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The Road Ahead

As we approach election year 2007 (or will it be early 2008), the Musharraf regime has to decide very soon what political garb it has to cast itself in to fight the elections successfully.  While there is no meltdown of the government, if what we read in the media and hear at private gatherings from neutral observers is true than in the run-up to general elections we are headed for political in-fighting within the government coalition, with every partner holding out to get the best possible deal for themselves.  That is to be expected, with each constituent utilising this opportunity for crying for more seats than its share, before deciding upon the consensus candidate for each National and Provincial Assembly seat, mostly at the last minute.  PML (Q) is a heterogeneous outfit that will be beset from within to an extent, particularly in the Seraiki belt, it will still be the majority party in Punjab, based namely on the strength of individual candidates rather than party affiliation. However both PPP and PML(N) will also do well in their strongholds. In Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. PML(Q) is almost non-existent without official manipulation We are in for an era of backroom politics, may not be exactly smoke-filled and whisky–laden but there will be a potent power-play nevertheless.

At the helm of affairs we have a soldier-turned politician as the Head of State and a banker-turned politician as the PM, both “technocrats” are miles away from being the politicians of the kind that is needed for grass-roots politics, particularly pre and post elections.  For experience about street-level politics they should spend one day in the life (and lounge) of Ch Shujaat Hussain in his dealings with friend and foe alike without the trappings of President and/or a PM.  In the circumstances President General Pervez Musharraf has three stark choices of the election route to follow, with a number of available options with each choice.

The first option Pervez Musharraf has is to take off his uniform and hold what goes for free and fair elections in the third world, allowing all political leaders, including Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, taking part.   This could lead to a number of dangerous uncertainties, the first risk being to the person of Pervez Musharraf, even though he is quite comfortable with taking (and sustaining) calculated risks.  These range from losing the authority of the COAS chair and opening himself up a in legal Pandora’s box  as well as depend upon his constituency that, once he leaves uniform, could be “Jahangir Karimat-ized”, i.e. putting the country into a state of limbo by being reluctant to take any choice whatsoever. He should not put to test the conscience of the hand-picked officers he has put (and will put) in the military hierarchy.  With our external and internal situation tottering on a fine-edge, and given the fact that it has taken us years to reach some economic and geo-political stability, will we turn to political morality and put the country’s existence at stake? The Soviet Union chose “Glasnost” over “Perestroika” and suffered the consequences of disintegration, if oil and gas had not been discovered in abundance, Russia would today be an international basket case.

The second option is for the President not to leave the COAS post and to get elected by the present Assemblies, as is being bandied about by all and a sundry, most recently the Punjab CM who has a vested interest in the President continuing in place.   This is a situation fraught with legal tangles of the constitutional-kind, as well as street agitation, which may or may not be successful. It could just be an international embarrassment.  Sharifuddin Pirzada should be able to circumvent  the   process  in  the  manner   he  has    assiduously managed for the last few decades for many of our rulers.  The present composition of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and its welcome trend towards positive judicial activism may encourage Musharraf’s recalcitrants that the Court will go by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of “the doctrine of necessity” which has been the hallmark of past decisions of this kind.  One cannot pre-empt the opinion of the Honourable Justices of the Supreme Court but irrespective of Sharifuddin Pirzada’s input, as citizens of Pakistan they should be concerned with its continued well-being and prosperity as any other citizen, will they risk upsetting the fine-line between what is right theoretically and what is right pragmatically for the country. Faced such a Hobson’s choice in 1970 we went down the road to disaster, even though in hind-sight the relationship between the two wings of pre–1971 Pakistan is far better now as two independent sovereign nations.  The “Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy” (ARD) parties may not accept election of the President while in uniform, if they subsequently take part in the General Elections it becomes a fait accompli. If things will depend upon brute two-thirds majority in the Assemblies.

The third option is for Pervez Musharraf to leave the COAS post but retain the uniform as President and Supreme Commander. The only procedural changes required will be that the Supreme Commander will head the Promotion Board for general officers (i.e. to two-star rank and above) for all three Services and confirm the promotions to one-star rank.  The Budget office for all three Services should be under the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJSC), with the Armed Forces operationally adjusted in four Commands reporting directly to the Supreme Commander’s office.

The ARD in its recent meeting in London has called for the President and Prime Minister to resign by July 31, 2006 or to face impeachment or a vote of no confidence respectively.  They link this demand to the recent Supreme Court (SC) judgment with respect to Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), what one has to do with the other escapes even the wildest imagination.  Mian Nawaz Sharif added for good measure that since ARD does not have the votes in the present Assemblies they do not expect either measure to succeed. So why attempt to put the streets on fire? Rather incongruous all around and only a symbolic example of the extraordinary logic that our politicians bring to their concept of democracy.  Why not struggle for tangible political objectives instead of being like Don Quixote in trying to slay windmills, taking them to be dragons?

The President (and his supporters) and those in the Opposition have to learn to co-exist in the national interest.  At least 70% of those in PML (Q) would get elected in an free and fair elections, this still makes for a formidable bloc, the opposition cannot sweep this fact under the carpet.  Except for being on one platform Pervez Musharraf’s ouster, the Opposition is a house badly divided of great concern is there naivety in geo-politics.  A comprehensive arrangement could see a broad understanding of the President functioning on Supreme Commander, with Defence Ministry, ISI and NAB reporting to him.  A minor constitutional amendment may be required to put them directly under the President.

The broad understanding would have Pervez Musharraf leave the COAS post and be re-elected by the new Assemblies.  The elections for the new Assemblies will be held under in Caretaker Regime, with 90 days of such appointment.  Whatever wins the elections will form the Government or Coalitions, both at the Federal and Provincial lands, depending upon the outcome.  While the President gives the confidence in our geo-political and economic  status,  the  onus of day-to-day governance falls on the elected representatives.  Continuity will be maintained and democracy as desired by the political parties will be restored in Pakistan. It will then be up to our politicians to practice in office what they loudly preach when not in office and forget as soon as they obtain power.

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