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The Rainbow Coalition

A week or so into the Referendum process, the equation has changed drastically in favour of the President, the rallies to muster support having only marginally to do with it. While the process of transformation from a soldier to a soldier-politician will have created new dynamics in his personality, Pervez Musharraf will never become a politician. It is out of character for him to deliberately represent something as true when he knows it is untrue. Most politicians fail to accept something as true even when they know it to be such. On April 16 he did his best to sound political, the Press Conference only managed to reinforce his military identity. Even his apology for the more-loyal-than-king police baton charge on journalists in Faisalabad was revealing, he did not like what happened and therefore was not averse to the need for “damage control” but as the Commanding Officer he took responsibility for the action of his subordinates and was not about to throw the Punjab Governor to the wolves.

What the President has managed in the past week is very far-reaching, a decisive shift in the political landscape in Pakistan. In the 1965 Presidential race between Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, 80000 Basic Democrats acted as an electoral college. In 1984, Gen Ziaul Haq used Referendum as a sleight of hand. In keeping with his character and his penchant for taking calculated risks Pervez Musharraf has opted for a far more transparent process, a mixture of 1965 and 1984 with the realities on the ground in 2002. By choosing direct universal franchise over the indirect process of an electoral college, Musharraf has pre-empted democratic protest by reaching into the very basics of democracy. And very intelligently he has put the Nazims and Naib Nazims of the Local Bodies under notice to get off the fence and be counted, using the grassroots rulers as vote musterers rather than being voters only. Everyone and his uncle knows that while the Local Bodies election were fought on a non-party basis, nearly 80% of these elected owe their existence to one party or the other. Once in power in various municipalities, the elected officials have been forced to stay with the “party-less” fiction, according to the laws availing they could be disqualified. Moreover, those who have been elected to the Local Bodies have a vested interest in keeping the system in place. Virtually a District Governor, a Nazim has authentic political power in his area, far more than any MNA/MPA had, or even a Federal/Provincial Minister. Why should he voluntarily give up the new status quo, he has far more power being elected locally than being a small cog in the nation’s capitals. The result has been nothing short of devastating.


The Talibs

Assuming the war with the Soviets would be a long drawn out one, CIA funded many of the Madrassahs through the ISI in the 80s as a future source of recruits. The Soviets packed up from Afghanistan far earlier than anticipated, Talib detachment with the various Mujahideen factions went home or back to the Madrassahs to continue their education. Pakistan did not really try convincing the Americans about their post-war responsibilities. Having seemingly defeated a Superpower by themselves, the then ISI bosses did not want the US to disturb their vision of a crescent of Pan-Islamic Countries. This naked individual ambition has contributed to the problems of this region today, the perpetrators still hiding behind “Islamic” garb and unbridled rhetoric as a convenient smoke screen. Only too happy to oblige, the Americans abdicated as paymasters in further financing the war or the peace to follow. Our then military rulers were not unduly worried, after all the Muslim world, led by the rich Arabs, would move in with massive funding, or so they thought! The net result, no post-war plan for Afghanistan, arrangements for economic aid and / or political rehabilitation, even in the pre-planning stage.


Half Empty, Half Full

Pakistanis are incurable optimists who are more likely to look at a half empty glass as half full. A few weeks ago our new Finance Minister articulated the same thought at a seminar in Harvard University. Great hope has been vested by the broad masses of the people of Pakistan in the military regime, a “soft” martial law without its usual teeth never before seen in this country and one daresays, in recent history. The aspirations aroused in the people is scary, the military rulers will have to rise beyond themselves to ensure that the great expectations of the masses are not frustrated. In their talent search they will have to reach out for the services of friend and perceived foe alike. In the selection of a dream team to run the country, there is unanimity of views about their competence and integrity. Twelve or so years of democratic rule had driven us into the wilderness without a compass, the incumbent process will only be successful if it takes us back to a meaningful democracy in which all the people will participate as equal partners and not simply become pawns on a giant chessboard. With the economy in such doldrums that even easy credit has no takers, primary focus should be on the economy. However public perception wants accountability in supersession of everything else, an animal urge reminiscent of the feelings of the audience of the Roman Colliseum. Since accountability indirectly will not only force-feed the economy but will also improve law and order, build up the national morale as well as investor confidence, etc accountability (or the lack of it) will be the touchstone of success (or failure) of Gen Pervez Musharraf and his “Young Turks”.


Analysing Defeat, Absorbing Victory

Field Marshal William Slim commanded the 1st Burma Corps during the retreat up the Irrawady River following the Japanese invasion of Burma in World War II. Later he went on to command the British 14th Army which inflicted a series of defeats on the Japanese, forcing them down the Irrawady River to Rangoon. Turning “Defeat into Victory” (incidentally the name of his autobiography), Slim was a very lonely man. Sitting outside his tent contemplating his next move during the drive back into Burma, he overheard two of his sentries talking. When one of them wondered aloud where the next battle would take place, the other very confidently named a location. On being asked as to how he knew, the second sentry told the first, “the old man is definitely going to choose to fight in all the places on the way in that he got badly beaten on the way out”, or words to that effect. So much for strategy!


