Leaders: Which Way Now?
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
Napoleon once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope”. To the people of Pakistan, however, this elixir of life, “Hope”, often has come not from their leaders, but from some unpredictable sources; and this time from the elections of February 18, 2008. People have spoken most wisely this time, because they discretely have not loaded any one leader or one party with a mandate that it should not be able to handle.
Earlier, at least on two occasions, they had experimented differently by giving a landslide victory to just one party or one leader. The results have been disastrous: both the country as well as the people suffered irretrievably. The elections of 1970s fractured Pakistan; and the elections of February 3, 1997 changed the very culture of politics in Pakistan. Heavy mandate instead of facilitating a wide-range of social and economic reforms in the country, each time became a potent tool for settling old scores.
In the words of Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times, this time, “Onetime foes must work out a coalition”. The elections have virtually left these leaders with no choice but to be inter-dependent, and to deliver. Though the leaders, more or less, have remained the same as before except for Ms. Benazir who got replaced by her husband by her untimely death, but the imperatives haven’t remained the same. Both, Mian Nawaz sharif and Mr. Asif Ali Zardari must hash out their differences and their demands as quickly as they can, before it is too late. The good sign is that the process has already begun.
However, already more than a week has passed, and the people still are waiting to know who is going to be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. The situation is unique as it has never happened so before. The post of the top executive had never been so nameless once the elections results had been announced. In the 1997 elections Mian Nawaz Sharif had taken the oath as PM one month even before he could name his cabinet; General Musharraf after the coup almost did the same. The odds of the highest office are more telling and more demanding than ever before. Mian Nawaz Sharif can’t be the PM under the present setup unless the constitution is amended; and Mr. Asif Ali Zardari can’t be comfortable in that chair because the past often remains a fixture.
Reaching a point of reconciliation should not be as difficult as some tend to project. A humiliated Sheikh Rashid who had been in the government for 30 years, gives the coalition at the maximum six months, and a disillusioned Pervez Elahi just a little over a year. It is true each party has its own brand of sticklers which can easily set them on a course of no-return. For example, the PML(N) wants the restoration of the judges and the resignation of the President first; the PPP wants the supremacy of the courts and a way out to work with the President. If the leaders of both the parties get horn-locked like before on these issues, the good which was to come out of the elections would fizzle out sooner than expected.
The ANP’s stickler is its demand for changing the name of the province to Pukhtunwa, and its opposition to the construction of the Kalabagh Dam. Changing the name of the province apparently seems a simple act, but in reality it can mean opening a Pandora’s box. The demand of the Southern Punjab for a Saraiki province; of MQM for an Urdu-speaking people’s province; and finally that of the extremist Islamists currently operating in the South and North Waziristan, Chitral and Swat into an independent country. An open-minded approach based on give and take can remove these bottlenecks. The country, however, is confronted with such problems as it has never faced before, and the above cited issues appear insignificant when compared with them.
A UNIQUE SITUATION: Very few leaders in world politics have bounced back as miraculously to enjoy what can be called nonconsecutive terms in power as have Mian Nawaz Sharif and Ms. Benazir or her legacy. In India, Indira Gandhi; in America only one President, Mr. Cleveland in 1892 elections, “became the nation’s only president elected to two nonconsecutive terms”. It is a rare phenomenon taking place in Pakistan that two contenders even after two stints in power, notwithstanding all the allegations, mismanagements, misrules, and a sizeable gap of time, have, one again, been thrust into power for the third time. It is up to them now to convince and tell the world that Pakistan is not a failed or finished state; its future is ahead of them all.
There are at least six problems that warrant attention on a war-footing level. Delay can be just fatal. They can be prioritized as:
- Extremism in the name of religion, and terrorism, and how to end it on a permanent basis;
- General law and order situation, and the restoration of a sense of security among the people,
- Inflation, and how to bridle it without stifling the economic growth and foreign exchange reserves;
- Provision of affordable healthcare, drinkable water and power
- Revolutionary steps to improve the existing education system, and not mere window-curtain shuffling;
- Job creation and meaningful employment that puts the nation to work (cab schemes and lottery scheme are no solutions)
THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRAY IN PAKISTAN AND THE ISLAMIC WORLD
Another good point is that these leaders of Pakistan whom destiny and history: both have chosen to try once again, currently appear positioned at a vantage point as no other leader before. The extremism which has become the anathema of Islam and the Muslim progressiveness is on the receding path. The dawn of democracy has already begun taking place in the Muslim world. In the words of Dr. Khalid Abou El Fadl, “Democracy protects basic individual rights through consultative governance by assigning equal rights of speech, association and suffrage to people. It therefore, has great potential for promoting justice, the very crux of Islamic teachings, and human dignity without making God responsible for human injustices or the degradation of human beings by one another… democracy may not ensure perfect justice, but it does establish a basis for pursuing justice. Democratic system makes those in authority accountable and this is consistent with the imperatives of justice in Islam”. Muslims have understood this and have underscored its importance through voting, though the rulers may have not understood its importance fully. The recent elections held in most of the Muslim countries prove the point.
