him since 1999 will be magnified. His best asset, the economic performance, is suddenly under attack, firstly, because it caused food inflation, which was perhaps tolerable — and, secondly, because it caused food shortage, which is not. During the three day rioting, the economy has suffered a Rs 300 billion loss through vandalism.

If he contributes to the postponement of elections, President Musharraf may cause the economy to suffer some more instability. The IOU overhang for oil will become a mountain that the country may not be able to negotiate if another 40 days are allowed to pass without paying for the padded oil bill. The stock market crash that starkly foreshadows his decline and fall will be followed by more destruction of property and disruption of economic activity if he doesn’t intervene in favour of holding the elections on time.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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