OUR tin-clad Generalissimo may not be blessed in his own talent or powers (if he were he wouldn’t be in the mess he is in) but he sure is blessed in the humbugs masquerading as the people’s champion.

With a stellar cast that includes Benazir Bhutto, one thing in the morning and another in the evening, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the deadliest secret weapon in Musharraf’s arsenal, it is no wonder the opposition parties are in such a state of confusion.

But if they are not to miss the bus altogether they better make up their minds quickly. The Generalissimo, political genius that he is, has put himself in a desperate hole and the only way he can get out is if the opposition parties are foolish enough to fall into the trap of his Jan 8 election.

If they participate, Musharraf is home and dry, the crisis he faces abating. But if they have sense not to, the election will lose all credibility and the hole the general is in will become deeper.

Repression can’t be kept up indefinitely. People can’t be locked up all the time. Even the police get tired in the end and the army seems not in a mood to behave like the Myanmar army.

If the political class and the intelligentsia are in a state of shock it should be of some consolation for them to know that Musharraf and coterie are also not having much fun. What is the fun of being absolute ruler when assailed from all sides, enduring lectures from the likes of John Negroponte and having to plead with the Saudis to keep Nawaz Sharif in the Holy Land?

There are real ‘strongmen’ and there is then the tinpot variety, helpless and distraught when the weather turns wet, as it has for the paladins of this setup. Amazing, isn’t it, that Nawaz Sharif should prey so much on their nerves? Amazing too that they should be afraid of so many shadows.

Afraid of My Lord Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, afraid of Justice Ramday, Rana Bhagwandas, retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, Muneer Malik, fiery Ali Ahmed Kurd, Aitzaz Ahsan.

Power becomes a poisoned chalice when there are so many ghosts at the feast to be terrified of. Even the great Hakim Luqman, it is said, had no cure for wehm (suspicion or the fear of the unknown). For the paranoia gripping Islamabad there is also no cure.

The president has issued an ordinance amending the Constitution whereby no action of his post-Nov 3 can be challenged in any court of law. He can issue a hundred ordinances and amend the Constitution a hundred times but the fears preying on him, and of which he is already a victim, will not go away.

A hundred Sharifuddin Pirzadas can be set to work day and night to amend the Constitution in the president’s favour, the entire commando strength of the Pakistan army can be deployed around Army House, still those fears will not depart.

According to Chinese tradition, a ruler losing the mandate of heaven is doomed. Something similar seems to have happened to the present order of things after March 9. No move, not a single step, has been in the right direction, everything having the opposite effect to that intended.

We now approach the end-run of this crisis. Gen Musharraf has run out of options, his bag of tricks empty. He can either follow the path of repression which, as already said, can’t be sustained for long. Or he can be saved not by his own efforts but the treachery of the opposition parties. Only if they throw him a lifeline — by agreeing to fall into the trap of the Jan 8 election — can he make it to the other shore.

Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif have it right. Asfandyar Wali has it right. The Baloch nationalists — Abdul Hayee, Hasil Bizenjo, Mahmood Achakzai, Akhtar and Sardar Ataullah Mengal — are on the right track. These people have their hearts in the right place. They are not keen to fall into the general’s trap.

But others are playing a double game, none more so than that undisputed master of double-talk, Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Perhaps the time has come for the rest of the opposition parties to bid him farewell and say ‘good riddance’. A Trojan horse like him in their midst can only be a danger, spreading confusion and undermining unity from within. Better to be without such allies.

Benazir Bhutto’s is a slightly more complicated case. She is too intelligent not to realise that any election under Musharraf will be a farce. But there are skeletons in her cupboard — let’s not go into details — limiting her freedom of action. She also cannot ignore American wishes entirely because it is the United States which is her principal backer, desperate to push Musharraf and her into some kind of understanding.

She faces a tough choice. Does she go along with America’s reading of the situation or can she bring herself to do the right thing by her own party and the people of Pakistan? In any case, she should be under no illusion. If she decides to participate in the coming election she will have thrown a lifeline to Musharraf, in effect siding with his neo-martial law.

What a picture this will present: Q League, MQM and assorted allies the king’s party and Benazir Bhutto and Maulana Fazlur Rehman standard-bearers of his generalship’s loyal opposition. Holy fathers are used to such transmutations but from his eyrie up in the clouds hard to imagine the great Zulfikar Ali Bhutto being amused.

As for the Jamaat-i-Islami, time perhaps to call a spade a spade. It has to decide whether it will remain a satellite orbiting around Maulana Fazlur Rehman or it has a mind of its own. Qazi Hussein Ahmed’s rhetoric is loud but the Jamaat so far has not proved very effective in the ongoing struggle. Where does its true heart lie and can it ever be a sincere partner in the struggle for democracy?

The Jamaat and its student wing, the Jamiat, both now realise the extent of the blunder committed when Jamiat goons misbehaved with Imran Khan on Nov 14. This has brought a searching light to focus on the Jamiat’s politics, exposing it and the Jamaat to perhaps the severest criticism in their blood-charged history.

The Jamiat, desperate to make amends, is now saying it will arrange a reception in Imran’s honour. Imran will have to be a fool to go along with such a charade. Such double-faced companions are best kept at a distance.

But you’ll have to hand it to Imran for being so plucky. The kind of setbacks he has suffered would have made a lesser man say goodbye to politics long ago. But he persevered and is now reaping the fruits of his perseverance.

If there is one politician who has emerged tall during the stormy events of this year it is Imran. To judge by the courage and keen judgment of events he has shown, he may well be coming into his stride.

Courage not fine speeches is what we need and if Nov 3’s neo-martial law has thrown up chicanery and brutality in ample measure, this most glorious of years in our history, 2007, has thrown up a new leadership consisting of judges, lawyers, civil society activists, and a new breed of students (from the most ‘liberal’ campuses, by the way). In this lies our hope for the future.

But first a clear decision regarding the forthcoming election.

Opinion

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