May 31, 2008

End of the road for president?

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 1:14 am
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MAY 31, 2008

Saturday, May 31, 2008
Rahimullah Yusufzai

President General (r) Pervez Musharraf is fighting a losing battle to survive in office. But to expect him to go down without a fight is na�ve. It will be uncharacteristic of the man to give up easily after having ruled Pakistan for more than eight years on his own terms and in a manner that wasn’t unlike running a personal fiefdom.

It was, therefore, not easy to believe the latest news that the embattled president was on his way out. Journalist colleagues in their excitement have raised false alarm on quite a few occasions in the recent past about Musharraf’s resignation. All their reporting turned out to be wrong. It is true that majority of journalists, like most Pakistanis, want the discredited president to step down but to expect him to voluntarily resign appears unrealistic. He will have to be forced out of his ill-gotten job. And going by his record, he will listen to only the Pakistan Army and the US, both of which sustained him in power all these years even after it became obvious that he had lost the trust of his nation.

There should be little doubt that President Musharraf’s days are numbered. One day all those news stories about him would finally turn out to be true and he will be gone. It will surely happen before the expiry of his new, unconstitutionally obtained five-year term as president. It will be difficult for him to exercise all those extra-constitutional powers that he grabbed in the hope of using them to keep elected civilian rulers in line. The time is past for him to threaten dismissal of an elected government and dissolution of assemblies. He cannot co-exist with the new democratic set-up that is settling down as a result of the remarkable February 18 general elections. There are no takers for his numerous offers to work with the newly-elected political parties as the democratically-empowered lawmakers don’t want to earn the ire of the voters who voted for a change. The people would likely turn against any party and leader who tried to befriend the unpopular president and helped prolong his rule.

This certainly is the reason that even Asif Ali Zardari, beholden to the president for withdrawing all cases of misuse of power and corruption against him and his colleagues under the inappropriately named National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), is distancing himself from Musharraf and referring to him as a relic of the past. He was prompted to ask the president to quit or face impeachment. Nawaz Sharif, who has scores to settle with Musharraf, went a step further and demanded his trial for treason instead of pardoning him.

It seems the president would have to suffer more such indignities as long as he defies the calls for his resignation. Lust for power isn’t something unusual but there comes a time when one has to decide to call it quits for the sake of one’s family, institution and country. The armed forces, the institution that gave him honour and power, would be relieved if he were to go voluntarily as showing him the door would be painful for any serving general, least of all for the gentleman Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The country too would be served right if the president, who coined the slogan “Pakistan First,” were to quit. All the speculation about his fate would end and Pakistan would benefit as stocks exchanges would no longer crash once he made up his mind to resign.

However, any hopes that Pakistan would become a better place once Musharraf is gone would be misplaced. Though that doesn’t mean that we should keep the unconstitutional president in office, it ought to be kept in mind that except a few exceptions the ruling political parties are status quo-oriented and monopolized by the rich and the powerful. Right now, the PML-N is ahead of other parties in doing issue-based politics and genuinely campaigning for a change. Nawaz Sharif has come a long way since the days when he was the favourite child of the military-dominated Pakistani establishment. He is now trying to represent the aspirations of the deprived masses by highlighting the woes of the poor and calling for a just economic and judicial system. His steadfast support for the restoration of the pre-emergency judiciary as it stood on November 2, 2007 is winning him the backing of the lawyers, civil society and the media.

In a strange turnaround, the PPP is seen as resisting change and maintaining the status quo. Allowing Manzoor Wattoo, Anwar Saifullah and others who until recently were in the rival camp to join the PPP speaks volumes about the changeover that the party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has undergone in recent years. Mr Zardari may think he is playing smart by delaying the resolution of the judges’ issue by advocating the passage of his government’s 62-point package of constitutional amendments. But the move could backfire if it doesn’t get the required support in parliament and continues to face resistance from the lawyers and their supporters in the civil society. The sympathy and goodwill for Mr Zardari generated by the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto cannot last long and already references are being made to his past. His long stint in jail did wash away some of his real or imagined sins but soon the knives would be out and his decisions and policies as Pakistan’s new most powerful man would come under public scrutiny.

There are problems and challenges galore and our new rulers, having been tried in the past, don’t inspire hope that they would deliver this time. Theirs is an exclusive club of privileged men and women who seek power to primarily advance their personal agenda and seek the comforts of life at public expense. In Pakistan’s poorest province, Balochistan, all MPAs except one have become part of the PPP-led ruling coalition and acquired a public office as minister or adviser in a bid to savour the fruits of power. In Sindh, the MQM’s presence in the PPP-headed coalition means every step taken during the past five years in terms of recruitment or land grab would remain untouched. In Punjab, a new round of horse-trading is on the anvil with the likes of Manzoor Wattoo and Salman Taseer apparently being assigned the task to cobble together a PPP-led coalition government in case the PML-N doesn’t play by the rules of the game. Instead of rising above politics after his appointment as governor of Punjab, one saw the sad spectacle of Taseer acting as a PPP “jiyala” after taking his oath of office. It would be na�ve to expect him to stay neutral when the PPP and the PML-N drift apart from each other and decide to fight it out in battleground Punjab.

And in NWFP, the ANP-led coalition government is already showing signs of friction. The PPP and ANP have been political rivals and would remain so despite joining hands for the time-being to jointly rule the province. If their alliance is broken, the PPP would try to form the government sans the ANP and that cannot happen without some horse-trading. Are we then heading for a new season of horse-trading in the country with the lawmakers in NWFP and Punjab taking the lead and coming up for sale to the highest bidder? Unfortunately, that could be our fate in the coming months.

The writer is executive editor of The News International based in Peshawar. Email:


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