Pakistani politics is tying us up in knots
With a wily politician ruling the roost, is it surprising that we get many red herrings to divert us from core issues to tangential issues? Lose your way in tangents and diversions and you lose yourself. The core issue is the disease at the root of our problems – our iniquitous, inhuman system – that goes untreated.
President Zardari is no less wily than his father-in-law Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or Bhutto’s handpicked army chief General Zia-ul-Haq who overthrew and hanged him. Never judge the luck of a man till you see his end, they tell us, but right now Zardari seems wilier than either, though less destructive so far.
After not winning enough seats to form a government in the 1970 elections, patriarch Bhutto was instrumental in helping a maniacal gang of the most stupid and destructive generals in our history to break Jinnah’s Pakistan. Only then did he get to rule the leftover Pakistan. He deliberately proceeded to destroy its urban economy in the name of nationalisation under the cover of ‘Islamic socialism’. The strategy was to take the urban economy into his hands and shift economic and thus political power back to the feudal. A great concept became a bad name.
Bhutto made General Zia army chief because he thought he was loyal to him. The ‘loyal’ general hanged him because there was only one grave with two possible occupants, the ouster or the ousted. General Zia proceeded to tear up our social fabric under the guise of Islamic Pakistan using the Afghan jihad as cover. It was under him that extremism, fanaticism and terrorism took birth to be raised to adulthood by his successors in the name of ‘strategic depth’. He gave the greatest of faiths a bad name. Both Bhutto and Zia met sorry ends. Bhutto became a martyr to many. Zia became a martyr to some. The rest is history. But for Bhutto’s martyrdom there would have been no Prime Minister Benazir or President Zardari. Let’s hope that when Zardari meets his end, it is not violent but natural, legal and constitutional.
What the wily seemingly do and what they actually mean is often two different things. Add to the mix our intelligence agencies that show one thing and intend another, presenting moving targets behind which reality is camouflaged, and everyone is kept hopping. The icing on this cake is our rumour mill whose wheels have been churning since our advent. Now we also have the syrup of a poorly regulated electronic media whose raw material often is gossip and you have a pot about to blow. However, unlike what is happening in the Arab world, our media and parliaments are safety valves that let the social steam out of the kettle, preventing it from exploding. Any wonder we have a neurotic state, myopic and bipolar with no agreed ideology or reason for existence.
I was most amused to read that the ruling Peoples Party and the opposing Nawaz League are confabulating to agree on a caretaker prime minister. This creates the impression that we are in for early elections before the natural terms of our assemblies are up in March 2013. However, this could also be a red herring to divert us into thinking about early elections while the real plan might be quite another.
What could that plan be? Another journalist-analyst has his sparrow that tells him everything. I have Maverick the Monkey who tells me the bald truth. He was over for dinner the other day. It was easy, for all I had to feed him was the staple of our government – peanuts. He loves them. But this time he was not telling me anything. He was conjecturing, surmising, even suggesting.
“The obvious thing for President Zardari to do,” he said, “is to take the constitutional option of extending parliament’s term by six months till September 2013. A 90-day election campaign would follow and the ballot would take place end December 2013. It would require declaring an emergency of course but our bizarre condition amply justifies it, provided the deep state – America, the army and the Supreme Court – go along. The chief justice could be a problem for he could strike down the emergency. But Zardari has the sword of the chief justice’s son’s alleged shenanigans dangling over his head. If it gets bad the chief justice’s position could become untenable. But he could strike back by not sacking yet another prime minister but by asking the army to come to his aid to force the government to write the letter to a foreign government to reopen graft cases against our head of state – ergo, military intervention.”
“Very clever,” I said, “but the army cannot do any such thing without the defence secretary ordering it to in writing. She has to be ordered by the defence minister who he has to be ordered by the prime minister who will do nothing unless his party chief the president orders him to. It’s a hole in the bucket situation. Unless the government comes to the conclusion that the letter can be worded in such a way that the chief justice is satisfied while the Swiss refuse to proceed with the case, recognizing our president’s immunity apart from it possibly being time barred.”
“But it would mean violating the constitution and also a tacit admission that the charges against Zardari may have some substance,” said Maverick. “Once the letter is written the Supreme Court could well ask the Election Commission to declare Zardari’s election null and void, just as it did Prime Minister Gilani’s. In this country anything could happen, don’t have any doubts about it if you know your history. Why, you are said to have had an American co-national as your ambassador to Washington and also a British co-national as a member of your Command and Control Authority. What could be more demented than that? A president who had enough charges against him to pave the motorway?”
As often happens when one tries to think too much, Maverick was getting tied in knots. Like Cassius, we Pakistanis, whether human or monkey, think too much, though some would say there’s little difference between the two. Actually, there is. Monkeys are far more rational than humans. They have an acute survival instinct. Humans have an acute suicidal instinct.
“Yes, I see the problem,” conceded Maverick. “America and the world may not be able to stomach an overt army intervention because they have to appear to support democracy even if it is an excuse for it. Also, Pakistan’s our leaders are just what America’s doctors ordered, for they do their bidding obediently, which is why they have lasted so long. In the unlikely event that nationalist ‘aberrations’ are thrown up as our leadership, America will balk and they won’t last long.”
“So,” I said, “the impression of early elections may be right after all if Zardari is left with no other option.”
“Maybe,” said Maverick. “His party is most likely to win the most seats again and form the next coalition government. By the way, Asma Jehangir is being touted as the latest caretaker prime minister and your friend Hussain Haroon the second ‘soft’ option. Asma’s most attractive trait for Zardari is that she is not enamoured of the chief justice while Hussain Haroon is your best ambassador. That he is also a great chef and gourmet could be the clincher.”
“No problem with those two,” I told him. “People whose names are floated are usually the ones not to make it.”
“Funny lot you are,” said Maverick. “We choose leaders from our own tribe and choose from amongst the best. You guys get people whose loyalties are split between tribes and who are from the worst amongst you. In any case, if Zardari were to pull off an extension, then by December 2013 both the army chief – if the current one doesn’t take an unlikely third term – and the chief justice – who is a thorn in the president’s side – would have retired and their replacements still be trying to find their feet. The sunshine would be that Asif Zardari could win a second term through the present assemblies where he has a majority. The constitution doesn’t say that the same Electoral College cannot reelect the same president. The game would change, with Zardari the lone survivor continuing to rule the roost. The party of the people would have proved with a vengeance that democracy is the best revenge. But this isn’t democracy. This is a sham – ‘kleptocracy’ and ‘ineptocracy’.”
“What goes of your father,” I said in righteous Punjabi umbrage.
“This is as much my country as it is yours,” was Maverick’s riposte. I thought he was going to bean me. Maverick left in a huff before I could invite him for iftar-dinner. Poor chap. The table my dear wife lays out during Ramadan has to be eaten to be believed. Weightwatchers don’t stand a chance.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]