Pakistan’s Dangerous Political Games

After a period of major stagnation, Pakistan is on the march economically. But some elements in the Nawaz Sharif government are playing dangerous political games.

Posted on 05/14/14
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf of former cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan staged a big rally in Islamabad on May 11, demanding electoral reforms to cleans the country's rotten electoral system. (Photo by Sajjad Hussain, Creative Commons License)
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf of former cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan staged a big rally in Islamabad on May 11, demanding electoral reforms to cleans the country’s rotten electoral system. (Photo by Sajjad Hussain, Creative Commons License)

Far better than (Pakistan’s former president) Asif Ali Zardari except in the one that counts in Pakistan, pragmatic common-sense politics, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is genuinely popular among the electorate. Zardari is (and was) not, nevertheless he deftly cobbled together a coalition government and kept most of them happy most of the time.  Being subjected to blackmail by his political partners from time to time was only a temporary inconvenience, duly assuaged by requisite sums of money and privileges.

 

Former Chief Justice (Iftikhar Chaudhary) staged a judicial “filibuster” in the Supreme Court (SC) on the National Reconciliation Order (NRO– the controversial deal the country’s slain leader Benazir Bhutto signed with former military leader General Pervez Musharraf) issue, etc, creating courtroom hype extraordinary he huffed and puffed about the most egregious document ever in the history of Pakistan but allowed NRO’s beneficiaries to continue to rule and loot. The SC’s inaction and (General Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani’s love for his brothers and “democracy”, in that order, gave Zardari the space he needed to function with impunity. One of the most corrupt persons to ever grace the planet earth, Zardari proved himself master of the political game by comprehensively outmaneuvering the Sharifs.

 

Reciprocating “quid quo pro” to the Sharif support circa 2008-2013 is for cold reason and calculation thereof. Keeping the federal government away from the mis-governance in the name of Provincial autonomy allows Zardari unfettered access to the riches of Karachi real-estate.  The people of Sindh do not love Zardari, they fear him. Feudalism is not only alive and well but flourishing in rural Sindh, the Sindh Local Bodies Ordinance is meant to convert Sindh into “Fortress Bilawal” in the name of “democracy and the people”.  How can our feudals ever allow devolution of power to the grassroots level?

 

Initiating a sound economic agenda, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s major thrust in the energy sector and supporting of Zubair Umar’s transparent effort in privatization are very commendable. As promised (finance minister) Ishaq Dar (with a little help from the Saudis) has made the Pakistani rupee come to terms with the US dollar, the Board of Investment (BOI) has woken up under Miftah Ismail. Against all odds and dire predictions, Pakistan International Airlines is showing definite signs of revival under the professionally competent guidance of the PM’s Special Assistant, Capt Shujaat Azeem. Sharif has some very honest and capable people serving him, a whole range of corporate potential is still required to run the many public sector units presently bereft of top management.  Millions voted for him, surely a handful must be deemed loyal enough for critical appointments?

 

Maybe Musharraf should  not have been “hijacked” to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) on his way to appearing in court, the Pakistan Army and the ISI are realities of consequence in this country and will remain so.  Quite unnecessarily Geo Group crossed a red line going to town spouting venomous propaganda against them. Visiting Hamid Mir’s bedside after his rather wild and unsubstantiated allegations against the DG ISI and the Pakistan Army was not sensible. Angels (must) fear to tread where fools rush in!  Soldiers from my own unit told me a few days ago they were being taunted by others in the Cantonment about my association with Geo Group. Freedom of expression notwithstanding, this deep-rooted hurt and anger among the rank and file must not be provoked further.

 

Seemingly stressed the  information minister Pervez Rasheed is probably on medication. What perception does one get from his signaling that the Sharif’s bedside visit indicated which side his boss was on?  Did the 5000 plus soldiers killed in the war against terrorism or any of the around 19000 injured get similar comfort? Zardari hated the Army, notwithstanding compromising Kayani because of his two talented siblings, his venom surfaced only with caution from time to time.  Contrary to public perception Mian Sahib’s friends maintain that he has overcome the consuming penchant for revenge, some of his close aides remain so inclined.

 

Created as a political party in late 1980s by the Army, one must forgive those in the Sharif-lead PML (N) party having an ingrained guilty complex about their establishment origins.  Hounding General Musharraf is just an excuse to tar and feather the uniform that fed and nourished them into political reality.  One comfortable in the political limelight, matters became complicated with General Asif Nawaz Janjua as far back as 1991.  Modelling himself on his hero Ayub Khan (belonging to his own unit 5 Punjab), Asif Nawaz shared the Field Marshal’s disdain for politicians.   The Islami Jamhoori Alliance (IJI) was cobbled together with the PML (N) as a nucleus for disparate politicians in opposition to Ms Benazir.  The IJI being made by Lt Gen Hamid Gul, his closest rival for the COAS post, added to Asif Nawaz’s suspicions.  When he unfortunately suddenly died, renowned media anchor Najam Sethi publicly campaigned for investigating the rumors of poisoning, even asking for an autopsy in his editorial of Sep 16, 1993.

 

Give the Sharifs credit for forgiving Najam this “indiscretion”, the PML (N) continue blaming Asif Nawaz’s successor Gen Waheed Kakar for tacitly supporting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) for dismissing their govt in early 1993. With transparent fairplay (and refusing the temptation of taking over), the than COAS eventually eased out both GIK and Mian Nawaz Sharif (after his restoration as PM), the subsequent General Elections were won by Ms Benazir’s PPP. Threatening to resign on the Musharraf “exit” issue,  a dozen plus of Sharif’s close political aides seem afflicted with the “Masada Complex”, pushing the Sharifs into a stupid no-win confrontation with the Army. For the greater good of democracy and economic prosperity of the nation, they should shed this albatross of animosity.  While Ahsan Iqbal’s offer for electoral reforms in the wake of Imran Khan’s May 11 demand is the correct democratic way, he could have avoided remarks about the rally being backed by “sources known to all”.

 

After a period of major stagnation, Pakistan is on the march economically. If the likes of Saad Rafique (Pakistan’s railways minister) and Pervez Rashid continue playing dangerous games, a “forced march” could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

 The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

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