You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Arrest this rot, please, if Pakistan is to be saved

Friday, July 11, 2008
Ayaz Amir

The cup of patience spilleth over and there is anger across the land as the people of Pakistan, foolish enough to think they were entering a new era on February 18, contemplate the mess being made by their masters.

No, disguises will not do and we must have recourse to plain words. At the top of the list of masters is Rais Asif Ali Zardari and the bizarre knights of his round table.

Those who knew their history of the 1990s -- the ill-starred decade of democracy which ended with Pervez Musharraf's coup and disastrous dictatorship -- had few illusions about the leadership thrown up by the Feb elections. But they withheld judgment, hoping (against hope) that, smoothened by experience, the rotten apples of the 1990s would have turned into wholesome fruit after all. But they are being proved wrong, faster than anyone could have imagined.

It's not that Zardari's intentions are necessarily bad. It's just that he lacks the capacity to lead Pakistan. He after all is the power behind Yusuf Raza Gilani's increasingly shoddy prime ministerial throne. So the buck stops at his desk, if he has one and if he chooses to sit at it instead of flitting off to Dubai every now and then. At this rate, why not declare Dubai the winter, spring and summer capital of Pakistan?

Benazir Bhutto's tragic assassination was a double tragedy. It deprived the nation of her presence, when the nation needed her presence the most. And it made Zardari leader of the PPP and hence, on the evening of Feb 18, leader of Pakistan.

It is early days to blow the whistle but on current evidence the PPP is unlikely to emerge unscathed from this calamity -- that is, Zardari's assumption of leadership. That the party of Bhutto would, through the vicissitudes of fortune, fall into the lap of a Zardari, not even Macbeth's witches could have predicted. Gen Ziaul Haq, the darkest thing to have ever happened to Pakistan, could not break the PPP. To judge by the dismay spreading in the ranks of the PPP as a result of Zardari's policies -- if the drift and cronyism on display can be dignified by the name of policy -- Zardari might just succeed where Zia failed.

Benazir Bhutto's leadership of the PPP was unchallenged. But with Zardari proving his inadequacy as party leader, and with more and more party figures disenchanted with his way of running things, it is only a matter of time before a war of succession breaks out between Zardari and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's paternal grandchildren -- the offspring of his two sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, both of whom died in tragic circumstances -- to lay claim to Bhutto's political legacy. The noises being made by the estranged Amin Fahim are early warning signs of what may lie ahead.

Trouble in the PPP should be no cause for celebration. For a long time it was the only national political party we had, other political parties being regional groupings or the foster-children of different dictatorships. Then came the PML-N but after many, many years -- that too after Nawaz Sharif, spreading his wings, outgrew his political antecedents as a protégé of the hated Gen Zia. If Pakistani democracy is to survive, these two parties must remain effective and strong.

This is what makes Zardari's fortuitous rise to power so troubling. He may be an operator, and a smart one at that, but his outlook and capacity are both limited. He is the last pilot who should be on deck to steer Pakistan out of the swirling waters in which it is caught.

It used to be said that such-and-such a dictator and Pakistan cannot co-exist. The time has come to rework this cliche. Three or four months into this latest rendezvous with democracy and even born optimists, and I daresay diehard PPP partisans, are coming round to the opinion that the present leadership and Pakistan's well-being are incompatible propositions.

Pakistan seems to be in freefall these days, the rupee's steady fall accurately mirroring the national condition. And there is no hand on the tiller. If in the absence of Zardari and Gilani from the country -- both of whom are all set to break the record previously held by Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz as international frequent flyers -- the most visible presence in the corridors of power is that of friend Rehman Malik, the interior boss, it tells us something of what Pakistan's affairs have come to.

Isn't it time to have some mercy on this sorely-tried nation? The people of Pakistan no longer begrudge Zardari his millions (or, if wags are to be believed, more likely his billions). But a few more months of friend Rehman Malik and other Zardari appointees tinkering with the nation's affairs and there will be nothing left to save.

Beware the consequences of this dangerous drift. The discrediting of democracy is setting the stage for another 'horseback' intervention. When and if it comes we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

The writing on the wall is never fixed; it keeps changing. Before Feb 18 it said that Musharraf and his clowns of the Q League were destined to go. Folly such as that perpetrated by them could not remain unpunished. The current writing on the wall is that the champions of democracy must take heed if the past is not to be repeated. Folly, although of a different kind, is again on the march and again those responsible will not go unpunished.

But we are stuck with Zardari, at least for the time being. And his ideas of patriotism are not such as to persuade him to give the nation a break. Zardari or perdition: that's the choice Pakistan currently has. Makes you both laugh and weep.

The restoration of the pre-Nov 3 judiciary could have set in train a process that could have broken the current logjam and taken the nation forward. But Zardari could have been an early casualty of that restoration. So no marks for guessing why he so detests the very mention of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's name.

The PPP's mounting troubles are benefiting the PML-N. The more the PPP falls in public estimation the more the PML-N gains. But the PML-N is mistaken if it thinks the future is neatly laid out for it. Nothing is certain in Pakistani politics and if there is a break in political continuity no one can predict how it will end or how the future will unfold. If the present political experiment collapses all political forces, including the PML-N, go down with it. So we all have a stake in the present experiment succeeding. But with such masters on deck, it is an increasingly forlorn hope.

The PML-N also needs to improve its performance. Decision-making need not be so slipshod or haphazard. And the party could learn the meaning of inner-party consultation.

All said and done, however, one good thing it has going for it is Shahbaz Sharif's chief ministership in Punjab. The way he puts his shoulder to the wheel it wouldn't be a bad idea if one day he becomes prime minister. Someone like Rana Bhagwandas or, if his being a Hindu comes in the way, Sardar Attaullah Mengal as president of Pakistan -- yes, Sardar Attaullah Mengal whose elevation at a stroke will assuage much of the bitterness of Balochistan; Shahbaz Sharif as prime minister; Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice; and Ashfaq Kayani as army chief. Put this combination together and the clouds part and hope once again comes to rule Pakistan.

This nation was meant for better things. We don't deserve what we are getting. What kind of a leadership is it which goes about shooting itself in the foot over our nuclear programme? Don't Musharraf and whiz-kids like Lt-Gen Kidwai realize that to accuse an individual -- in this case, Dr A Q Khan -- of proliferation amounts to indicting the entire national security apparatus, beginning with the army command, on the same charge?

A centrifuge is not a ballpoint pen that you can put in your pocket and take around with you. Much as we would like to believe it, the rest of the world is not made up of idiots who would be taken in by our self-serving narratives. To say that Dr Khan was instrumental in smuggling centrifuges to North Korea amounts to saying that the army command, which has always been in charge of nuclear security, was also involved in the same enterprise. So why don't we learn to shut up on this issue?

And Kidwai is head of the grandiloquently-named Strategic Planning Division. If this is anyone's idea of strategic planning, what would strategic chaos look like?


No comments: