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Sindh’s Centrifugal Forces

Within six weeks of re-entry into the body politic of the nation, democracy is performing in line with the general claim made by its detractors that most politicians of the third world put self-interest over good governance as their primary objective. With the PML (Q) nominee for PM Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali barely passing muster with a heterogeneous mix of votes (including that of 10 “patriots” from PPP-P), the battle shifted to the Provinces. With the PML (Q) and MMA having quite a majority respectively, the governance of Punjab and NWFP was never in doubt. The situation in Balochistan and Sindh Provinces is another story! MMA may have got the immediate edge in Balochistan by winning over the nationalist parties but the vital ground of Sindh (and with it the prize catch of the cash-rich port city of Karachi) has become a veritable quagmire. No party having a clear majority, it was either the PPP-P or the MQM that could lead a possible coalition of smaller parties or they could join together in a Provincial coalition opposed to the Centre. The smaller parties with the “swing vote” had different ideas, they thought it was their prerogative to name the Chief Minister. On that premise all possible permutations and combinations floundered and the Governor postponed the Sindh Assembly “Oath-Taking” Session indefinitely till matters got sorted out as to who had the clear mandate to govern. The possible options are mind-boggling enough to call into question the core character of the political parties in the fray, do they in fact have an ideology or are their ambitions confined only to coming to power by any means, fair and foul?

Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been living in the heady bliss that he was Ms Benazir’s first (and only) choice to be PM. That was conveyed not only directly after the elections but was repeated ad nauseam by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. Imagine the good Maulana’s seething anger when he discovered what everyone and his uncle already knew, she was only using him as a willing pawn to blackmail the military regime. Hell hath no greater fury than a Maulana scorned by a woman (and a politician at that), the PPP-P may well live to repent the games Mohtrama has been playing with the JUI (F) Chief’s emotions, more importantly, with his aspirations. Her scathing denunciation of MMA, a far cry removed from her stance availing at the end of October when the PPP-P and MMA were close to forging a coalition, was very ill-received by the MMA leaders. Keeping intact her normal posture of “doublespeak” for different audiences, Ms Benazir now feigns that she was always against the “fundamentalists”. The hard fact remains she was always ready to bed them politically as long as she got what she wanted, mainly that NAB charges against her husband and herself dropped. Since the military regime called her bluff (and it is believed Uncle Sam also showed annoyance over her evolving coalition plans), she has scrambled from one political option to another in trying to hold the Federal Regime hostage to her designs. Once Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was past the first post, PPP-P fell back on trying to hold their Sindh bastion.

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The Fog of Democracy

Meeting less than a fortnight after the completion of the electoral process on Nov 2, the members of the National Assembly (NA), duly sworn in by the outgoing Speaker, Elahi Bakhsh Soomro, will vote to elect the NA Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. These elections will provide the outlines of the democratic government that will emerge from the “fog of democracy” prevailing since Oct 11 in the country. While the military government of three years will cease to exist, the new government will consist mainly of those whom the military regime removed on Oct 12, 1999 but who nevertheless during the election campaign publicly supported the rather benevolent three-year militarily rule. The PML (Q)-led Grand National Alliance (GNA) commands enough of a democratic bloc (sans the two other major parties, PPP-P and MMA) to ensure that the man who emerged as the nation’s leader by default as a result of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s mid-autumn madness, General Pervez Musharraf, will continue as President. Before administering the oath of office to the PM-elect, most probably Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the President will be administered oath of office by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan. With the swearing-in of the PM, the much-maligned 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, duly abridged, will stand restored.

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Trading Dark Horses

The process of the General Elections of Oct 12, 2002 was completed by Saturday Nov 2. Due to meet on Friday Nov 8 the National Assembly (NA) was postponed for a week at the request of some political parties to give them some time to shore up their coalition arrangements. A proposed alliance led by PPP-P and MMA is pitted almost equally against the grouping led by PML (Q). With the bogey of “hung Parliament” hanging in the air, one doubts whether a stable government could be formed in the Centre. Both the PPP-P (which privately had called for a delay) and the MMA immediately condemned the postponement, labeling it as a machination of the incumbent military government trying to contrive a PML (Q)-led government coalition.

Who are the main players in the power game? PML (Q)’s Ch Shujaat Hussain with the largest number of MNAs must be counted as a major player, followed closely by PPP-P’s self-exiled leader Ms Benazir Bhutto (and her incarcerated spouse Mr Asif Zardari). One must not forget Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Jamaat-e-Islami chief who is the chief architect/planner of MMA’s strong showing, MQM’s self-exiled Altaf Hussain in London or the Jeddah-based exiled brothers Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif of PML (N). The name of the game is acquisition of power, somehow! What is of consequence is that all the political parties are talking to each other i.e. except for PML (Q) and PML (N), an anomaly that needs to be corrected. And who are the contenders for the prized post of PM? The horses in contention are Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of PML (Q), Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPP-P and MMA’s Maulana Fazlur Rahman. While PML (Q)’s Khurshid Kasuri and Humayun Akhtar cannot be ruled out as possible choices, compromise candidates can be Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao of PPP (S) or Hamid Nasir Chatha of PML (J). In this world of horse-trading, is there a dark horse somewhere?

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Is There Smoke Yet?

