Author: DR.ABDUL RUFF Colachal
Analyst, Researcher & Commentator
Pakistan is slowly but steadily moving away from routine turmoil towards achieving economic and security ends to help the people live and work in normal ways. The present government and the political parties are aiming even at greater goals by evolving consensus on major issues. This is indeed a positive development.
President Musharraf on April 22 said that he has no conflict with the new government and enjoys a good relationship with the new democratic set up. He expressed these views while talking to the European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who called on him at the presidential camp office in Rawalpindi. President said he has fulfilled the promise made to the nation and the world of bringing democratic stability in the country and he enjoys a good working relationship with the new government.
Thanks to the emergency Musharraf declared and the actions like arrests of judges and Lal Mosque tragedy, the opposition parties came together to fight emergency and Presidency. The February General polls cemented the parties having different perceptions on politics and Pakistan, but the ministry formation at the center and provinces offered opportunities for the opposition parties to become some what closely knit, albeit for the time being. The current federal coalition of four parties with different ideologies is unique since it is for the first time that the two mainstream parties after having remained arch rivals for a very long time have decided to sink their differences and to sail in one boat.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Awami National Party (ANP) came out victorious in the elections and decided to form a coalition government at the Centre and provinces. They followed their resolve with a comprehensive Murree Declaration, which fine-tuned modalities of their cooperation. This gave Pakistani citizens a justifiable hope that these three coalition partners will soon form a strong and stable federal government that will not only correct the imbalance between democratic institutions and the army but also deliver on their promises to the electorate.
A parliamentary democracy includes both treasury and opposition and there should be no harm if some parties sit in the opposition and help the government by their constructive or not so constructive criticism. Bringing all political entities on the ruling bandwagon should not even be an option. In any case, this is not going to help national solidarity. This will only weaken the coalition and make it difficult for the rulers to take difficult decisions and focus on the issues asphyxiating the country.
Even against the prevailing political animosity, President Pervez Musharraf the former General, has not given any serious thoughts to float his own political platform to stabilize his position as well as the political scene of the country and to create an effective opposition to the emerging ruling coalition. Nor has he taken any serious steps to encourage formation of another major party that could emerge as a strong opposition party in future. This situation has created a sort of void in emerging Pakistani politics. Perhaps the situation is apt for advancing the legitimate national interests without unnecessary hindrance.
Meanwhile, it seems, after the tragic and untimely death of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan has been longing for a new charismatic leader. PMLN supreme Nawaz Sharif, though charismatic, has lost much of his glow in the corruption scandals. Though Benazir was also involved in corruption cases, she still remained a popular leader. Musharraf has lost much of prestige mostly for domestic reasons.
Asif Zardari’s Perceptions
PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari, the man considered to be the most powerful in the country today, has, since the poll verdict, adopted a totally pro-peace attitude, by keeping enough play-field to deal with his coalition partners as well as the President. Frankly, his refreshing approach to Pakistani politics has indeed upturned the overall perspective of the politics in the country. His decision to side-track presidency issue and his choice of Gilani to the premiership were the first steps in that direction. Zardari’s lookout gets reflected in his perceptions on several issues concerning Pakistan’s legitimate national interests. One issue relating to re-instatement of judges.
It is clear that the move to reinstate the deposed judges by the new government has not been opposed by Musharraf who has promised to support the government decisions on important issues. Musharraf has also left the issue to the government. Some recent media reports say that Asif Zardari is not enthusiastic about the reinstatement and in an in-house party meeting has criticized some deposed judges and held them responsible for his protracted incarceration in the past. He has also held our superior judiciary accountable for its role in validating and supporting military dictators. He is unhappy that some honorable judges of the superior judiciary have from time-to-time validated military coups under infamous doctrines of necessity and expediency.
STRIKING AT ROOT CAUSE
Musharraf emphasizes on addressing the root cause of terrorism and extremism said that a joint strategy should be devised by all allies on war on terror for combating this menace. Pakistan has made enormous sacrifices in fighting this war and we are ourselves a victim of terror and extremism. More than 1,000 people have been killed in suicide bombings since the start of last year, including former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at an election rally in December. The government launched talks with the Islamist rebels soon after winning elections in February, amid concerns that the military-orientated tactics of President Musharraf were spawning more violence. The aim is to transform a month-long lull in a wave of suicide bombings into a permanent peace with the rebels, who have fought the government since Islamabad joined the US-led “war on terror” in 2001.
According to official reports, Pakistan’s new government has drafted a peace agreement with Taliban militants in its troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials and a rebel spokesman said. “The draft agreement contains clauses under which both sides will not take armed action against each other. Military will be withdrawn from certain areas, attacks on security forces will be stopped by militants,” the official said. The draft 15-point peace agreement also involves the exchange of prisoners and said it had the backing of senior political and military figures.
In this context, the accord underway between government-backed interlocutors and the Mehsud tribesmen in South Waziristan aimed at ending hostilities, halting suicide bombings and restoring peace in the tribal areas and the rest of the Frontier should be welcomed. The provisions said to be included in the terms and conditions set forth in the talks for reaching an accommodation between the government and the militants entail demilitarization of the region as well as the militants’ pledge to lay down their arms and expel any foreign militants.
FOCUS ON GILANI: TURNING POINT?
Historically, “democratic” politicians are known more for breaking promises than keeping them, and in their bid to be clever and take advantage of their political foes they have often weakened democratic civilian institutions. Unfortunately, the politicians have no love lost for principled politics. In fact, the successive military/democratic rules have seriously impeded the development of a proper political culture in the country. Pakistanis seem to have lost faith in any leader in the country.
However, there is basis to believe that Gilani would make a different premier from those seen thus far in Pakistan. He seems to feel the pulse of the commoners of his country. The people rightly expect from him too much though, but he will have to solve their problems of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment which, unfortunately, have become Pakistan’s permanent problems because no government has been able to resolve these problems. Flour crisis and energy crisis are also troubling the whole society because flour is the need of every individual and energy crisis has reduced the life of every citizen to a miserable pastime. Unemployment is another problem. The prime minister should focus his attention to tackle this problem by sustained efforts.
Poverty and illiteracy are a direct consequence of feudalism. Gilani should make efforts to remove the miseries of the downtrodden that form more than two-third portion of the total population of our country. A large majority of the people who are homeless should deserve the immediate attention of the new government. Democracy can never take root until feudalism is eradicated because the history of our country tells us that feudal lords, like any big business magnets, have been power-hungry people. They change the political parties overnight because they have not got any affiliation with any ideology. They are always guided by their selfish motives.
Poverty threatens Pakistan more than India. The people who cannot afford to send their children to schools are very large in number. 50 percent of children leave primary schools before completing their primary education due to financial problems. According to the 1998 census of Pakistan, 40 percent of our population is living their life below the poverty line and the other 40 percent have also been categorized as poor. Mega projects should be launched to uproot this menace. He should make short term and long term plans to alleviate poverty.
There are two major foreign policy issues that have evolved a sort of uniformity in opinions in Pakistan both in media and political parties cutting across the political divide. They are Pakistan-China relations and Kashmir. Attitude of Pakistanis toward both is highly positive. There is consensus on fact that Pakistan government has recently side-tracked the Kashmir issue that is considered to be the cardinal vein of Pakistanis, for close historical, cultural and geopolitical reasons. Pakistanis, going y the media reports and views, are upset over the way Pakistan has been appeasing India over Kashmir. Societal resentment in the country for Musharraf is also closely linked to this issue.
Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Gilani has reiterated the Pakistan’s resolve to stand by the Kashmiris in their struggle to get back sovereignty for their nation from India. Raza Gilani on 24 April said Pakistan is committed to extend moral, political and diplomatic support to its Kashmiri brethren in their just struggle for self determination. Gilani said the government would continue to support Kashmiris’ cause till the resolution of the dispute. He said peace, stability and development in the region could only be achieved through the resolution of all outstanding issues including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. He said the dispute needs to be resolved in accordance with the aspirations of Kashmiri people as enshrined in the United Nation Resolutions.
Now the goals set by the new government led by Gilani has further attracted the parties to shed the past for the time being and support the government to solve the urgent problems of the masses. Government said withdrawal of Lal Masjid cases was out of question. However, the government wanted to abolish politically motivated cases with consensus and in national interest.
Collective efforts made by the new government have yielded results. Pakistan has welcomed the announcement by Baitullah Mehsood to shun terror activities. Pakistan plays a growing role in the region and makes an important contribution in fighting “terrorism”, he underlined. He noted that international efforts to promote stability at a regional level – notably in Afghanistan – also required stronger ties and cooperation with Pakistan. In order to streamline the border movements, the Pak–Afghan border has been completely sealed.
Broad-based coalition offers Pakistan a historic opportunity to address the serious challenges in the spheres of economy, security and foreign affairs, which must not be lost for the sake of petty political considerations. Issues like poverty and regional imbalances need urgent attention. The basic domestic issue that may well bleed the project to death is the trust deficit among the provinces. It is difficult to blame the smaller provinces for being paranoid. More than any rhetoric, the country needs confidence-building measures to create a consensus on the issues.
It is torturous to feel that as a nuclear Pakistan also has a lot of poverty. India has kept Pakistan’s real advancement under constant check by creating obstacles across the borders and damaging its image globally. India spends over 20 per cent of its national economic resources on weaponization as well as modernization of weapon systems, thereby threatening the security of its neighbors particularly Pakistan; China being an economic giant and UNSC veto powered member with enormous nuclear and strategic weapon systems is not bothered about India. By appeasing the USA though through economic gestures including nuclear deals, India has been trying, quite unsuccessfully, to weaken, if not wreck the US-Pakistan ties and isolate Pakistan. So much so, Pakistan spends huge resources on its security needs including its nuclear arsenals.
Pakistan’s initiative for bi-lateral ties with this South Asian hegemon India should not be at the cost of Pakistan’s own legitimate national interests. Indian plan to divide Pakistan-Kashmir bond is so strong that it would be fatal for Pakistani leadership to ignore that fact while formulating future strategy of Pakistan. Once Pakistan is separated from Kashmiris leaders, it would be easier to play Kashmiris against Pakistan and that would be devastating for both Pakistan and Kashmir. New Delhi has also played a destructive role in destabilizing Bangladesh and it can do any cold blooded further actions in Pakistan too, asides, of course, what has been happening in the country for quire some time now.
Today Pakistan is devoid of any truly charismatic leader being respected by the people of Pakistan. Hence the issues racked by the collective opposition –cum-media have not been washed away and President Musharraf is unable to convince the masses of rationale behind his actions for the sake of a better Pakistan. Hence the judges’ issue could be kept alive for a long time unless the opposition, PPP decides to close the chapter in one way or the other. USA, a close ally continues to threat with bringing forces to Pakistani soil, though rightly protested by Pakistan. Since political parties are united, there is very little that USA can do especially that would destabilize Pakistan further. Unlike India, USA cannot think of destroying Pakistan.
Pakistani leaders would do well to ponder over the popular magic attached by the population to the genuine leaders to whom they look forward to help solve their problems, repeated disappointments notwithstanding.
Pakistan would continue to pursue the cause of the Kashmiris for their freedom from India. Gilani should use Pakistan’s external diplolmatic resources to fullest extent to push for an early resolution so that Kashmir is re-independent soon.
Pakistan’s image has been on the rise recently and one hopes the trend would continue to rise further as the country moves economically, politically stronger and its borders are well-protected. Apart form USA, EU also wants to step up its engagement with Pakistan in order to promote regional and domestic stability, encourage democracy and help consolidate its position as a moderate Muslim state. EU is very encouraged by the general election in February that paved the way for a democratic set up in the country. Pakistan remains one of the most important Muslim nations.