Politics is a dirty game whether played on the level playing fields of England or on the slippery slopes of Pakistan.

Ayaz Amir, my friend from Chakwal and fellow columnist, has again gone to the hustings. When I call the Chaudhry of Chakwal his batman usually picks up the telephone and when I announce myself as the Chaudhry of Karachi he connects me. When we spoke yesterday we reminisced about the time we together met Mian Nawaz Sharif at lunch one day during the period he was leader of the opposition from 1993 to 1996.

The Mian and I had a standard form of conversation each time we met. He would open up : "You say I am corrupt. Have you any proof?" I would answer "No. You say Benazir is corrupt. Have you any proof?" He could but also respond with a 'no'.

It was that day that I mentioned to Nawaz that Ayaz was keen to join politics, following in his father's footsteps, and wanted a PML ticket to the Punjab assembly. Sure enough, when Nawaz was returned to power in 1997, the Chakwal Chaudhry asked and was given his ticket, stood from his constituency, and ended up as a member of the provincial assembly.

Of course, being what he is, the Chaudhry was a misfit and in due course, following his conscience, resigned from his seat (he claims the distinction of being the sole parliamentarian of that period to do so). Whilst a sitting member, he naturally had to follow party discipline and was even forced to close his eyes, empty his mind, and cast his vote in favour of Rafiq Ahmad Tarar as president of the republic.

Curious, I asked Ayaz how he will manage to stick it out this time round. He is confident that he can as he will be in the opposition, standing on a PML(N) ticket. What on earth made you rejoin the Nawaz group? I asked. He had been requested to do so by the party and also by his constituents, and besides, he needed a platform. He feels that he has a fairly good chance of winning NA 60.

Opposing him is Major-General Majid Malik's nephew, Major Tahir of the PML Group, a green card holder who along with family lives in the US, whose business is in the US, and who for all intents and purposes is an American citizen. He was sent for by his general uncle to keep the seat warm, is supported by the government, so is fairly confident.

He hopes to be elected, return to reside in America, and visit Pakistan for the assembly sittings. Now, how can such a man 'serve the people'?

The PPP candidate opposing the Chaudhry is Khurram Nawab, the son of Sardar Nawab Khan who does not qualify to stand for election. The problem here is that young Khurram will divert votes that should go to the Chaudhry were he not standing and thus eat into his vote bank somewhat.

When and if elected, Ayaz's main fight will be to get the army out of politics, completely out. He may well like General Pervez Musharraf and approve of what he stands for, but he feels that he must move on and out. Now, as I reminded Ayaz, this is a tall order.

He must always bear in mind that the last general to relinquish a dictatorship and go home and back to his plough was Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus of Rome in 440 BC.

We both agreed that this country can neither afford nor sustain the very large army it now supports and that its strength all round must be drastically reduced. This of course, in my view, can only be done by an army general and not by any politician, however honest or corrupt.

The men in uniform will never stand for it. Ayaz, naturally, thinks otherwise though he is vague about how to go about it and could do nothing but hum and haw in response.

With the power he has assumed unto himself (they all do so and bluff themselves into believing that they have made themselves impregnable) our president general, whose adherence to the national interest is not in doubt, could gain sufficient confidence to do this, but then, right now and until some sort of solution is sought and found, other factors prevent him from even contemplating it. Perhaps in the five years to come, things will change, and in the true national interest our general will act. One sure way of getting the army out of politics is to reduce its manpower, its industrial empire, its land holdings and its massive funding.

Let us take the attitude of another army man, a man from our neighbour India, a fellow Zoroastrian, the highly respected Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw. When in Delhi last year I had the privilege of meeting him.

Now almost ninety, he stands as straight as an arrow, and like a good soldier can look down over a belt that does not sag, over a flat stomach, and see his shoelaces. And, like a good soldier he does not dye his hair or his bristling moustache. They have grown into a natural, distinguished and becoming grey.

Over lunch at his charming daughter's flat, I asked him whether in his experience as a soldier there had ever been any danger of the army stepping in to take over the government of India. He laughed and said, never - it could never happen. But, there was one odd occasion when he was heading the army and Indira Gandhi was prime minister, when matters in India were not going too well, there was much unrest, and Indira was apprehensive that the army may step in.

So one day, she asked if she could call upon him at his headquarters. When he naturally said she should not, and that he would come to her, she put her foot firmly down and insisted that it would be she who would go to him.

Her problem was that she had heard on the grapevine that the field marshal was contemplating stepping in to sort out the messy political situation. She asked him whether there was any truth in the rumour. His answer to her : "Little girl, I have a big and long nose, as do you. You keep your nose out of the affairs of my army and I will keep my nose out of the affairs of your government. Now run along, and try and sort things out."

It is 'iman' that counts. Not constitutional amendments.

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