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The pursuers and the prey

August 10, 2008

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AT play: Our insecure elected and unelected political players, some corrupt to the core. The aim: Dependent upon the contours of their overflowing pockets, they shoot at half-cock. The beneficiaries: The politicos and their progeny in perpetuity. The losers: The poor people of poor Pakistan.

What we have seen in our press last week is indicative of the state of the nation and of its lamentable leadership — one of the two main leaders, both unelected, sports a permanent grin exposing what seem to be falsified teeth, the other sports what we know to be false hair. Such are the main players of the latest national game, imbued with distrust of each other and hatred for the common enemy, the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan supposedly in the throes of reconciliation.

The two main players, plus their main acolytes, inspire no confidence. They choose to ignore the needs of the people who so rashly elected their parties into power, they ignore the crippling and massively rising inflation, the steady fall of the Pakistani rupee, the erosion of the stock market, the alarming advance of the forces of Talibanisation. They are blinkered and obsessed with a one-point agenda — a vacant presidential chair over which to squabble.

The media is chock-a-block with diverse views on this latest ploy and one main reaction is: can they be believed? Many maintain they cannot, for they have lied to themselves and to the nation for five solid months. Why should they now change tack? Neither Asif Zardari nor Nawaz Sharif are known and honoured for their moral probity. Their track record belies the nation’s hopes that they could actually mean what they say.

As for the prey, there is no denying that President General Pervez Musharraf has much to answer for. On his own admission, he is guilty of violating the constitution which is no stranger to violations, its first violation coming within four hours of its birth by its maker and the maker of the old original PPP, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The brave and worthy coalition partners are drawing up a list of Musharraf’s sins, and it is to be hoped that atop the list will sit his major sin which has violated the constitution in letter and in spirit — the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. The constitution, mutilated as it is, does not sanction the robbing of the nation’s assets, murder or mayhem. If Zardari has one honest bone in his body he will acknowledge the wickedness of the NRO and return to this failing nation all the ill-gotten gains that he has retrieved thanks to the machinations of Musharraf and the United States of America.

The game is on, with the pursuers on the one hand giving no time frame for it to be played out whilst on the other setting forth time frames that change with the day. Whatever or however, this novel sport can have neither a swift nor a clean ending. It will be messy and dangerous and, all things being equal, the possibility does exist that there will be no winner but only losers. It is a dirty game, the buying has already begun and the figure being bandied about the country is a mere Rs25m per sold soul. By our political standards this is a poor show. Zardari and Nawaz together can pool a far healthier and more enticing sum.

The government put together by the coalition and then torn asunder is recognised by all, nationally and internationally, as having been in a paralytic state since it was formed in late March. It has done nothing but shovel off the blame for all the ills it should have at least attempted to tackle on to the shoulders of the last inept government which was voted out and its erstwhile godfather, General Musharraf. It has given no thought to alleviating the country’s plight. It has been solidly self-centred. This is a fact universally acknowledged as is the fact that the impeachment of Musharraf has no bearing on the well-being of the country, politically or economically, as whether he goes or not this government and the two coalition parties will continue to squabble and wrangle over non-issues which affect their personal power bases.

The coalition has teetered on the brink of collapse, with Zardari and Sharif being hardly on speaking terms for varied periods of time. In their heart of hearts, they dislike, perhaps even despise each other, as David Blair writing in The Daily Telegraph (London) on Aug 8 has suggested. “Throughout the 1990s,” he writes, “their parties competed for the spoils of office, and each took pitiless vengeance against the other whenever they had the chance. Thus Mr Sharif, as prime minister between 1996 and 1999, launched case after case against Mr Zardari and ensured that he went to prison on corruption charges without ever having been convicted. Meanwhile, Mr Zardari persecuted Mr Sharif whenever the PPP was in power.”

Not a pretty record, and not easily forgotten or forgiven. “All these vendettas are now packed inside a single administration; the move against the president is merely the most obvious sign of the infighting.” Unity against a common enemy is the name of the game, an enemy who has no love lost for “self-serving and inept civilian politicians”.

Blair rightly has it that by trying to impeach his “nemesis”, Musharraf, Sharif is gleefully settling scores. His expression at the famous press conference would endorse this. Zardari resents Musharraf because he kept him in jail and then in exile, and this was fully evidenced in his venomous spitting out of the name “Musharraaaf” when referring to the presidential impeachment plan. He is equally gleefully biting the hand that has fed him so substantially with the NRO.

He also had the gall to state to one press person who asked him an awkward question that “democracy does not ask, it tells”. This is just another variation of the PPP-Z slogan about democracy being the best revenge. The impeachment move has nothing to do with democracy and all to do with revenge. How can it work out when the intent is such?

This constitutional and legal method of ridding themselves of an enemy is, per se, good news to many. One must hope that the current jubilation is not as misplaced as the jubilation witnessed after the results of the Feb 18 election.

The danger lies in a power vacuum and infighting which will immensely please the Taliban forces of the frontier regions which are likely to exploit the official paralysis and “the tangled web of today’s politics”.

arfc@cyber.net.pk