Hey, Media, Wake up! It’s the Majority of the Minority
By Humayun Gauhar
The negative would gleefully say that Musharraf has been shown the door, even though it was a majority of the minority that may have said that.
The positive would say that he should be congratulated for taking Pakistan to exactly where he had promised in his single-minded pursuit of what passes for democracy, scoring two important firsts — parliaments completing their terms and governments being changed by elections.
That is a quantum leap forward. To those who lament that since only a minority voted what 'mandate' are we talking about, I say that there is still hope if the majority displays no faith in these politicians, parties and this ridiculous political system. That is the most important statement of the elections — the minority wants change of government, the majority change of system.
Euphoria has led people to call this a new dawn. We've heard that before. It’s an old dawn again because our giant hobble to the past has brought back exactly those rulers whom people reviled not so long ago – "This bloodstained dawn, this night of bloodletting; this is not the dawn one waited for".
The most negative would say that with the bad old leaders back and the vote so divided along ethnic and parochial lines, this is a sunset. I say forget all these gut-wrenching statements. It is now up to the old leaders to atone for their sins by converting the negative to the positive. But to do so they must shed their heavy baggage of the past and get over their old hurts, animosities and vengefulness. Not easy, but that is wherein greatness lies. Zardari seems to understand the limits of power; Nawaz still does not, which brought his governments down twice. If he remains intransigent his toy will break again. If Musharraf goes the cement between PPP and Nawaz will also go with him. Then there will only be power, pelf and patronage to fight over. It will be a dogfight, because everyone wants all of the cake.
In bringing our ethnic and parochial divides to the fore, the voter has been ruthlessly realistic. Only the Punjab voted across parochial lines, as it always does when it comes to saving Pakistan and installs non-Punjabi prime ministers who always let Pakistan down. I say the voter has not said that we are a divided nation but a diverse one. He wants his executive to recognize this diversity and be inclusive, so that all peoples find representation in it. To exclude any section just because one party has a majority somewhere would be not to understand the voice of the people. This is for the new leaders to understand. It is for them to implement. If they don't, then divided we certainly stand.
Actually, nobody won. Musharraf and his Q-League lost. The PPP with 86 seats short of a simple majority and PML-N some 106 short is a pathetic showing by any standards and especially against their pre-election bombast, but it doesn't seem so because Q's showing is even more pathetic.
The Muslim League vote was deliberately divided with the forced return of Nawaz Sharif after it was 'discovered' by our American puppeteers that the PPP needed help to 'win' the elections even after Benazir's forced return.
But two things went contrary to their predictions despite the massive pre-poll rigging by their pollsters and propagandists. One, the PPP still fell far short of even a simple majority, forget running away with the elections as they had everyone believe. Two, after the Muslim League vote was successfully divided, the bigger slice went to Nawaz Sharif instead of PML-Q, making him a strong number two. What should have gone to Q went to N and what should have gone to N went to Q.
The natural option is for numbers one and two to form not a coalition but an inclusive government taking other groups along even though with the free women they shall have a majority together. The problem is that America is aghast at the prospect of Nawaz Sharif in power, what with his reckless promise to make Dr. A. Q. Khan president. They think that they have a more dangerous Ahmedinijad in the making – Iran's Ahmedinijad is 10 years away from the bomb; Pakistan's Ahmedinijad is 10 years ahead of it. So immediate efforts started to keep Nawaz out by forging a PPP-PML (Q) coalition.
This is wrong, for many reasons. One, it goes against the natural mandate. We went against it in 1970 and not only did we lose East Pakistan, we are still suffering from the fallout. Two, how does Zardari sell it to his supporters who voted to get Q out, not back in. Three: How does Q sell it to its supporters? Whatever is left of it will disappear. Four: when people find no delivery (which goes without saying) they will start cribbing; PPP will blame Q and Q will blame PPP. How long will this marriage made in hell last? Five: Nawaz Sharif in opposition will grow and grow. Come the next elections and he will take everything. What will America do then?
The option to form a national government of consensus is the most Islamic of all. If there are brickbats, they will all get them; if there are bouquets, they will all get them. Zardari has been talking the most sense – a national government and forging a new social contract because the old one has evaporated. On these two points we should be with him all the way: a national government will decelerate our centrifugal forces and a new social contract will help us to agree on how to live together again. It will be like a husband (Punjab) and four wives (the three smaller provinces and the Muhajirs) agreeing to live together under a new arrangement after a long separation.
There's still a problem. Who will be in opposition if there is an inclusive national government with Q? Nobody in parliament, but the mullahs outside it will grow back. Q will sit in opposition if it is not included, as it shouldn't, but most of its members could defect to Nawaz. Then there will be no parliamentary opposition either and the mullahs will make gains. It’s all very well to say that quality is more important than quantity, but where is the quality?
With another election predicted sooner than later after and PPP and PML-N have been thoroughly discredited (of which there is no doubt given the complexity of Pakistan's problem and their lack of mental equipment to solve them), what alternative will the voters have?
The incorrigible optimist in me finds an opportunity here. There is space now for a third political force to emerge, a force that is genuinely liberal, moderate, enlightened and progressive but rooted in Pakistan, not in America or England, as our current liberals are. But who will forge such a force? That is the question.
We are sitting on four powder kegs.
One: if the space is not filled by a new progressive political force what will happen as more and more desperate people turn to God for salvation. Enter the mullah.
Two: Karachi is a tinderbox, with Pakhtun and Muhajir ready to fall on each other.
Three: if Zardari does not take the MQM along in Sindh, the Muhajirs and Sindhis will also fall on each other soon. The bloodletting would be horrendous. Pakistan would be in greater turmoil than it is in today.
Four: with the political mullahs gone for now, there is no buffer between the extremists and the government. They regard the ANP's Asfandyar Wali as a non-believer. Worse, he is a friend of the hated Karzai. It goes without saying that his government in the Frontier will be ineffective. The extremists would then make massive gains and go beyond the settled areas into Punjab. What will America do then? Bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age? They are stupid enough to try, but before that the army will intervene again or will be asked to by America. We will be back to square one. And then if the leaders of Sindh and Balochistan unilaterally declare independence (as Kosovo did the other day) and India recognizes them in five minutes and others in a week, what can the army do?
Our problem is that we have never been allowed to complete our lesson. When half the lesson is over they close down the class, leaving us half-educated. Some years later they restart the class only to close it down again halfway. And so the vicious downward spiral goes. Let us, for God's sake, learn our full lesson for once. Then if we fail the exams, so be it. It was something inevitable that we could only divert for a time or delay temporarily. The forces of history are inexorable and in the end always reach their logical conclusion. The more you get in their way the more painful and messy the logical conclusion will be. God always does that which is for the best.
(Mr. Gauhar is a Pakistani commentator)