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Divided, We Shall Fall

The germs of the whole range of present day crisis were really laid about 500 days ago with the failure of Ms Benazir’s first Long March in November 1992, the facts thereafter being so well-known that it serves useful purpose in referring to the salient features only. That was the symbolic high watermark from where we have been reduced to the dire straits that we find ourselves today. It would be macabre humour to put it down to poetic justice that Ms Benazir’s government has to face the present travails affecting the country in the sense that “those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind”. However, Nawaz Sharif’s government must also take its share of blame, having dispersed the Long Marchers Mian Nawaz Sharif did not take heed of the warning signals and made only half-hearted moves for rapprochement with the then Opposition. As this scribe wrote in THE NATION in November 1992, he chose to become like “the wind which cannot read”. While it is true that one must negotiate from a position of strength, once our leaders feel omnipotent their penchant is to shun negotiations. Ms Benazir does not seem to have learnt this lesson. How wise were Rome’s leaders who would place a man at Caesar’s shoulders even while he was triumphantly basking in the accolades of a hero-worshipping crowd, to repeatedly intone, “Remember, thou art mortal”!

On the eve of our 38th Republic Day, most of the wide range of problems we are facing have come to a head in reaching crisis proportions. The foundations of our economic woes were laid by the artificial limbo created by GIK to perpetuate his own rule, he held the nation hostage to his own ambitions. Till November 1992, Pakistan was moving pell mell towards economic emancipation, the flood devastation of Sept-Oct 92 and certain enthusiastic but questionable schemes of the Mian Nawaz Sharif Regime notwithstanding. The death of then COAS, Gen Asif Nawaz, was the first precursor of things to come. In short, by April 1993, the economic gains of the past two years had been brought to a jarring halt. The worsening political climate dampened, the boom climate necessary to attract the continued inflow of the massive input of foreign investment that would keep the economic locomotive humming. There was a virtual hiatus till the Moeen Qureshi Caretaker Administration took over but the Caretaker Government was hamstrung by the limited period of their reign and their non-elected status. The seeds of their non-success, if not failure lay in the public perception that their rule was temporary. Even then, one must commend Moeen Qureshi for a number of initiatives, marred only by his Administration’s studied tilt for the PPP in an election which was to have been played on neutral ground. In an holier-than-thou stance, then acting President Wasim Sajjad did nothing to ensure that the playing field remained even for his party. However, this underdog status suited Mian Nawaz Sharif politically, who by the end of the election campaign had become the first political person in more than two decades to not only stem the PPP floodwaters but give the populace of Pakistan the first genuine political alternative to the Bhuttos, late father, daughter and (now) Prodigal Son.

As much as Mian Nawaz Sharif will always be held to be the real father of Pakistan’s economic liberalisation, Ms Benazir has always been considered to be our best foreign policy exponent, not only because of the depth of her knowledge but her undeniable charisma with the leaders and masses of this world. Having taken over a somewhat stabilized economy from Moeen Qureshi, Ms Benazir was poised to use her charm to influence foreign investment in droves into Pakistan as well as solve Pakistan’s regional and international problems. Here reality caught up with the fantasy world and such events did not come to pass. While international skepticism about the law and order environment in Pakistan is the primary reason for continued lack of investment, these have been complicated by the vagaries of nature. The shortage of rains in the Barani areas has affected crop production to the extent that a mild famine in certain areas may be a distinct possibility. The pest attack on cotton has been a great setback to this country since 60% of our economy is directly or indirectly downstream to this commodity. However, mother nature’s most telling blow because of the paucity of rain is the imminent loadshedding of horrendous proportions as the water level in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs goes below the low level danger mark and we are faced with severe energy shortage. This will force-multiply our economic woes down the line including massive unemployment, a key force-multiplier for anarchy. To compound our economic worries we are faced with a foreign policy crisis in Ms Benazir’s strongest suit, foreign policy. Nobody can deny the PM’s Superstar status with the foreign media, she remains the most articulate and powerful exponent of Pakistan’s case. While one cannot go so far as to totally agree with PML(N) when it lays out Ms Benazir’s “seven sins” in foreign policy, the fact of the matter is that the Geneva debacle was the culmination of a series of damaging faux pas. Some friends in the region like Iran, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, seem to have deserted us, albeit temporarily. Our love-fest with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics is on hold but worst of all, the US has not gone back to its status of the Afghan period high when we were the linchpin of their foreign policy in the region. The elusive F-16s have remained in the Mojave Desert while we are being “encouraged” to sign as a “one-time” exception a package deal that may get impossible “rider clauses” imposed on it by US Congress, i.e. if it passes its portals at all. In all the hoopla about the handful of air superiority F-16s we seem to have forgotten India’s ballistic missile potential that lays all our towns and cities within devastation’s reach while providing a battlefield force-multiplier extraordinary. In the circumstances, any package deal has to take into consideration the re-modernisation of the Pakistan’s Armed Forces to give it the qualitative edge over India’s vast numbers and equipment as well as incorporate a genuine nuclear umbrella in case of India’s transgress. Given the fact that the US public is extremely sensitive to “body counts” of its own soldiery, such a “protection” will always remain suspect while closing down many options for us. In the end we remain the only sure guarantors of our freedom provided we can rely on the logistics support given by our friends in the region.

