Such hopes and so many fears | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 13, 2008

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Such hopes and so many fears

PAKISTANIS remain enveloped in euphoria after the February 18 election. The electoral process is being prolonged needlessly, and the new governments are still weeks away. But the sense of optimism is palpable almost everywhere.
One could say that Pakistan has been reborn, a feeling that was seen in 1970, 1988 and now. Why? Because a reasonably free and fair election has taken place. But then this delay can change the mood and Pakistan can still come to grief because of not accepting the results of a fairly fair election.
The year-long tumult in Pakistan has not died down. The lawyers' movement, to get the judges that were deposed on November 3 last year by Musharraf re-instated, is going strong. Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League, the main winners, have signed a pact to form coalition governments at the centre and in Punjab.
Both are under pressure to restore the deposed judges by an act of parliament. Asif Zardari's support for this demand remains tepid, though he has made the commitment that this will be done within a month of taking over.
But Nawaz's political wisdom lies in having championed the lawyers' cause, which was the reason he has won so handsomely in Punjab to become the second largest party in National Assembly.
Nawaz could see what people wanted, and has succeeded. Asif Zardari's PPP is lukewarm though committed, while Nawaz's PML is raring to go at the problem quickly; PPP's pace is sure to be forced.
Pakistan has to tackle the long history of military domination. Musharraf is the head of the state. The Americans insist that Musharraf be kept in the job, and his supporters in the government should burnish Islamabad's democratic face. That would serve the western purpose of a wholehearted Pakistan fighting the War on Terror.
The Musharraf presidency is also not inactive. It is conspiring to create maximum trouble for the new parties, though he remains true to the deal he made with Benazir Bhutto -- to reconcile PPP and Musharraf so as to prosecute the War on Terror more or less jointly.
Nawaz's position is said to be ambiguous; his strong advocacy of the deposed judges' case, support for the lawyers' movement for ridding Pakistan of Musharraf, and making sure that military domination finally ends by firing Musharraf, has made him a colossus in Punjab.
All said and done, the American's main reliance has always been with the Pakistan army.
Their support for democracy is hollow rhetoric; given half a chance they would favour dealing with a dictator rather than with elected representatives. Their record is sordid; they have bankrolled all Pakistani military dictators, while support for civilian governments was half-hearted.
Still, the Pakistan military has its own interests; it is the largest economic activity, and its assets amount to some $25 billion. Its requirements are so great that it is now obliged to keep control of the entire governmental apparatus.
But the current Pakistan army chief has actually publicly distanced his army from Musharraf and has promised to support the civilian government, especially knowing that Americans wanted to associate PPP and, if possible, Nawaz's ML and miscellaneous others.
That has deprived Musharraf, weakened and politically isolated, of any constituency that can sustain him against the elected representatives of the people.
Pakistan faces an immediate crisis. The immediate action that can make and break things is the lawyers' agitation for an independent judiciary and separation of powers to ensure rule of law. It cannot be wished away; and it continues to gather strength.
The new civilian government cannot run away from its commitment. But restoring the judges would be a fateful step.
Everyone recognises that Musharraf, the commando he says he is, has also a commando's mind: he is obstinate and is determined to stay in power, despite his supporters being defeated and his policies rejected.
All realise that should the judges be restored, Musharraf will have to go home. If Musharraf stays in office, the judges will have to stay in confinement or at home.
Since there is no middle way, the army's role was thought to be critical. But General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has plainly said he would support the government and would keep to his own sphere. His message to Musharraf is: find your own equation with the newly elected government.
Musharraf, however, continues to insist that he would stay on, and that none of the actions he took in his second coup would stay on the statue books; and the superior courts he has reconstituted would also stay, meaning that the deposed judges will have to remain deposed.
How can that happen when the new government takes office and does what it has promised? Musharraf's position is impossible, and he can either agree to be a titular head or go and plays golf at leisure, after being sacked.
This is not the only problem Pakistan faces. There is Pakistan's own war against Islamic militancy under the generic name of Taliban; they are actually numerous smallish groups that have their own small fiefdoms.
The name Taliban gets them more attention and recognition. The Pakistan army has fought them off and on; it mounts offensives, scores successes that do not last and has lost more than a thousand soldiers during the last few years.
The army has suffered in morale and discipline; many of the lower ranks refuse to fight men of their own faith and ethnicity. The Pushtoon personnel cannot be expected to fight like the Americans fight against Iraqis or Afghans or al-Qaeda.
Islam has to be redefined, as it has been in the subcontinent for a thousand years in peaceful co-existence with non-Muslims, and had emerged as a civilisational entity in which Muslims and non-Muslims could share.
There is the perennial problem of the central government's powers. Since the days of AIML in the pre-1947 period, a shallow Muslim nationalism was evolved that suited the social and economic elites of north India and Pakistani Muslim feudals or successful professionals.
Rich industrialists, bankers, businessmen and, of course, feudals in Pakistan like a strong central government, and want to cheat and suppress the smaller provinces that are persistently demanding more autonomy.
Pakistan had come to grief on this subject, and the emergence of Bangladesh proved that Islam alone cannot override facts of ethnicity, and is not a strong enough glue to hold a multi-national state tightly together.
In the fight between Islamic militancy and the Pakistan army there is a dimension of ethnicity also: it is Pushtoons' rights that the Taliban also represent, while an ambiguous central government is establishing its writ with its hollow Muslim ideology. This suits the supporters of a strong centre, in the military and in the economic and social elites of Punjab. There is also the insurgency in Balochistan.
It is likely to remain a slow-paced insurgency, without necessarily exploding into something terrible -- unless foreigners take a hand in it.
The economic mess bequeathed by eight years of Musharraf poses hard problems, all manner of disparities of income and disparities of development have been aggravated by high inflation.
The growing rich-poor divide is becoming worse. The economic paradigm Pakistan has followed was dictated by US administration. Under it, Pakistan is losing fast to its creditor nations. It is sleep-walking into a debt trap, with all the major macro-economic deficits pushing it into that.

M.B. Naqvi is a leading Pakistani columnist.

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