With champions like these
By Ayaz Amir
IF General Musharraf and his inevitable speeches — for the most part, no concessions to brevity — were the nation’s only problem, it would be no great matter. Sensitive souls could take heart from the opposition, thinking that when the wheel of fortune turned and the sun started smiling upon the Bhuttos, the Mians and the Qazis, not to forget the Maulanas, national distress would ease.
Brave hope indeed because one look, even a cursory one, at the gaggle making up the collective opposition to the Musharraf order and national depression, far from easing, turns more grim: less something for the shrink’s couch than the butcher’s chopping block.
We’ve had directionless oppositions before but the lack of direction to be seen at present is path-breaking. The Q-League, the ISI-inspired king’s party, is just a formality. Its only use to the present dispensation is as a facade, the appearance of democracy even as democracy is ridiculed by Pakistan’s gift to constitutional theory: President-in-Uniform.
But even if ISI had not invented the Q-League, Musharraf would have no problem ruling. The principal source of his power is — you’ve guessed it — the army. But he also derives comfort and no small consolation from the collective opposition. With enemies like these, allies become a dispensable commodity.
The maulanas of the MMA, the religious alliance, have been playing games with the nation, colluding with the military government behind the scenes even while thundering against it in public. Politicians were always supposed to be smooth and flexible but the maulanas have given a whole new meaning to the idea of flexibility. Their credibility close to zero and their game exposed, who’ll believe their righteous anger? And who’ll take their strike calls seriously?
Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat-i-Islami, at something called the National Leaders’ Conference — another novelty but about this later — has called a strike for today. Whatever for? A national strike is a weapon of last resort, used to maximum effect when an agitation has matured and people are willing to come out in the streets. Has that point been reached? Has any homework been done? Have the opposition parties cleared the confusion from their own minds? Have they decided that come what may, they will have no truck with the government?
Who’ll take the opposition parties at their word when they denounce the local bodies’ elections for being a rigged affair and, at the same time say they will take part in the elections for the district and tehsil nazims? Either they reject the nazim elections or take part in them and stop whining about rigging, etc. Having your cake and eating it too doesn’t do much for credibility or your reputation for consistency.
And who’ll believe the PPP, the PML-N and the MMA when they say that at the right time they will consider resigning from the assemblies? Boycotting the nazim elections would be a token of seriousness in this regard. Participating in them makes the resignation threat sound hollow.
Or do the opposition parties still have doubts about how the 2007 elections will be conducted? It doesn’t take the guidance of heaven to realize that General Musharraf will be holding those elections to secure his own rule and give himself another five-year term, not to benefit the opposition parties. So what are they waiting for? What further revelations do they need in order to devise a counter-strategy?
There are no fixed rules in politics. Tactics and methods change according to circumstances. Boycotting Ziaul Haq’s assembly elections in 1985 was a huge mistake on the part of the then opposition. That was the first opening the opposition parties were getting since 1977, when Zia seized power, and by opting for a boycott they chose not to exploit it. Profiting from that earlier mistake, the opposition parties were in no doubt that they should participate in Musharraf’s 2002 elections. They did and it was the right thing to do. After all, the elections held out the promise of expanding the frontiers of democracy.
But that promise has been tested and the farcical limits of Musharrafian democracy stand revealed. It is for the opposition parties now to draw the right conclusions and decide whether the public interest is best served by participating in the present system, even when it is pretty clear it is going nowhere and leading to no miracle of democracy, or by rejecting it and staying out altogether.
But we know the problem. The opposition parties are in no position to come up with a common strategy that is even halfway bold. They may be opposed to Musharraf but they are also opposed to each other. And they are all inwardly hit by a craving for collusion.
The PPP has been ready to do a deal with the government from day one but, misreading the situation, its terms for a deal were too high. For this reason and not for want of trying, the PPP is still out in the cold.
The PML-N’s problem is somewhat different. It has been hit by a desertion crisis. Those in favour of dealing with the Musharraf government have joined the Q-League, a party tailor-made for collaboration. What remains of the PML-N, lives in the hope of better days to come.
As for the holy fathers of the MMA, they represent a house internally divided. Maulana Samiul Haq is soft on the government and doesn’t get along well with Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Maulana Fazalur Rehman. Hussain and Fazal have their own differences. The MMA as a whole, at one and the same time, is with the government and against it, earning the jibe of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Unless the holy fathers restore their trust and credibility in the public eye their fire-and-brimstone threats are unlikely to be taken seriously.
A word about the National Leaders’ Conference which apart from the usual suspects, included such luminaries as General Aslam Beg, Lt Gen Faiz Ali Chishti and Lt Gen Hameed Gul, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who else, being the man behind this enterprise.
It bears remembering that if there are two living souls who can be identified with the mess we got ourselves into in Afghanistan and Kashmir, they are Beg and Hameed Gul. Faiz Chishti, as ‘Pindi corps commander under Zia, was one of the prime movers behind the 1977 coup which toppled ZAB and ushered in one of the darkest periods in the nation’s history. If this is Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s idea of national leadership, it is tempting to keep a safe distance from it.
There are no secrets about the Musharraf regime, not after six years. This is a halfway house, somewhere between democracy and outright dictatorship, its authoritarian spirit leavened by a quite remarkable degree of tolerance for dissent and opposition. Opposition parties find it hard to accept the fact that the media is free, or freer than it has ever been before. But it is true, Musharraf taking criticism on the chin like no one before him. (This is about the only positive aspect of the present political dispensation.)
At the same time, this is a politically inept regime incapable of understanding, much less addressing, Pakistan’s foremost problem: the perennial quest for political stability. After Musharraf not so much the deluge — which would be too flattering — but a bigger mess than before. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this prognosis.
So the lines are set. The regime has acquired its permanent shape which is subject to no change or reform. Even if this order lasts for five or ten years (a mind-numbing prospect), we’ll get more of the same: Q-League, the Chaudhris, the MQM, “enlightened moderation” and, lest we forget, sucking up to the Yanks. Musharraf doesn’t have to make up his mind. He’s already made it.
Decision time is for the opposition parties who must finally make up their minds what to do: participation or rejection. They are welcome to participate and indeed, since they can’t readily be accused of Bolshevism, that’s what they will do. But in that case they should be ready to serve on the general’s wages, recognizing the bitter truth that the general’s system is meant to serve his interests, not theirs.
There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)