So Far So Good

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Contributing Editor Vice Adm (Retd) IQBAL F QUADIR writes about the progress of military rule till date

The Army take over is steadily approaching its hundredth day of assumption of responsibility to run the affairs of the state. The world over this is considered to be the day of first reckoning for a new government. Thereafter, the public, the media and the critics take first general account of the working of the new set of rulers against their initial claims of what they intended to perform. On first sight, by the Grace of God, everything so far has proceeded smoothly and things have been falling into their places, as if automatically. The internecine bloodletting that was in progress throughout the country and had almost become a permanent feature in the country has somehow stopped. We can now safely pray to God in Mosques and in Imam Bargahs, though the police are not taking any chances at congregations. Reports of armed kidnappings have also disappeared from the pages of newspapers. Police and Ranger blockades have been lifted from the roads of Karachi. More mercifully, the fear of being the innocent victim of a police encounter with some proclaimed or suspected offender on the streets of cities throughout Sindh and Punjab is gone, hopefully for ever. But, traumatized as the nation has become due to a decade and a half of spilt blood, people have yet to realize, leave alone appreciate, that there has been a sudden change for good in the atmosphere. The press has become freer with many columnists and reporters boldly commenting on the person of the Chief Executive himself. In the international plane, too, the worst fears of a severe western backlash for going nuclear, or of shaking up India thoroughly at Kargil and for deposing Nawaz Sharif are gradually receding. On appropriate signals from the United States of America all western nations, IMF and other financial institutions of the world, including private lenders, made haste to form a queue to grant without much ado extensions for repayment of overdue dues. Is there a motive behind all this sudden understanding of Pakistan's difficulties? If there is one, and there must be many, surprisingly none of Pakistan's commentators has come out with it so far. Nothing could have been more desirable for the Army and the nation than the way things have progressed so far. Those who have taken on the responsibility to look after the country, their nominees who have been selected for running the affairs of the state, the intellectuals, the deposed and the disenfranchised, the till now politically harassed but enriched bureaucrats, and the whole nation itself has time on hand, or, the respite to think how to proceed next, and to come out with ideas for the purpose. But the time is short and we should not waste even seconds.

Soon after the take over, General Musharraf announced on television his agenda for the future that has formed the core of the ruler's activities since. I was going to say the government's activities but since the most important part of the agenda after the immediate problem of debt servicing involves devolution of power, the Establishment must have had a few after thoughts. It would be too much of a radical change for 'It' to work for the people under their elected representatives, a far cry from being their total master as 'It' has got accustomed to since independence. And what with all the perks and privileges that are very likely to be lost, which far exceed individual's taxed wages. General Zia is stated to have had a brush with the Establishment within a fortnight of his taking-over but he never did challenge it again directly after that experience. Bhutto, too, had earlier tried to deal a blow to the establishment and had not come out the better for it. More recently, going by what had appeared in the press over a period of time, Nawaz Sharif would seem to have taken on the Establishment and the Army simultaneously. But then, Bhutto's, Zia's and Nawaz Sharif's agendas were different from that of the present set of rulers and, the members of the Establishment under them were not so demoralized as they show themselves to be at present. Furthermore, there was no Damocles' sword of Ehtesab hanging over their heads at that time. Still, the Establishment holds many cards up its sleeve and its methods of operation are usually as difficult to unravel, as trying to catch the white-collar manipulators proved to be for the previous two governments and continues to be so even today. Only time will tell whether General Musharraf and the Corps Commanders will sustain their resolve to bring about badly required fundamental changes to the country's political and administrative structures. The alterations and additions that are required in accordance with urgent domestic needs of good governance, desires of Pakistan's down trodden people and, not in the least, to face the challenges of a fast changing world. Even without these three expectations, changes in our political and administrative systems are essential if we are to exploit positively, and to the benefit of our own and the world community, our new status as a fledgling nuclear power. All this while, fear in people's mind cannot be ruled out of the possibility, that just as in the past, mundane issues requiring immediate attention of the rulers would gradually move their focus away from the primacy of devolution of power to other issues of immediate concern but of lesser long-term concern or consequence to the nation. Presently, the pace of the agenda's execution is slow but whatever is being done appears to be considered and deliberate. That is highly assuring for those who understand the complexity of running Pakistan with its unique model of governance in the whole world. One could now hope that the plans under formulation or being put into execution, having received thorough vetting, have the possibility of willing retention whenever the Army decides to hand over power to an elected body in the future. However, highly disconcerting and bewildering for the average Pakistani, who had been fed to hope for instant results from the much-proclaimed ehtesab, is that not one single person seems to have come the worse for it. On the contrary, the offenders, whatever be the reason for their default, have been provided another coat of respectability to remain the financial leaders of the country. A case so far, of a lot of noise and thunder but with little action. Regrettably, in its finality, since it is money that makes the mare go, their polluted minds and tainted money will soon bring us back to where we had started in the first place.

Another important factor General Musharraf and his kitchen cabinet must not overlook is that his present Cabinet represents only about one percent well off population in Pakistan. Furthermore, they all are of the same school of thought which is perhaps good for smooth working of the Cabinet, but which does not allow for the fact that light is composed of different coloured waves. Absence of even one of them extinguishes that light. If the government continues to look at the world, and on our own domestic problems, from one angle only and through the same coloured glass I am sure, the country is likely to miss many good opportunities and possibilities both in the domestic field and in international affairs as well. It is still not too late to include people holding other shades of opinions and thoughts in the various decision making bodies. Such a move would lead to a healthier environment, a better analysis of our problems and also how to tackle them. Most of all, the cabinet will enjoy a much higher confidence in the country and win their greater support.