The ‘90 Plus 90 Formula’

The Constitution requires that elections must be held for the Assemblies within 90 days of dissolution, to that end the National Assembly (NA) elections are slated for Feb 3, 1997. On the other hand, the raison d’etre for seeking of a fresh mandate from the people being rampant nepotism and corruption afflicting the Ms Benazir regime, the chief practitioner of the second oldest profession being the lady’s spouse and de facto PM Asif Zardari, the mass public demand for accountability cannot be ignored. Given the time consumed in the mechanics leading to elections and the lead period before the Ehtesab (Accountability) Ordinance becomes effective in implementation a very short period is left for accountability, not enough by far. There is widespread skepticism about the future of the country if elections return such people to the Assemblies who need to be held accountable for the destruction of this country’s economy, its social ethos and national security at the altar of personal greed. It is quite reasonable to presume that having made a packet and then some, it would be in the vested interest of the corrupt and the greedy to ensure their elections by using some of their easily earned but undeserving largesse. Money may not play a decisive part in all the constituencies, it may well play a critical part in some crucial swing ones, enough to affect the course of our future political and economic history back to the dark ages of our own Mafia Don. The traumatic experience of the past three years must encourage us to work out a pragmatic compromise formula allowing the election process to proceed unhindered on schedule while the accountability process is geared to ensuring that every person elected to the Assemblies is given a thorough going over as respect antecedents and integrity before he or she takes oath as a member.

Once the winning candidates are gazetted by the Chief Election Commissioner, the Speakers of the respective Assemblies can call the Assemblies to session so that the Members can take oath, thereafter whoever has a majority in the Assemblies can form the government. This period normally takes about 10-20 days after the elections. It is important to ensure the credibility of the democratic process by staying within the Constitutional parameters defined. While the Constitution is quite clear about the time frame for the elections process, it has not really laid down such a time frame for handing over power post-elections. Conceivably the Speaker could call the National Assembly into session after an extended length of time, maybe even 90 days without violating the Constitution. This God-given window of opportunity can be exploited in a positive manner for the good of the nation under the “doctrine of necessity”. Once the winners are notified by the CEC, the only remaining formality to their sitting in the Assemblies is the oath of office. Once a member takes that oath, in public perception he or she acquires legitimacy, it becomes more difficult to carry out accountability, more so of the ones seated on the Treasury Benches given the political compulsions of the government-in-power that is then subject to blackmail to maintain their majority. Besides blackmail on a very personal basis by her husband Ms Benazir was the target on a political basis by a vast number of politicians leading single-digit parties. The accountability process can be made into an effective roadblock by making the time frame for its completion slightly more flexible. The possibility of certain elimination due to accountability pre- and post-election will dampen their enthusiasm for allocation of party tickets thus easing pressure on the party leadership, a sort of a self-accountability that frees political parties to accommodate credible candidates rather than the less than desirable personalities.


The Great Silent Majority

Charismatic leaders of the third world may come to power on a wave of public adulation but retain their chairs only through the support of the Great Silent Majority among the masses. This support may initially be based on the residuals of euphoria of an election campaign, can be sustained only through achievements taken note of by the masses, particularly pertaining to their economic well-being, not unrelated to a sound law and order situation. When the public confidence in hollow rhetoric starts to erode, the balloon of popularity starts to deflate fairly rapidly, the end reaction can be quite damning.

Ms Benazir Bhutto’s ascent to power was preordained for several reasons, some positive and some negative. The positive reasons were her undeniable charisma, a lasting admiration for her late father, her stated manifesto and above all the massive western media support based on admiration for her brave struggle, translating into vital support within the vocal liberal wing of the political structures of the western nations, particularly in the Democratic Party in the US. Though PPP got a supposedly split mandate, she enjoyed the grudging support of even those who probably did not vote for her party. The negative support for her was because of antipathy towards late Gen Zia and his dictatorial rule, May 29 Junejo Government massacre being the last straw for even his moderate supporters. This was further accentuated by the penchant of the masses for genuine unadulterated democratic freedom and the natural inclination for change after a long hiatus, any change. After May 29, 1988 change just became a matter of time, Aug 17 was simply a tragic milestone along nature’s way to a free and fair election, as much as any election in a third world country can be called as such. To their undying credit, the military hierarchy kept the constitutional faith, strengthening the hands of the President in his clear choice of the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly, Ms Benazir of PPP, to form the Federal Government. For many reasons, again positive and negative, Ms Benazir needed to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan, despite her detractors there is no ambiguity or controversy about her ascent to power, this was as it should have been, added to that she seemingly had overwhelmed the regionalists in Sindh.