Is everything okay?

Zafarullah Khan Jamali is no Einstein, and he will be the first to admit that he is happy he is no Einstein but he is nimble of foot in politics in the same manner he played hockey in school and college as center-half, almost to the national level. The PM has a bluff, gruff manner that is disarming and misleading, those who do not know him often tend to under-estimate him. As a former school-mate one can confirm he has ample resilience and when riled, can be another personality. Those planning his political demise could find themselves out in the cold themselves, he is a survivor. Recently Jamali has been leaning backwards to show “his Boss” he is anything but a Junejo, and certainly doesn’t want to become one in a hurry.

At the national stage in politics for over two decades, “Jabal” is an experienced operator, Chief Minister twice, and almost PM in 1985. Balochistan’s small size (in population and therefore the least number of votes) gives him an obvious advantage of not being a lasting threat to the powers-that-be, additionally this serves to undercut the sense of discrimination felt by the smaller provinces. Normally an amiable personality who does not react blindly to criticism and / or blandishments, Jamali is also a perfect foil for the Opposition. They can hardly keep on heaping abuse on him when he regularly turns up at their homes for impromptu parleys. With the paid lobbyists of two “PMs-in-waiting” in his cabinet waxing eloquent about a government sans politicians, he has more to fear from perceived friend rather than known foe. It is widely rumoured that the Choudhrys of Gujrat are doing a political re-think about their anointed man, they absented themselves from PML(Q) Central Working Committee’s Meeting in Islamabad last Thursday en masse.

On the domestic front, the only good thing one can say is that things could be worse. Well, not really, on the economic side things have stabilized and mainly because of 9/11 and the subsequent crackdown on unofficial money transfers (Hundi), home remittances have gone up dramatically. Because of the reforms enacted over the last decade but implemented more assiduously by the present military regime, the economic situation has brightened considerably, the foreign exchange reserves registering a record US$ 10 billion plus. The increase in exports (US $10 billion plus) has been due to various reasons, none of them connected to any real effort by an Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), an organization that is too busy eulogising itself in large expensive domestic advertisements. Were we promoting exports or Tariq Ikram with public money?

On the political front, we are in a holy mess. Despite detailed talks that have been held on the LFO between the Government and the Opposition, the two sides have agreed to disagree on major issues. But there is hope, the MMA has been blackmailed into conceding that the President can continue to wear the COAS uniform beyond Oct 2004 even though the PPP and PML(N) continue to be vehemently opposed to this. The Supreme Court deferred the matter of MMA legislators “disqualification” because of their lack of a recognized degree to a date in September, this Sword of Damocles should go a long way in helping the MMA “think positively” so that in losing their heads they do not lose their Assembly seats as well. The National Security Council (NSC) being presently weighted for the Khakis, the concession will be to convert the NSC in favour of a civilian majority. Article 58(2)b will probably be changed to sacking of the government only instead of punishing the National Assembly as a whole. After the wanton destruction of billboards in NWFP termed “un-Islamic”, the MMA has toned down their religious fervour somewhat. One of the best things to happen to Pakistan was the formation of the MMA Government in NWFP, either they will be forced into the 21st century or the population will vote them back into the 11th century where they seem to presently exist in a time warp.

Sindh is another matter, this is a province without a functioning government, running on the momentum generated by the previous administration. Short-term measures having no relevance to democratic mores were used to achieve political objectives, in the long-term it has damaged the fabric of the Federation. In order to keep the PPP out of power we were saddled with the likes of Ali Maher. An endgame for the Ali Maher regime should be on the cards, but his rumoured resignation has now been denied. A nice enough man, “kinky” perhaps in some matters, but with no rough edges that are the hallmark of able administrators in a tough country like Pakistan, a weak Chief Minister who could not satisfy his own rural constituents is always an invitation to disaster. Instead of putting him at the mercy of a few assemblymen controlled by Pir Pagaro, we should have encouraged a coalition between the PPP and the MQM, that urban-rural partnership is the essence of natural democracy. Let’s give the PPP their voter-given right to form the government in Sindh. And while we are at it, let’s free Asif Zardari! Leave alone the fact that in six years no accusation has been proven, with the legalisation of corruption because of NAB’s deal-making with some “maha-crooks”, why should we single him out for incarceration? Give this man, who has borne his “un-convicted” six years with courage and good humour, the benefit of doubt and let him out of jail to enjoy the company of his children in freedom.

The President has had two good tours abroad, he was received as a long-lost son in USA, UK, France and Germany despite his being a uniformed dictator, normally considered “pariah” in the new international order. A lasting peace with India may not be possible but the barrage of daily cross-border vituperations has subsided. The freedom fighters in Kashmir had a major success in attacking a Indian Army HQ, killing a Brigadier and wounding two General officers, one of them the three-star overall Commander in Indian-occupied Kashmir, besides others. For a change India did not react in the three-jerk fashion they normally do. It was also good to see a “Jehadi” (at least according to the Indian vocabulary) like Maulana Fazlur Rahman receiving an imperial welcome in India. What he said in India, some of it on tape, is “not operative” in Pakistan, the Maulana denied all that he is supposed to have said.

The present problem with Afghanistan was in the making the moment Ahmad Shah Masood’s Tajiks came to power in Kabul. Someone must have done something really bad to Masoud when he first underwent training in Pakistan, alongwith Hekmatyar,  Rabbani, etc, as an Army Supply Corps (ASC) recruit in Peshawar in 1974 for him (and his) to hate Pakistan so much. With Iran joining in the “nexus of evil” with India because of their own anti-US reasons in Afghanistan, we need to be ready to meet an external threat on our western borders. Afghan Interior Minister Jalali may deny it to kingdom-come, Indian presence was influencing by remote control the recent Afghan incursions across the Durand Line. There is now a healthy debate about the recognition of Israel and the establishment of diplomatic relations thereof, with Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath giving his “no objection”, why should we remain “out of step” in the international community? At least, rampant bigotry practiced by us long and hard for over 50 years is now taking a back seat to the intelligent discourse “for and against” presently going on in the media.

This coming week may see a lot of domestic problems resolved if there is good faith on all sides, in the absence of a positive resolution things may tend to slide into anarchy, inviting authoritarian (and technocratic) rule, which is what at least two PM-hopefuls in the Jamali Cabinet are praying for. The President would be well advised to keep the democratic status quo going, not to open a Pandora’s Box because of the naked ambitions of others.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).