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Idealism versus Pragmatism

In matters of State objective idealism always gives way to rank pragmatism. Gen Pervez Musharraf articulated his seven-point agenda within days of taking power, the vision was that of an idealist. In preparing the nation for real democracy, his solution is that of a pragmatist. And by the way there is no duality of personality here, over the past 38 years one has seen it to be in consonance with his character. Between the idealism the President embodies and the pragmatism he has adopted, the fault-line is blurred by the doctrine of necessity. In the hard world of realities and given the adverse circumstances, pragmatism is perhaps the only course that any leader of a beleaguered nation, such as ours could have adopted, not only for the sake of the nation, but being inexorably linked with the reforms he has enacted, for his own continuity. The starkest example was his swift decision in Sep 11, 2001 to abandon decades plus of foreign policy alignment to seek security for the State in a region made suddenly untenable for countries like Pakistan to continue civilized existence. Musharraf’s decision was certainly not popular, it was hugely unpopular among the masses, but in the given environment it was correct, Our heart may have been with the Taliban but it was neither logical nor right, we stepped at just the right time away from an extremism to which our masses have never subscribed to.

The man in the street now acknowledges that Musharraf took a calculated risk, at the cost of his personal popularity he succeeded in turning the country’s fate on its head, to the lasting frustration of our predatory neighbour. Post Sep 11, India’s cup of anticipation brimmed over at the prospect of Pakistan being declared “a terrorist Sate”, that it did not happen was because pragmatism overcame our idealistic tendencies and the President did not hang around “to debate a point to death”, to quote Richard Nixon from his book, “Leaders”. One should not get carried away in blaming Musharraf for being more of a pragmatist than his stated penchant for idealism. No country can become a Utopia, Pakistan can never be the land of milk and honey of our dreams. Being practical about our aspirations, one should settle for the milk and forget the honey, or at least be happy if a few tablespoonfuls come our way.

The forthcoming Oct 10 elections are an example of concentrated pragmatism, both at its best and its worst. Because of the setback created by the media-cum-politician created Referendum fiasco, Musharraf carried out a masterly tactical withdrawal quite gracefully, abandoning a majority of the amendments to the Constitution while retaining only the handful that were vital for the sake of good governance. His was not the full-scale retreat our politicians would have us believe, he kept his strategic aim in view, not to allow the results of the Oct 10 elections dissolve into a democracy of the kind he had overthrown three years ago. All the dissidents among the politicians are electioneering on Musharraf’s terms and conditions, including by remote control those disqualified. Their wholehearted participation tacitly acknowledges the President’s legality of office, not only to conduct the elections, but his continuity in office thereafter.

The President may claim otherwise, I must respectfully disagree with his tongue-in-cheek assertion that Tariq Aziz and Co have not been carrying out blatant manipulation in the creation of a King’s Party. For the record, one would not like to see either of our ex-PMs hold office ever again but would want him to continue as President, if not as COAS. Given the state of the elections where candidates have been changing parties, alliances, seat adjustments and even constituencies with both mind-boggling frequency and ease, one must reluctantly agree with Tariq & Co that the state of the State is too important to be left to such political chameleons. This virtual game of permutations and connotations has raked up enough dust to disfigure democracy in the electoral scene. The political animals being susceptible creatures, the administration’s stalwarts may be right technically, if not morally when measured to democracy’s standards in the making of the King’s Party, which as everyone (and his uncle knows) is PML(Q), headed by that figurehead of all figureheads, Mian Azhar. What one must acknowledge as positively brilliant is the creation of the “Strategic Reserves”, very much as any good Commanding Officer will cater for his specialists positions, i.e. drivers, signallers, mortar platoon personnel, field engineers, etc. These Reserves are in the form of a virtual “who’s who”, all “coincidentally” given the symbol of “Crescent” as independent candidates. Now that I call calculated pragmatism.

Concrete details are not yet available about the likely winners, some contests are too close to call (wait for the PATHFINDER POLL on Oct 9). The likely scenario post Oct 10 seems to be PML(Q) (the clear winner in Punjab) as the major partner in a Coalition with regional parties such as MQM (Sindh), ANP (NWFP), the Baloch nationalist parties (Balochistan) and the National Alliance led by the Millat Party. This Coalition will be topped up by about 15-18 “Crescent” (independent) candidates and the FATA crowd. Most of the reserved seats for women will go to the Coalition bloc. The opposition parties, for the moment, will be PPP-P, PML (N) and MMA, also supported by the Tehrik-I-Insaaf’s couple of seats, and other smaller parties. The ruling Coalition may still be short of a two-thirds majority. The Jat hopeful, Mian Azhar, will win his tough race but at least two PM-hopefuls, Illahi Bakhsh Soomro and Farooq Khan Leghari are fighting for their political lives in electoral races in which they have an edge but are too close to call. What will happen when the ultimate pragmatist, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, arrives after the election? Having cut the PML (N) down to size, would the powers-that-be allow PML to merge under a “controlled” Shahbaz?

Tariq Aziz & Co’s pragmatism in “setting a thief to catch a thief” goes too far in propping up the likes of Gujrat Chaudhries, their bank loans write-off should have made them non-starters. In a democracy one has to put up a democratic animal to oppose another. For the past 9 months Ms Benazir has been openly bad-mouthing the country, saying what her detractors have been accusing her off, ready to sacrifice Pakistan’s independent sovereignty so as to come to power with external help. Unfortunately our people go for charisma rather than substance, to the detriment of the State. While PPP would be well short of a majority, one has to cater for nuisance value initiating chaos and anarchy. The alternate is to declare martial law and deal with the situation, but can this be a solution in this world environment? Idealism thus falters at the altar of necessity (and convenience). A return to democracy is necessary, and democracy being far better than military rule, even a contrived democracy where the Party may be acceptable but not its corrupt leader.

Mr. Imran Khan is in the wrong profession, and perhaps in the wrong country. This idealist-at-large has locked up the youth vote, will reach double digits percentage of votes cast in almost every constituency of the country, but in the “first-past-the-post” system he will be lucky to walk away with 2-3 NA seats. The other idealist, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, was pragmatic enough to realize that the religious parties with similar double-digit percentages would go nowhere as in previous elections. The very pragmatic creation of MMA increases the religious party tally to about 24-25 NA seats. With seat adjustments between TI and MMA, this could have gone from 2-3 seats for TI to 20-25 seats and MMA upto 40 but this did not happen, thus a vast majority of those who vote this time (almost 30%) will not be fully represented in Parliament (only 25 seats out of 300, about 6%).

In the pursuit of pragmatism one must not forget one’s ideals altogether, how far from taking the next rung to being crooked and corrupt? The President, unlike one close aide and confidante, has come out clean from the last three years and that is no mean achievement given his liberal disposition. He has to take heed about continuing to make blatant pragmatic decisions or there will be a judgement call by posterity. The President must look to his place in history and not sully it by carrying pragmatism too far. People will stomach both a higher dose of pragmatism and the compromises thereof with idealism but their patience may well be tested at the shoving of pragmatism, at the cost of all the ideals dear to them, down their throats.


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