Politically, NWFP remains a confused enigma while the Punjab and Balochistan Provinces are ruled neither by PML(N) or PPP. Unfortunately the PM’s bastion of strength in Sindh has become a volatile powder keg of unimaginable proportion. The 1993 elections had clearly divided Sindh along PPP rural-MQM urban lines, it was imperative that as the decided majority PPP took the initiative in bringing MQM in from the cold. However, internal party politics kept the one man in the PPP capable of achieving this, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, from the CM’s chair. Thereafter a combination of bad faith and poor judgement has almost divided Sindh permanently, a situation tailor-made for anarchy. The worst part is that the Indian game plan of pitting the Army against the Mohajirs in bloody confrontation seems to be working. There is motivation to the present madness, it would amount to dereliction of responsibility not to face this reality. Despite any provocation, the Army must not fall into the trap of getting involved in counter-urban guerilla warfare. This would make for a Khalistan situation in reverse, one doubts Narasimha Rao and/or successors would view us through the same eyes as Ms Benazir Bhutto did in helping India to solve its Sikh problem.
The whole object of the election exercise in 1993 was to end the polarisation that was affecting society. However, immediate elections has been counter-productive, a longer cooling-off period was necessary, as much as between 18-24 months. Instead of bringing us together, democracy has divided us in such an equal manner that we are now on the brink of economic and political apocalypse. This is more so because of the sorry quality of eminently purchasable legislators that have re-appeared in the Assemblies. Almost all the issues have taken on crisis proportions. Beset economically, in deep problem socially and poles apart politically, we are now seeing a dwindling list of countries in close proximity to us whom we can truly rely on. Some of it can be traced to the PPP’s own lack of judgement, they are their own worst enemies. While all this may give temporary satisfaction to the Opposition, the situation is developing whereby despite its qualms the Army may be pushed into a more active “political” role, albeit behind a democratic facade of the Moeen Qureshi-type. In the geo-political sense it could be disastrous as that may give India the formal pretext for moving into Sindh at the “call” of “democratic forces”. Hard put to contain internal dissent, the Armed Forces will be distracted from their primary mission, the defence of the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan from external danger.

Our leaders must wake up to the reality that we are only five miles from midnight. Both Ms Benazir and Mian Nawaz Sharif will have to make sacrifices for the sake of the country, in the PM’s case it may have to be a more personal one. If both these leaders should wake up in the morning and sincerely ask themselves as to where this country is heading, we may well find a solution in the answers. If they really love the country above their own selves and material interests, they could step away from the respective egos and material interests while turning this country around from the one-way headlong rush into quicksand. If this beloved country ceases to exist, some people may well find shelter elsewhere as refugees, what about those millions who will have to remain without freedom? Dialogue, immediate and unconditional, is the need of the hour, otherwise, divided we shall certainly fall.

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