- In Pakistan the pro-Taliban and al Qaeda had their share of the votes slashed to about 3% from almost 11% in the last elections. The winners in the province they ruled in the current elections has been the avowedly secularist Awami National Party.
- In Jordan, in the last November elections, the Islamic Action Front suffered a similar defeat, with its share reduced from 15% to 5%. The fundamentalists linked to the Islamic Brotherhood Movement, a cousin of Jamait I Islami, could retain only 6 out of 17 seats in the National Assembly.
- In Malaysia, the Islamists could never go beyond 11% of the popular vote. In Indonesia, the sundry Islamic groups have never collected more than 17% of the votes.
- In Bangladesh where the Islamists pocketed about 11% votes in the 1980’s election, they could hardly get 7% in the late 1990s elections.
- In Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas, which had won the 2006 elections with 44% of the votes (and some of the winners had run on the Hamas ticket without sharing its radical Islamist ideology) still could not eliminate its secularist rival, Fatah, notwithstanding its misrule and corruption. Fatah managed to get 42% votes.
- In Turkey, the Justice and Development Party, AKP, won two successive general elections with 44% of the popular vote, but its leaders keep going out of the way and insisting that the party “has nothing to do with religion”.
- Islamists in Algeria also did not do well, and in the May 2007 elections won less than 12% of the popular vote.
- In Lebanon’s last general elections in 2005, the two Islamist parties, Hezbollah and Amal, collected 21% of the popular vote to win 28 of the 128 seats, despite massive financial and propaganda support from Iran.
These figures provided by Amir Taheri appear convincing. People understand Islam and its spirit better than the religious custodians of it.
WHAT ABOUT PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF?
Currently, he is the most isolated and the loneliest person in Pakistan. After his retirement, he can’t even sit with his former colleagues in a military mess, because they characterize him as a security risk. His remarks about them on a foreign forum were highly objectionable, degrading and demeaning, and he owes an explanation to them.
His similar remarks about Mian Nawaz Sharif, to ruin whom he had left virtually no stone unturned, just a day or two before the elections of 18th February also smack his vendetta. Without naming Mian Nawaz Sharif, he said, “Look at the audacity of one leader who keeps saying that it was he who had started the network of motorways etc”. In an attempt to find an equivalent of the word “audacity’, he asked someone, and then translated it as, “dheetpun” - stubbornness. In the words of BBC “critics say there was a touch of hypocrisy over his plea, since the former general almost always chose to treat his opponents with anything but those qualities when he was at the height of his powers”. These remarks were in response to his state television appearance just a night before the Election Day, when he was heard preaching to the victors “to be humble and conciliatory”.
Latest Time magazine: March 3, 2008 is right when it says, “The Pakistani people have spoken: Musharraf’s party was trounced in the Feb. 18 elections, …the question is, Will Musharraf listen? And more important, does the US Administration, which has always seen him as its best ally in the war on terrorism, wants him to?” Senator Joseph Biden, who was present in Pakistan during the elections is right when he says, “The results make it clear that US policy in the region should ‘move from personality to the people”.
The ground realities and the level of hatred that has existed among Mian Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, and President Musharraf, predicts clearly that it would be better for the world and for Pakistan if Musharraf vacates the seat honorably. Maneuvering to stay in power will result in chaos in the country. Let the new players play now unhindered, because it is their last chance. The current level of extremism and law and order situation and inflation, and scarcity of flour and energy crisis; humiliation of the 60% judges of the highest court etc: all speak volumes for his failure. After all he had been there for 9 years with absolute powers, and he, therefore, should have the grace to accept the blame as well.
In the words of Mr. Robin Wright of Washington Post, it is just so shameful for any Pakistan to read that “once a month, Pakistan’s Defense Ministry delivers 15 to 20 pages of spreadsheets to the US Embassy in Islamabad. They list costs for feeding, clothing, billeting and maintaining 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistani troops in the volatile tribal area along the Afghan border in support of US counter-terrorism efforts. No receipts are attached…. Defense department has disbursed about $80 million monthly, or roughly $1 billion a year for the past six years… but vague accounting, disputed expenses and suspicions about over-billing have recently made these payments to Pakistan highly controversial - even within the US government … padding? Sure. Let’s be honest, we’re talking about Pakistan, which has a legacy of corruption”, said another US official familiar with past US payments.”.
Now what is all this? Since when has the Pakistan army became a mercenary force? The people and the world, both were given to understand that Pakistan was fighting its own war against extremism. Pakistani people are not extremists as they have made it clear in the Feb. 18 elections; but they are also not hirelings. America must invest in people rather than in persons in future. And why accuse America when it keeps asking for doing more and more. Those who pay handsomely, they demand results as well. One can see President Musharraf heading for big ordeals to confront, and for big explanations to make. It may sound unfortunate, but it is a truth of life that those who exceed the scope of the task assigned, often meet unnatural ends. “Cut the branch that goes too high”. We do it daily in our backyards.