As much as the Catholic faithful flock to the Vatican to see smoke appearing from the chimney signifying that the closetted college of cardinals had finally agreed upon the new Pope, the people of Pakistan have been anxiously looking at the skies over Islamabad for a sign that our new political messiah may have been chosen. Since our version of the College of Cardinals is the periodical Corps Commander’s Conference, should the people be looking at Rawalpindi skies? The last time smoke appeared over GHQ it was one of the stationery stores catching fire. With Ramazan less than a week away, the appearance of the PM could be subject to the disappearance of the moon. Since late night on Oct 10, the nation has been waiting anxiously for a PM, they might as well be waiting for Godot. The only person at the moment nominated as PM-to-be by any political grouping, Maulana Fazlur Rahman (by MMA), is not likely by any long shot to be PM, by the time the Nov 1 date mandated for transferring power has come around, we have just about completed the elections to the women’s reserved seats. With National Assembly now scheduled to meet on Nov 6, transfer of power is to be completed by Nov 14. The schedule given is the best time and space adjustment in the circumstances, in contrast the Brazilian President-elect Lula will have to wait two months till Jan 1, 2003 for his inauguration.

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War Without End Begins

The wonders of modern warfare will never cease! Three cities were targeted in US air attacks against Afghanistan Sunday night, most of the damage took place in Pakistan. Where the bombs destroyed is still generally unknown but Quetta in Pakistan was worst hit by violence, the mob made up of quite a few Afghan refugees as well as religious party activists. Two cinema halls (showing US movies), several banks, a police station and assorted vehicles, etc were torched by demonstrators protesting the US attack and Pakistan’s tacit support of it. Other cities saw roads blocked, buildings attacked and vehicles damaged, stoning and burning of tires and effigies, by small bands of youthful protestors, mostly in their teens. Protests were expected and were fairly widespread throughout the country, were negligible relative to South Asia’s normal standards. Overall (1) they rioted in small groups and (2) religious activists were not joined in by the other parties. The administration did well in allowing them to let off steam in a controlled fashion. An exchange of fire between our Frontier Corps (FC) troops and Taliban guards took place when some enthusiastic refugees tried to break into banks in a border town. What gives reason for concern was an armed 1000 plus mob (mainly Afghans supported by Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI) attack on vehicles, some commercial, on the road leading to Chaman. Given the purity of their noble purpose, what is driving these religious zealots to such crass commercial motives as looting banks and commercial vehicles? The TV clip of the Afghan protestor in Quetta shouting on prime-time CNN, “we will first destroy Pakistan, and then America”, should be re-run again on Pakistan TV to show our public how grateful the Afghans are for the help and support by Pakistan over the years.

With very little to write about, journalists from all over the world became unduly excited by the sporadic brickbats being thrown at the government. Rumours of a military coup swept through Pakistan on Wednesday, sparked by a routine fire in a storeroom in GHQ, Rawalpindi and the round of posting/promotions of Lt Gens necessitated because of the vacancies created by Usmani and Mahmood’s suppression and retirement, and Musharraf’s giving up of the Chairman JCSC post. Well, the Pakistan Army is fairly monolithic and stands together, very firm and united behind their Chief. Some facts are blatantly misrepresented, the news item that a major English newspaper carried about Lt Gen Mahmood was outrageous. I have never liked Mahmood personally but he is a fine, upright professional. “Aabpara” happens to be Islamabad’s Hyde Park, a small crowd there is hardly of consequence, as at Regal Chowks in Lahore and Karachi, etc. The protests may still be miniscule but the anger is very much there, too widespread to simply ignore. Evidence can always be manufactured, and in power games between nations usually is, but Bin Laden vowing to make “more” suicide bombings against the US helped the western case by giving due credibility to their cause. That “smoking gun” will turn off a great many Osama sympathisers. As the bitter truth sinks in that their “hero” has tacitly (if not directly) acknowledged the killing of innocent civilians drawn from almost 80 countries, there will be reaction among the faithful. Every religious party in Pakistan has condemned the Sept 11 atrocity, incidentally so has the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Qatar, is Osama in step with them? Osama bin Laden was once a “freedom fighter”, he is now a terrorist, pure and simple, caring two hoots whom he targets as long as it fulfils his convoluted logic, he is simply using Islam to camouflage his perverted ideology. If our Ulema have the courage (and the character) they should face the truth, Osama is turning our religion into a violent travesty of what it really is, a peaceful one which forbids violence and which abhors killing. If our intelligentsia does not act now, different sects and factions within Islam could be further polarized, already a divide is taking place between haves and have-nots, this could lead to a full scale conflagration. It will certainly create more terrorists, some having access to weapons of mass destruction.

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The Wind Cannot Read

Two momentous events concerning the media and Press freedom have recently taken place in Pakistan. During “the night of the Long Knives”, the PM Ms Benazir Bhutto, replaced the whole team of her media-handlers, from the Secretary Information, Hussain Haqqani, downwards, the only escapee being friend Farhat Ullah Babar, the PM’s loyal Press Secretary. Farhat is such a mild and honest soul that the PM’s hand may have been stayed by some angel.

Congratulations are in order to former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif because the incumbent PM has brought back into information power almost the whole team who had made her life miserable successfully during his tenure as PM. The PM kept one surprise choice up her sleeve, the aberration of Ms Rana Shaikh was transformed from being Secretary Culture to being the 22nd Managing Director of PTV since 1964. A former TV actress and Producer/Director, this was a natural end reward for the Herculean PR efforts of the wife of the Foreign Secretary, Mr Najmuddin Sheikh, to display the liberal side of Pakistan culture by a special “song and dance” fashion show in the US during the PM’s Yatra, a designer-clothing performance that could not be seen (being banned for TV viewing) in Pakistan by the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rahman lest he forget his holy vows of abstinence from such worldly pursuits. Ms Rana Shaikh shrugged off accusation of plagiarism, when you copy from many plagiarism turns into research.

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