A cocktail of crises

Columnist M B NAQVI says we as a nation are faced with multiple problems.

Whichever way PM Zafarullah Khan Jamali tackles the threat to his less than two week old government —- either by somehow giving to MQM what the ‘powerful element of the establishment’ had stopped short of giving on Wednesday (Nov 20) or firming up the possible support from MMA —- the rickety nature of his government stands exposed. There is a price tag on MMA’s support, though. Would Jamali, and his patron Musharraf, pay it? It is to substantially change the country’s view on Taliban and al-Qaeda yet again and reverse the ongoing fight against terrorists. Can the Army deliver to MMA what it is likely to demand, though general helpfulness of MMA is not in doubt?
Behind the shaky Jamali government looms the basic fact that Gen. Musharraf and his minions, civilian and military, could not ensure the desired results in the Oct. 10 election: they did what they could to rig the rules and regulations governing the polls, allowed a few malpractices during the polling and tried to doctor results in all marginal cases mainly to keep PPP and PML(N) out of the Assemblies. The design was to pack all the five Assemblies with preferably the main King’s party, the Q League. Smaller allies of Q League were also to be favoured. Even MMA is claimed to have been a party that was actually favoured wherever it could be without hurting the chances of more loyal King’s men and women.
But do what the administration’s experts may, they could scarcely wipe out or reverse the popular vote without making the polls look an obviously futile exercise; an impression of fair polling had to be given to outsiders. In the event, while the main sinister design of a hung Parliament —- with a view to demonstrating how unprincipled, corrupt, craven and inept the politicians are and why Army’s role in running the country is necessary —- has largely been achieved, the divisions in the National Assembly have turned out so complete and balanced as to render it unworkable. But the hard fact remains that a majority of national vote was for PPP and PML(N).
To convert these parties into inconsequential groups, to be kept out of all the five governments, could not but be difficult agenda. Contemptible horse-trading for forming the Jamali government had to be resorted to by those managing the alleged transition from a purely military government to a democratic-seeming government. The latter is required to hide the reality of Gen. Musharraf, in behalf of the Army, can continue to call all the shots and who can smash up everything whenever he likes and yet would be called democracy. Well, this experiment in political engineering has not succeeded. That’s what even the announced results of the 10/10 polls show. The purpose of keeping Benazir’s PPP and PML(N) out so far has been achieved —- but by the skin of the administration’s teeth. No one knows the full price the regime will have to pay to sustain the Jamali government. Only MMA is a possible new source of aid now for filling the gap of 17 MQM votes or as additional help. In view of American distaste for MMA, it might be cheaper to pay MQM what it wants: total withdrawal of Army’s sponsorship of its breakaway Haqiqi faction. The decision is not so much Mr. Musharraf’s as the Army’s. Would they or wouldn’t they?
Ideally, it is necessary to scrap this whole sham about democracy. But it is hard to see the Army being wise enough to stoop to conquer —- by letting PPP, and indeed all others, have what they can have after a normal election. Nevertheless, there is not much of a chance that this NA can be worked or last. There are far too many personal whims of General Musharraf and others in the background manoeuvrings that shaped it. The heart of the crisis is that people are no longer ready to allow another General to repeat the games that Ayub and Zia played — starting bogus democracies to camouflage their own power. Would the Army accept this major verdict of 10/10?
If the generals are not able to read the writing on the wall, Pakistan is fated to go from one serious crisis to the next. There are two main reasons for this: one that the people’s wishes cannot continue to be ignored; otherwise there may be, one of these days, a clash between a military that is determined to keep its overlordship of the political processes intact and the people. The Army will suffer from the word go, irrespective of what comes out of the first clash, because the struggle can be a long-drawn-out one. Syrupy messages from the economic commissars that sab achcha hai should not hide the ugly facts of increasing unemployment, high prices and absence of social services. Pakistan is a tinderbox to be ignored at their own peril.
The international context for our military overlords should make them sit up. The changing scene in Asia is making Pakistan even more isolated. Military rulers have always survived with the active help of US diplomacy and the present dispensation is no exception. Not only that. They all suffered from a well-developed dependency syndrome — on the US: It is however more than mere support; the US has kept them sustained by economic and military aid, in one form or another, though without disturbing the overall balance of power with India. Although the Bush Administration has remained firm in support of President Gen. Musharraf and is likely to remain for as long as Bush is fighting his war on terror, things may change.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the US regards Pakistan Army as an unreliable partner. The Americans suspect that it has been infiltrated by Islamicists. While Pakistan could not keep its end up in the unrelenting arms race with India, its misconceived decision of building a nuclear deterrent has lost its friends when they mattered most. Regionally, the deadlock with India remains total, although the war is no longer imminent. But India has stolen a march over Pakistan on two counts: its superiority in conventional armaments is way beyond Pakistan’s ability to counter it in kind. As for nuclear deterrent, well it works in various ways: it could certainly prevent war this year (2002). But then look at the political costs; not only did Pakistan have to withdraw from Kargil heights sheepishly in 1999, in June 2002 Pakistan had to publicly promise to stop aiding and abetting Jihadis infiltrating into Kashmir. Placed as Pakistan is internationally, we are sure to hear more about those assurances.
Right now there is the unedifying spectacle of Pakistan asking, for the umpteenth time, for talks and for Mr. A.B. Vajpayee to come, with India refusing to talk and continuing the coercive diplomacy to force Pakistan grant it MFN status. The question arises how come the nuclear deterrent has not made Pakistan’s case a weightier business. For, India is treating Pakistan as if it was just any other non-nuclear neighbour. There is something to think about here.
Moreover, Colin Powell’s latest warning of ‘consequences’ has made some establishment types shudder. Well, may they shudder? The vision of the US taking out Pakistan’s claimed nuclear ‘assets’ has hovered around the Pakistanis’ eyes since September 2001. If one were to go by American media, the chances of an eventual chastisement by the US is not a far-fetched idea. When that may be is uncertain, of course. But Islamabad, knowing what it has been doing, would be mad if it does not take the possibility seriously.
More significantly no Indian has any such fear from the US. Indeed many Indians are angry that BJP government has gone too far in courting the US. Indeed, the closeness between the Indians and Americans is so great that Islamabad had once questioned whether Mr. Robert Blackwell is America’s envoy or is an Indian official. The US holds India far closer to it while it treats Pakistan gingerly. Indeed the latter’s representatives are fond of accusing America of betraying Pakistan —- except for this duration of the anti-terror campaign —- and of befriending India at their expense. They are so worked up that the Americans are often forced to ask in private what did they say or sign that exclusively binds them to Pakistan. It is for Pakistanis to notice the different shades of western censures of India and Pakistan about going nuclear; Pakistanis are excoriated far more seriously. Why? What is the difference: well, India is a democracy while Pakistan is all but a banana republic.
Would the Generals in Rawalpindi see that they are far too close to the end of the road? Or would they go on contriving clever-by-half gimmicks to keep the ultimate power in their own hands and making Pakistan pay God knows what price in the end?