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Anything is possible

Remember military dictator Oliver Cromwell telling the members of the Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Just before the National Assembly completed its term, PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf gave the nation a concentrated dose about “the magnificent performance” of the PPP-led coalition. The plethora of mistruths included gems like “bettering of the lot” of the common man by “turning the economy around”.

To influence the voters’ choice of their preference as rulers for the next five years, a constant drumbeat of lies will be disseminated, mainly through the electronic media. “A fool and his money are easily parted” should be paraphrased in the context of Pakistan as “a fool and his vote are easily parted”.

A clutchful of awards for making false statements (including some under oath) must surely go to Rehman Malik. Consider his farewell speech, “When I became interior minister, the main challenge was that of terrorism. However, we have succeeded in breaking the backbone of terrorists”. Some consolation for the relatives of those recently martyred because of terrorist action in Quetta, Karachi, Peshawar and elsewhere!

Will the COAS be comfortable with Malik possibly letting the cat out of the bag by generously recommending that “Kayani be awarded the title of field marshal for his services to democracy”?

According to PML-N’s Khawaja Asif, “The government brazenly looted public money on the last day of its tenure.” Keeping banks open by declaring last Saturday a working day, “one-minute” summaries were approved and changed by the dozens to withdraw enormous amounts of funds, former Attorney General Anwar Mansoor called it “unlawful and immoral”.

The Election Commission had put a ban on releasing funds for projects, they were told the Rs4 billion needed for holding elections could not be released unless they retracted the ban. Those who thus looted the country’s exchequer did so out of sheer habit, operating on the Oliver Cromwell saying, “necessity hath no law,” – the coalition’s very own version of the “doctrine of necessity”.

Threatening imminent return to Pakistan for years, this time Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf means it. The business community likes him, and Musharraf has support in Karachi – unlike in the rest of the country. Interestingly, he is very popular abroad, particularly with governments. The MQM owes him big time for its revival after being targeted by successive PML-N and PPP governments in the 90s. That MQM will support his possible candidacy for the “Defence and Clifton” area is no secret.

With the MQM and the followers of Tahirul Qadri greeting him, Musharraf stands to get quite a welcome at Karachi’s Jinnah Airport. Thereafter ground reality will take over, facing many court cases including a non-bailable arrest warrant for murder by the Balochistan High Court. One is seriously concerned he would become a victim of “kangaroo justice” even before going on trial; a blanket “bail before arrest” may be in place.

A hot potato for the caretaker government, he will be an acute embarrassment for the Pakistan Army. Notwithstanding reservations among the rank and file about Musharraf’s failure to address their welfare in contrast to those of superior military rank, his promoting favourites rather than on merit and meticulously superseding those with combat experience, he was their chief. He cannot be treated like a common criminal. One complicating factor – Kayani was Musharraf’s DG ISI, his trusted point man in the negotiating and drafting of the obnoxious NRO. Inconvenient truths emerging from the woodwork is the possible “Sword of Damocles” here.

Citing life threats to his person, the UAE government may be requested to restrain Musharraf from departing for Pakistan. That could let Musharraf off the hook about his repeatedly failed pledges to return. Conveniently being deported after receiving a warm welcome could also shore up his political credentials for the future. If the much-vilified Asif Ali Zardari can become president, and refusing to adhere to numerous Supreme Court judgements to declare his assets, complete a full term in office, Musharraf, in contrast, may smell like roses. Anything is possible in Pakistan!

With the PML-N regrouping after Imran’s historic October 2011 rally, Imran lost political momentum. With some rather dubious characters joining his bandwagon and staining his credibility, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s comeback combination of good politicking and back-door negotiators took good effect. A massive PML-N propaganda exercise slowly but surely eroded the perception about Imran’s grass-roots support. Though somewhat disillusioned (and even demoralised), his core supporters remained steadfast and loyal.

While the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf elections were marred in a few places by violence, it was the only political party in Pakistan to actually hold intra-party elections, with due respect to the ECP the rest were mere eyewash (avoiding the more appropriate word “hogwash”) but the PTI remains a distant third as of today.

With 80,000 elected party representatives forming the core of what could conceivably be a force-multiplier, Imran Khan’s rally on March 23 in Lahore will generate the necessary momentum (the big “Mo”) for the 50 days or so going into the elections – the political game-changer not only in Punjab’s politics but even Pakistan as a whole.

The PTI-Jamaat-e-Islami (alliance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is very significant, barring the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan-F’s strength in their strongholds it could almost wipe out the Awami National Party while making the PML-N and PPP marginal.

The huge PPP victory in Punjab in the 1970s was only possible because of the overwhelming female vote. If the JI connection in Punjab and elsewhere holds, the JI’s disciplined cadres plus the small but significant female vote bank will add to the massive female adulation Imran Khan presently enjoys in countless homes in both urban and rural areas. Musharraf’s and Tahirul Qadri’s followers will support Imran’s candidates, most probably with (or even without) their leaders’ consent.

Imran could conceivably have done better in Sindh by allying with the PML-F, but he did not because of likely MQM support in many urban and urban-rural constituencies throughout the country, and possibly a post-election alliance. In total disarray in Punjab except in the south, the PPP could well lose safe seats, even give vital ground in Sindh.

To quote Murtaza Haider: “Democracy is all about fulfilling the physical and spiritual needs of the people. For Pakistanis though the democratic rule has meant darkness, hunger and violence”. Haider goes on, “law and order has disappeared and corruption is ubiquitous, economy and utilities have faltered, prompting the electorate to question the value of electoral democracy”. God help this country!

The writer is a defence and political analyst.Email: ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

Ikram Sehgal, "Anything is possible," The News. 2013-03-21.