Muttahida Re-engages


The MQM just learnt one of the primary rules of aerial combat, in a dogfight you never ever leave your wingman. And if you do, you not only put into dire peril your partner but invite all sorts of trouble for yourself. Seven days ago Muttahida opted out of the Jamali coalition for a solo flight, it is now back on station “unconditionally”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means that it is all over bar the shouting with respect to the Sindh Government, there will almost certainly be a coalition of the MQM with GNA. The swing vote of “the man for all seasons”, Pir Pagaro, will certainly go to the person most likely to be Sindh’s Chief Minister.  As the majority part in Sindh the PPP-P had the first right of forming a government. By delaying announcing its candidate officially, the PPP-P allowed the pendulum to swing in favour of PML (Q). Moreover it neither has a Provincial leader, or for that matter a reliable ally. As the elections for the PM’s post has shown, Ms Benazir does not seem to trust Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

For the life of me one cannot understand why the most potent and consummate of all politicians in Pakistan by far, Ms Benazir Bhutto, is so insecure. While her brother Murtaza was alive one could understand her apprehensions in a male-dominated society, but very few politicians of the third world can match her charisma (Imran Khan cannot seem to translate his into a concentration of votes to go with his political potential). In her first term as PM Ms Benazir proved to be a good enough administrator despite the strait-jacketed circumstances she was forced to accept, macro-managing affairs of governance reasonably well. For sheer raw talent no political party can ever match the PPP of 1970, the momentum carried on in 1977 and even uptil 1988. Even today PPP has the maximum number of votes cast in the Federation. And a Party which can command the continued loyalty of Gen Babar must have something! What is tragic is that PPP is now out in the cold, its present political limbo can be traced back to the one person who should be the last one to feel politically insecure, Ms Benazir. While the game of politics inculcates the art of compromise, one cannot be all things for all people and she has tried that once too often. To her credit she almost pulled it off through her single-minded puppet-on-a-string manipulation of Maulana Fazlur Rahman but ultimately the present trend of the present world environment against so-called “fundamentalists” caught up with her. No one can run things by remote control for long. Something had to give, not only was Ms Benazir was out-manipulated, frankly she out-smarted herself. The defection of PPP stalwarts like Rao Sikandar Iqbal and Faisal Saleh Hayat must have hurt, how many more are waiting in the wings to bolt from the once “un-breakable” Party? Almost her entire cabinet of 1988 is gone! In human resources her major political asset is now her husband, whose six years in custody counts for something, the charges of corruption against him notwithstanding. Those who remember the high political ideals that motivated the motley group that met at 21 Edwards Road in Lahore in the late 1960s will not recognize PPP as the same political entity, even though ideological stalwarts like JA Rahim, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, etc had exited the Party earlier during her father’s rule.

Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has squeaked through relatively unscathed, his gratitude (other than that to the President), must be directed at the political acumen of Ch Shujaat Hussain who had the good sense to remain a king-maker rather than aspire to be king. In the process the Gujrati bagged the crucial CM Punjab’s slot for his close relative Ch Pervez Elahi, the permanent CM-in-waiting. Ch Shujaat is now engaged in crucial discussions with MMA and the pragmatism in Balochistan is likely to be emulated in the Centre and in Sindh, with or without the MMA joining the Federal Government. Already forcing a change of heart in the MQM, it will certainly help Government formation in Sindh. The move to the in-between “transition phase” from military regime to full democracy will than be complete. Bringing a deep sea diver up from the deep has to be in stages so that the “bends” are not fatal. Out in the cold for some time, politicians have to be acclimatized to the realities of good governance in the third world before aspiring for the full freedoms of the first.

Unlike popular perception and genuine public anxiety notwithstanding, Pervez Musharraf was never been in any sort of trouble during this metamorphosis from a military to a political regime. He has been giving ground gracefully to his chosen political position. Germany’s World War 2 withdrawal genius Field Marshal Henrici would have been proud of him! Contrary to normal public belief, withdrawal is the most difficult of operations and if one can avoid losing command and control or any significant amount of one’s forces in the process it is counted as a success. The President had to disengage without losing “hands on” control. The economy was in a shambles on Oct 12, 1999 and the nation’s foreign exchange coffers bare, the way back to economic stability and foreign cash liquidity has been hard and slow. We cannot afford a re-lapse just because political immaturity gives greater weightage to self-interest rather than the vital needs of the nation. It is essential for the nation’s aspirations for a full democracy not to be frustrated by the “overkill” of politicians.

Our Armed Forces spent nearly one long year on the borders with the Indians having an overwhelming numerical advantage arrayed in attacking formations. They simply stared the Indians down, any sign of weakness would have had the enemy indulging in adventure. No sooner have the bulk of Indian forces started to withdraw than Deputy PM of India LK Advani, with Gujerat State elections impending, is on the warpath again, spouting a tirade of anti-Pakistan and anti-muslim venom, activately advocating war with Pakistan. One can understand why the BJP needs to play the Pakistan (and the muslim) card, it is fighting for its political survival. How else can one reason CM Modi of Gujerat reminding Hindu voters of the Godra incident, knowing quite well that it may again set off on bloody anti-muslim carnage? What is more worrying for Pakistan is the ridiculous item in the “New York Times” about Pakistan giving nuclear help to North Korea as barter for ballistic missile know-how. Hardly had Pakistan denied the unsubstantiated story, than President Putin of Russia, on his way to a State visit to India, had got into the act by saying what his hosts wanted to hear, his fears of Pakistan’s nuclear assets “falling into the hands of terrorists”. Can Russia really talk about responsibility without having any real inventory about its nuclear arsenal? Putin conveniently forgets that the Russians have been selling nuclear material on the black-market for years to all and sundry. Russia will sign a defence agreement with India, how come no one in the west protests why India is arming itself to the teeth, to fight China? Muslims tend to rail against the US for any number of reasons, particularly because of Israel’s putting down of the Palestinian Intefada. Can you compare Israel’s targeting, or trying to target, militants only to the wanton murder of Chechnyans by the Russians with Chechnya as one vast free fire zone? Why don’t the muslim countries take notice of the vicious Russian atrocities in Chechnya? And what happened in Afghanistan? How did the Mujhahideen become Mujhahideen? Russia will always be the enemy of muslims, Pakistan is a particular target because of the absolute defeat the once mighty Soviet Union suffered in Afghanistan. One can be forgiven for suspecting a “conspiracy theory” here, when deliberate lies and disinformation are used to undermine a country’s international credibility, one has not only ask why, one has to be more than a little careful.

To be credible to the world it is important to get our domestic house in order. That is why it is crucial to have the last cog, the Sindh Government, in place for Pakistan’s democracy. We need our politicians to come together in the national interest to combat the perils we face not only internally but, more importantly, internationally.

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