Triumph of democracy in Pakistan
With President Asif Ali Zardari bowing down to public anger, the fragile democracy in Pakistan has survived; it even promises now to grow despite the turbulence. The victory for the lawyers, judges and former PM Nawaz Sharif is decisive, but it will take time to settle the ruffled mood of the nation. Much depends on the synchronization of efforts by the judiciary, army and the political forces, in an environment of cultivated trust and responsibility. The forces threatening democracy and stability of the country are still spreading. The crisis is not between democracy and non-democracy; it is between the violent elements trying to obliterate Pakistan's existence through a civil war and the state institutions and political forces that can hold it together.
Decades ago Pakistan invited trouble by joining the international effort in Afghanistan. It is difficult to assess how much of the trouble she could avoid on her long and porous border with Afghanistan even without joining the international effort. Along with the international elements, some disgruntled religious forces from within are threatening because it has not kept its promise to become a theological state. For them Pakistan is an unfulfilled dream of an extended utopian Ummah, and the guns and bombs are to that end. Yet, for some Pakistan is the suppression of their ethnic identity. From commercial hub Karachi to picturesque capital Islamabad tension is rising. Recent attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore shows how dangerously the situation is spiraling.
The army under General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has many obligations to meet; yet it cannot keep away from politics, nor should it take over. The general seems to realize that another bout of martial law cannot bring any good to Pakistan, nor he is in a position to distance himself. He should let the people know that the next martial law will be very severe in case army is forced to take over. The politicians had enough of it, should know what can be in case the jackboots reenter politics. The army needs extraordinary resolve to guide politics without entering it.
Pakistan has a unique culture that mixes harsh Muslim belt with absorbing South Asian blend. Neither of the cultural trends seem to have a hold on it. In many ways, Pakistan is a melting pot of fierce central Asia, suspicious Arabs and cautious India. The military needs a very delicate balancing between careful persuasion and suppression of personal ambition. Bold and decisive leadership of General Kayani with a vision for a democratic Pakistan will make the difference.
Ever since the dismissal of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhury and many others, the judiciary has been riding on the politics of street out of compulsion. Now that the pride of the judiciary has been restored, the prejudice must not take over for vengeance against the wrong doers. Justice Iftikhar will have high stakes in saving not only democracy but nourishing it to grow. He may have to follow a blend of high ethics of judiciary with willingness to compromise to save it. Much will depend on the corrective doses within tolerable level for the fragile society. The Chief Justice and his team of judges will have to deliver mother-care-judgments on the correction path. The courts are the last resort of hope. Nevertheless, the judiciary alone is capable of delivering little; but hope must sustain. At this crucial time, the courts have a historical role to guide the infant democracy out of the mess.
Nawaz Sharif has emerged as the most popular leader of Pakistan along with PM Yousuf Raja Gilani. It is not the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but president Zardari who lost the battle. There should be a deal between the PPP and Muslim League (Nawaz) to strengthen the democratic forces. Coalition between the political parties with public confidence will be an advantage to deal with the spreading terror. Shabaz Sharif, the most popular politician of Punjab, needs to be restored as the chief minister. With the army maneuvering from behind and the Chief Justice nodding approval, the coalition between the archrivals is possible.
The controversial president Zardari should not survive the humiliation. Let Bilwal, son of late Benazir Bhutto educate and mature to hold the family tradition if he is interested and capable in the coming days: the father must go now. It is time for Zardari to go on hibernation to a place or country of his choice. The general along with the Chief Justice can workout a deal for an easy exit.
That will keep politics cool until the next general election and the army is free to concentrate on antiterrorist drive. Like the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the boundary between Taliban and Al qaeda is all but gone. Under pressure from NATO and the Pakistani forces, with an appeasing political dialogue, the line needs to be redrawn between Taliban and Al qaeda hiding in the trans-frontier hideouts. It is time to negotiate with Taliban and offer them some political concessions in Afghanistan. The very start of a dialogue will make a difference in the counterterrorist operations. How else can the menace be contained and quarantined is not clear. Afghanistan is treacherous for all kinds of military operation, and antiterrorist war is deceiving by nature. The military operations against spreading torrent of Al Qaeda and Taliban combined must have a vigorous political front revived.
It is difficult to understand how slaughtering hundreds of innocent people can advance a religion or cause. Such madness can only harm a cause by drawing public anger. After the Mumbai carnage on November 26, 2008, dubbed as 9/11of India, it has reasons to be angry at Pakistan. Troubles beyond manageable limit in Pakistan will however create another Durand Line on the long Indio-Pak border. Pakistan is offering a buffer for India from the happenings in Afghanistan. If Indian cities are not safe now it can be worse with a diluted Pakistan. India has a greater strategic interest in a peaceful, democratic and modern Pakistan. The big neighbor may have to absorb some pain now for a better future. Pakistan should appreciate the patience India has shown following 11/26 and cooperate with the common enemy. Hatred has crippled the subcontinent: it is time to build on the thread of goodwill and common interest.
Fighting the terrorist or lawbreakers is not difficult but finding them is. Antiterrorist war anywhere is of intelligence. While intelligence resources look for the needle in the haystack, the political bosses must be patient. On such thankless jobs, the politicians more often should listen to the expert briefing than ask for intelligence of their choice. Hard intelligence is hardly sweet for the rulers anywhere. Pakistan is very much in the storm, India has enough of it- exported and homegrown. Bangladesh should start a serious battle procedure to tighten her belt.
The author is a freelancer.