M B Naqvi

(The News, August 29, 2007, produced by SACW August 29-30, 2007)


 The situation today is precarious, pregnant with different possibilities. If good sense prevails, Pakistanis can regain their lost sovereignty and a democratic dispensation may be within reach. But equally, selfishness of rulers can lead to dangerous consequences. It all depends.


The Supreme Court (SC) continues to do the country proud by being a court of law, unafraid and upright. A third historic judgment was handed down on Thursday last by simply noting that the Sharif Brothers were Pakistanis and had the fundamental right under Article 15 to return and reside and no one can prevent their re-entry into Pakistan.


General Pervez Musharraf, used to unlimited powers, is threatened by two forces; the Supreme Court and superior judiciary now insist on law being obeyed and Constitution prevailing. But that is superficial. The reality behind the independence of judiciary today is the awareness of common Pakistanis and their support for it. This is a rejection of military-controlled government.


 Doubtless, Musharraf still insists on getting himself re-elected by the current assemblies that are now reaching the end of their mandate. True, he has the votes in them and shall be re-elected ‘President’ till 2012. Thus reinforced, he will hold elections in much the same way as he did in 2002 and deal with the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz Sharif faction) and the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party led by Benazir Bhutto) later depending upon announced results. The question is: who outside the charmed circle of power would accept this?


 Pakistan is facing chaos. Various rebellions and uprisings are threatening the state. The potential of creeping Talibanisation over NWFP (North West frontier Province) and parts of Balochistan are well known. Even Punjab is not immune from it. The power of the six religious parties alliance, MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal) has helped this Talibanisation processes. Behind the MMA’s formation was General Musharraf’s own advice and an ambiguous relationship between the military and the mullahs has been known. The trouble is inherent in the extra austere Islam’s spread that undermines and seeks to displace the old state with its own.


 Musharraf regime is basically a partnership of   the Pakistan Army with America. Americans have ensured that in the last five years over $60 billion have come into Pakistan thanks to the war on terror. The Musharraf-picked economic team is supposed to have performed miracles. Pakistan is projected as either having taken off or being close to it.


 The government has assiduously promoted consumerism by keeping interest rates low and letting banks finance consumption by the middle class—resulting inflation and basic economic facts be damned! The country’s GDP growth rate soared to 8.4 per cent in one year and the average of seven per cent has been maintained during the last four years. This is the near miracle frequently referred to, buttressed by reference to sizeable monetary reserves. If propaganda could make a country take off, Pakistan should have been soaring at a high altitude. The facts remain dismal, however.


 Come 2007. The rebellions flared up in earnest in Frontier, Balochistan and even in Islamabad. The world has now woken up to the Pakistani state itself going the way it had once assisted the Talibanisation processes in Afghanistan and later used in Kashmir. Suspicion is that some elements of the state may still have links with, and sympathy for, Taliban and or other extremists. In recent years this suspicion has progressively grown in America. Although they appear to have no option but to go on backing Musharraf, they can only be searching alternatives. At first they suggested Benazir Bhutto and her PPP were adequately modern, moderate and pragmatic politicians. They wanted to tag them with the Musharraf’s team to enable Pakistan to fight the war on terror as a non-NATO ally of America better.


 Musharraf seemed to have bought this idea at first and did a deal in Abu Dhabi. But he came under other pressures and has lagged behind in implementing the understandings he had given, even if he is not going back  them. He can alter the deal as he goes along and wants to have the last say in ‘managing’ the 2007-08 elections. He may be interpreting the deal narrowly of being first re-elected and holding elections next and then actually doing a deal with whoever emerges winner in the polls.


 In the meantime, the over four-months-lawyers’ agitation has brought about a sea change in ordinarypeople’s opinions, particularly in Punjab. The Supreme Court, once the people’s new temper was on full display, thanks to the media, is now quite a different institution. It is big, bold and upright. Legal fraternity too has thrown up new leaders.


 As Fakhruddin G Ebrahim has said, the SC has given three historic judgments in just over a month. On July 20 it reinstated the Chief Justice of Pakistan after Musharraf’s illegal dismissal of him; it has taken a hard line with the executive regarding the Latin America-like ‘disappearances’ by intelligence agencies; that has had an electric effect on the country; and now on Thursday they allowed the Sharif Brothers to return as and when they want to and forbade the executive from putting any obstacles. Other High Courts and the judges have also become independent and strong.


 One way or another, both the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) top leader Benazir and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif would soon be back in Pakistan. The government is threatening to arrest Sharif, though. Political opinions will thus become more radical than it is now. The legal fraternity has not spoken so far over this re-election. The fact is that, given the public opinion and strong judiciary, the Musharraf regime’s options have rapidly narrowed. His programme of current assemblies re-electing him now looks fanciful. He may not be able to get away with it. There may be no way out except, theoretically, by imposing a tough state of emergency or a brutal martial law.


 But who can do it? If Ayub Khan could not impose a partial martial law in 1969 and Yahya Khan balked, what likelihood is there that Musharraf can take the drastic measure to save his own rule. Others in the regime may be hollow men but they are not dummies. There may be no way to save this discredited regime. Of course, it has an honorable option: Musharraf should realize when and where to stop. He should call a representative conference of political leaders and other eminent persons and tell them: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have come to the end of my tether; I shall now go home and play golf. You have a few days to find a formula for the future of this state. Go ahead.” But can it be all that simple? Not merely that. Besides, Musharraf, a particular general, is not the issue. The main issue is the army-domination of the polity. Who, or how, is going to clean up its Augean stables?

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