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On to the next stage

Published Mar 10, 2013 12:30am


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DARE whisper it now: we’re there. On the verge of that much sought after civilian-led transition, or a re-endorsement of the last five years.

Here’s the credit — or blame — they each get for getting us to this point: Zardari, 40 per cent; Sharif, 40 per cent; Kayani, 20 per cent.

Zardari because he learned to say both yes and no: yes, to whatever price whoever had a chance of knocking him and his government out demanded; no, to the politics of vendettas.

Sharif because he learned to say yes: yes, to letting a government complete its term, and absorbing whatever hurt came his way for having the gumption to say yes.

Kayani because he chose to say neither yes nor no: sitting on the fence, poking and prodding on occasion but never actually getting off the fence.

Because of those three, and the choices they’ve made, we’re here: with a rickety elected system — democratic being a stretch, for now — with some hope of continuity.

A back-to-back and on-time election is now as close to a certainty as anything can be in the land of uncertainty. Should, then, we pause to celebrate the implausible and applaud the protagonists?

Fuggedboutit. This is Pakistan; this is democracy — what comes next matters more than what came before.

So out comes the crystal ball and into May and beyond we gaze.

The civilians got their election, the army let them have it, the Taliban weren’t able to derail it — now what?

Parliament is hung. Sharif looked like he may run away with it but Pakistan — and Imran — held him back.

Punjab is still Sharif Land, but gone are the days of the Heavy Mandate: we’re firmly in the Era of Coalitions.

The coalition maestro, Zardari, has been relegated to second, still in with a shot for re-election as president and still in charge of Sindh (minus Karachi) but shunted across the aisle — from the treasury to the opposition — in parliament.

The shoe is now on the other foot.

Gen K is going home — he’s told everyone he’s going home — but he’s got six months left as Chief Guardian of Pakistan.

Zardari, 40; Sharif, 40; Kayani, 20 — the old percentages, credit and blame, start anew.

Here’s the doomsday scenario:

Sharif the Democrat fails as Sharif the Coalition Builder. Hung parliament becomes paralysed parliament. One seventy two — the elusive number for prime minister and the keys to the semi-promised land — is unattainable.

Elsewhere, it’s too late for the caretakers to stop the economy from sliding towards IMF oblivion. Law and order, already a mess, slips a few notches further towards catastrophe.

The barbarians are billeted inside, long since done with waiting at the gates. The external environment, shaped by the exit from Afghanistan and the election in India, takes a turn for the worse.

Kayani now has the same choice but in new circumstances: carpe diem — seize the day — or permit national death by drift and paralysis.

Say Kayani chooses the same again: if the civilians sink, they’ll do it under their own weight, not be pushed; if they stay afloat again, Allah be praised and let’s everyone strap ourselves in for another helluva ride.

The choice — to let the elected system (remember, democratic is a stretch) continue as it was meant to — then switches to Zardari.

Stung by an electoral defeat everyone warned him of but he refused to believe, Zardari is feverishly doing his math.

Start with the certainty: the Senate is locked in till March 2015 and the PPP has close to a simple majority there; the PML-N a very distant second.

Zardari’s passive option: he can sit back and enjoy the show as Sharif runs here, there and everyone to get even basic legislation passed, the PPP effectively enjoying a veto with its near-majority in the upper house.

Non-aggression but also non-cooperation — Zardari can just let Sharif’s gung-ho, go-it-alone instinct undo an N-League government all on its own.

The active option: Zardari can lure last-term’s allies into cobbling together a minority government — just enough votes to get the PM elected and a cabinet sworn-in but too few to guarantee any kind of stability beyond the shortest of short terms.

That would be Zardari unable to live with the shoe on the other foot, to extend the same democratic courtesy to Sharif that Sharif extended to him.

On to Sharif: he’s got his government, he’s back as PM, he’s learned a new trick or two — but has he learned enough?

Nominating Kayani’s successor is an early critical decision.

The usual decision process — though there’s nothing usual about something that last happened in 1990s: the chief gives the PM three names, giving the appearance of choice but in reality, the preferred candidate is made known.

Sharif is torn. He could be aggressive and reject all the nominees, opting for what he thinks is a pliant chief he’ll be comfortable with. Or he could go with the preferred nominee and learn to co-exist with a “professional” chief who may have ideas of his own.

There’s another early minefield Sharif has to navigate: seeing out the last few months of another chief — CJ Iftikhar — with a penchant for activism and a perceived reluctance to leave the bully pulpit.

Zardari learned to submit to his flagellation, but will Sharif, Heir to the Mughal Throne, also learn to submit, or will he unleash his dogs of war?

Why all this hypothesising now about a future no one can really know, you may be wondering. Why not focus on how we’ll get through election season, or why the speculation that there won’t be one after all refuses to go away, you may be thinking.

Because perhaps the best way to stop something is to let it happen.

You got your election, you got your politicians, you got your government — and look, it’s more screwed up than ever.

The Bangladesh model doesn’t die with a mere election, or even two.

The writer is a member of staff. Twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (10) Closed

Huma Mar 10, 2013 08:44am
Mohammad Ali Khan Mar 10, 2013 04:10pm
Yes to corruption and fanaticism from all sides.Now and in future.People have no control over their destiny.
akbar Mar 10, 2013 03:47am
Gentle Scholar ,do not you see ,what Bangladesh model has brought to Bangladesh itself, or may be you are not following the current events there
K S Venkatesh Mar 10, 2013 04:25am
Though I do not usually regard pure speculation very highly, this article is special for a poorly informed outsider because the author has taken pains to point out a few actually good deeds by different actors: Zardari submitting to (what many outside Pakistan see as) unprecedented judicial overreach, apparently out of respect for the institution, Sharif who refused to succumb to the temptation to play dirty by throwing a spanner in the works - which he easily could have. The people of Pakistan should recognize these little courtesies (?) as the beginning of a strong democratic tradition finally taking root. These little actions (or even little inactions) should make you proud. They indicate a developing tendency to co-exist rather than to merely dominate.
gp65 Mar 10, 2013 08:54pm
Have you considered the fact that PML-N and PTI could form a coaliation after the election results are out? Both are right wing parties soft on terror but seems to have some well defined economic policies.
Guest63 Mar 10, 2013 07:26am
Brilliant way of poking into the Future Scenarios based upon the past historical facts . Its going to be some what close to it if we have to do our own self analysis of What we had , what we have and what are our so called National top leaders ( including the self appointed guardians of the nation) capable of doing the screw up even if they have absolute majority .
Tariq K Sami Mar 10, 2013 07:23am
I predict none of the above.
NASAH (USA) Mar 10, 2013 02:27pm
Cyril the Nostradamus. Pretty accurate.
Dilnawaz Mar 10, 2013 03:19pm
don't belittle the elections. let there be free and fair elections and that will give a real sense of empowerment to the people. the real democracy is bound to tag along then. it is the establishment that dreads this empowerment.
Parvez Mar 11, 2013 11:00am
They are as different as chalk is to cheese but stranger things have happened in politics so one never knows. Good to see you on this forum.