As Pakistan’s political leaders wrangle over the small print, the welfare of the country’s people has dropped off the agenda
- guardian.co.uk, Friday August 29 2008 23:00 BST
Last November, I lost a long-standing bet with a friend when General Pervez Musharraf finally relinquished his military role and then embarked on a new term as Pakistan’s civilian president. Up to that point, the idea that he might give up his army uniform had always seemed ludicrous – thus leading me to enter into the bet so confidently.
The end of Benazir Bhutto’s self-imposed exile from Pakistan last October was the turning point in the country’s political rat race. The response by thousands of PPP supporters to her arrival was enough to drive Musharraf to impose a state of emergency.
August 18 this year, however, saw the end of Musharraf’s regime. His haphazard constitutional changes, some of which include the suspension of the judiciary (which is still in turmoil today) and other actions such as the military operation against Red Mosque fundamentalists and the curtailing of high-profile media channels, ended up backfiring.
The ineffectual methods used to quell the uproar after Bhutto’s assassination last December, when the authorities failed to solve the case, contributed to a further fall from grace in the public eye. Towards the end of his regime, the discontent reached its height, turning into an almost unanimous anti-Musharraf campaign in the national media, and exacerbating the civil war raging in the tribal areas.
What of Pakistan’s future now? Since Asif Zardari, Bhutto’s husband and co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), currently the largest party, has nominated himself for the presidential seat, a new debate has been sparked, with the opposition in uproar. Last Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif parted ways with the PPP, leading to the collapse of the five-month-old coalition government, on the grounds that Zardari had not kept his word regarding the restoration of the judiciary or democracy. An agreement signed on August 7 by the two leaders was also exposed to the public. It clearly stated the executive restoration of the judges would occur one day after the impeachment or resignation of President Musharraf. Zardari, however, employed every delaying tactic at hand to prevent this policy from going through. The accord also stated that once Musharraf was out of the picture, both leaders would put forward nonpartisan candidates for presidency. Asif Zardari went ahead and declared himself a candidate for president without informing or consulting Nawaz Sharif, and announced that the elections would take place on September 6.
The current stalemate between the former allies and the fractured coalition seem to loom larger in politics than the survival of Pakistanis who are unable to cope with massive food and fuel inflation. While the judges and the constitutional bills are lofty policy matters of grave significance, the politicians in the country seem to have lost sight of what image they are portraying both at home and abroad.
With nuclear neighbour India already licking its chops and the US circling, eager to launch an inevitable counter-terrorism campaign in Pakistan, it appears that the country stands closer to decline than ever before, democracy or no democracy. But there are those who dare to hope yet. Hope, even, that there might be a reformation on the horizon, or that after the resolution of conflicts, the country will return to the path of peaceful development. Hope that no foreign conflict lies ahead, and that the dire energy crisis will be resolved within the five to six-year timeline given, or even that there will not still be forces at loggerheads on policy technicalities, skirting the issue of the welfare of the nation. I, for one, am not willing to wager very much on that these hopes will be realised. Are you?