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Archive for May, 1994

Has the 60-day Clock Started Ticking?

The Supreme Court decision on May 26 last year signalled the beginning of the end of the “Empire”. It restored Mian Nawaz Sharif as PM of the Federation and seemed to signal to an excited population that for all practical purposes the machinations of backroom politics (selections) would give way in the future to a genuine representation (elections) of the people at the helm of national affairs. By this token both major political parties would seem to benefit, they had youthful leaders who aroused universal adulation, this was reflected in the near equal October 1993 vote. However, the Empire was not yet quite finished and even while conducting a deliberate retreat, it manoeuvred new alliances (1) ensuring that Mian Nawaz Sharif would not acquire the power that democracy bestows on the elected and (2) the Empire helped Ms Benazir to come to power even though the vote was too close to call and in that process acquired enough IUOs from her to make the going tough whenever she was faced with a political crunch. Because the powers-that-be had contrived to confine his Federal authority to the perimeters of Islamabad and to avoid being frustrated in exercising his Constitutional parameters, which would invoke civil war conditions, Mian Nawaz Sharif quit on July 18, 1993. CMs Mir Afzal Khan (in NWFP), Wattoo (in Punjab), Magsi (in Balochistan) and Muzaffar Shah (in Sindh) were in open defiance of Federal rule. Less than a year later, it would be an understatement to state that the PPP Government in NWFP is shaky at best, Wattoo in Punjab takes advice from everybody but does not listen to anybody, the Government in Sindh is in a state of paralysis because of the PPP-MQM rural-urban divide and Magsi in Balochistan remains very much an independent soul. For Constitutional purists, the Provincial “Autonomy” being presently exercised may not be a bad thing by itself, for a nation increasingly at odds internally on any number of issues, the Centre cannot afford to lose its pre-eminence, given the example of fragmentation of unions along ethnic lines as seen to great detriment in Eastern Europe and former USSR.


Character and Leadership

One of the lasting impressions of the 20th century was former President De Klerk conceding victory of Nelson Mandela’s ANC when barely 50% of the votes had been counted in the South African elections. While the ANC victory was a foregone conclusion, the only doubt being whether they would manage a two-thirds majority, the grace with which De Klerk accepted defeat was a great moment for this world, a peaceful breaking off the strangulating chains of Apartheid that had shackled South Africa’s black majority for 300 years. This moment of defeat brought into focus the character qualities of this outstanding leader, an occasion he thus managed to turn into a victory of sorts. An amazing period culminated yesterday with the formal inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first Black President. In victory, Nelson Mandela was not to be out done by De Klerk, he was magnanimous, expressing deep satisfaction that he was privileged to work with such a great leader as De Klerk and there could never be any finality in the negotiation of terms with friends.


For Whom the Bell Tolls!

A major part of the city of Karachi has been paralysed over the past three days due to disturbances that started with the police firing last Friday on unarmed demonstrators proceeding to the Sindh Chief Minister’s House to court arrest. Independent observers have confirmed that the police action was rather hasty however they deserve some credit for not going berserk under grave provocation that took place later. Waiting on cue and not to be outdone, MQM militants in strength came out of the woodworks after spending two years in the cold almost to the day and took on the civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Since civil disturbances having political overtones are clearly outside the ambit of the mandate of Operation Clean-Up, the Army very wisely stayed out of the fray leaving peace enforcement to the police and the para-military Rangers.

Karachi has been a city waiting to explode for some time. What we are seeing is only the opening sequence of what seems to be a programmed escalation. Even in the best of times, the socio-economic problems of this urban metropolis are so acute that it needs crisis management. With vast areas of the city in the grip of civil strife, this could easily turn into disaster management. The present fracas is a natural culmination of political neglect whatever the government-controlled media may say and any attempt to paper over a temporary truce will fail unless compromises are made by either side. The MQM must clearly recognize that the PPP is the majority party in the Province of Sindh and while the MQM does represent the urban majority, in the overall context of democracy, it is in minority in the Sindh Province. The PPP has full right to form the Provincial Government and to rule, with or without the MQM, but for the PPP it is important to come to terms with the MQM majority in the urban areas. While it can govern in theory without the MQM, in actual practice it cannot rule the Province without the association and/or cooperation of the urban majority party. As we have seen in the past three days, militancy with all its evils is impatiently waiting to take over in the wings. As yet death may not be stalking the streets in abandon but with loss of civilian control in a state of confrontation and chaos, innocent victims may increase manifold in the resultant crossfire. At the moment, large areas are without electricity and water, food and essential items are in short supply, this is a situation tailor-made for criminals to take over from political militants and exploit the situation into a state of anarchy. As it is by setting up ambushes off the main roads in by-lanes and side roads, a classic trap of urban guerilla warfare had been set. This was avoided by the LEAs simply because they wisely did not venture to enforce their authority off the main streets.


The Morality of Floor Crossing

The fundamental unit of any democracy is the individual voter. In voting for any candidate, the primary concern of the literate voter is usually the message the candidate is promising the electorate followed by the personality of the candidate. In countries where ignorance has a preponderance over literacy, it is usually the other way around giving truth to the GK Chesterton saying, “Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly uneducated”. Populist leaders on the pattern of late Z.A. Bhutto usually manage to make a useful mix of their personalities and their message as combined contributory factors for their electability. Bhutto’s campaign slogan, “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” was as much the theme song of his pledges as was the force of his personality. In theory, therefore, the individual candidate should be voted on the strength of his own attributes in preference to Party considerations, this is confirmed by the evidence of the voting pattern where candidates in various constituencies have to face voters having differing preferences. In contrast to preference due to his (or her) personality, in third world countries voters prefer a straight Party line based on their inclination towards a Party leader (and promises made). In the case of independents, they are voted in on individual preferences rather than any ideological Party line and as such there is no moralizing about the pattern of their vote which would be based on their personal inclination. To give one example of a Party having sway over individual personalities, the MQM swept the elections in the urban areas of Sindh in 1988 on a slate of virtually faceless candidates but both the PPP and PML relied on a combination of the strength of the individual candidates as much as voter preference for their respective Parties, the Party remaining synonymous with Ms Benazir’s leadership in the case of PPP. In 1988, 1990 and in 1993, Ms Benazir’s political charisma contributed to the individual’s victory, particularly in Sindh. The same phenomenon became true of Mian Nawaz Sharif in 1993.