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State of the nation

The mobs venting their anger on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on Dec 27, 2007, let loose an orgy of riot and mayhem. Many took to the business of violence not only for looting and pillaging to enrich themselves but to take out their frustrations on those perceived to be living a life better than theirs. Anarchy threatened to engulf the entire land. We were in a state of shock; the state was in dire peril.

Instead of only lamenting his wife’s death, Asif Ali Zardari peremptorily silenced the secessionist cries threatening to undercut the unity of the federation and took control of the PPP.

Superbly street smart in the political sense, Zardari ran rings around everyone, ultimately taking oath as the president of Pakistan. This was perhaps his finest moment but there was no way he could have done all this without the tacit understanding of the Pakistan Army.

As he settled into the trappings of his office, Zardari’s true self emerged, the restoration of the chief justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court (SC) made him into a wounded soul. Given the time and space, he countered, by sustained muckraking, the country’s two major institutions – the superior judiciary and the army.

Nothing tangible ties him to the proxies he used. He countered Pir Pagaro’s recent Hyderabad show that gathered Sindhi nationalist and various other dissident elements under one banner by unleashing his ultimate weapon, son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Bilawal’s maiden political speech at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh evoked flashes of Benazir at her best; it roused the PPP faithfuls. As much as many may love to hate Bilawal’s father, they truly loved his mother.

Heeding the warning signals set off by Imran Khan in October 2011, Mian Nawaz Sharif got down to grass roots politicking in earnest, winning back the ground (and some) PML-N had lost in Punjab because of political complacency. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Amir Muqam rejuvenated the party from virtual extinction.

Asif Zardari fouled up politically by putting Manzoor Wattoo to head the PPP in Punjab, following by a rather desperate move of attempting to restore the equilibrium in southern Punjab, and installing non-PPP Nawabzada Hassan Mehmood as governor!

The PML-N may likely emerge as the largest party in the land (but without absolute majority), mostly at the expense of the PPP, one can understand why Mian Nawaz Sharif wants an early election. He must however change his simplistic mind block about the men in uniform. Ousted by Musharraf, he carries a grudge against the whole army. The irony, a majority of the rank and file would prefer him to Zardari anytime, but they get turned off by his constant berating.

The massive turnout for Imran Khan and Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s in Oct 2011 and Dec 2012 respectively in Lahore underscored the craving in the mass national psyche for drastic change across the body politic of Pakistan, but what change? To replace one face with another or to bring in genuine reform?

The Qadri promise for a march on Islamabad to forcibly pressurise a democratically elected regime may be “unconstitutional”; but has the present democratic regime ruled the country according to the constitution? How long before the common citizen emulates the attorney general’s atrocious behaviour in court, symbolising the utter contempt of the government towards the SC and the rule of law.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice Fakhruddin Ebrahim is already into doublespeak. He came out strongly for delimitation in Karachi as per the SC ruling, only to reverse his opinion two weeks later. Aside from anomalies in the electoral rolls and the requirement of delimitation across the country, what about the economic and political uncertainties? Can the CEC guarantee controlling the forces that would be unleashed in a national political campaign?

Democratic dispensations require the electoral process, with anarchy as a consequence in today’s circumstances? A watershed in the history of united Pakistan, the Nov 13, 1970 cyclone took almost three million lives in the coastal belt, exacerbating the feelings of discrimination among the East Pakistanis. Still going the Awami League’s way, the vote would not have been so overwhelmingly lopsided. Once the elections took place in such adverse circumstances, the federation was as good as gone.

For the first three years of his military rule, professionally competent Musharraf certainly ran an excellent civil administration; the cruel paradox is that in the exercise of his military functions, he failed to deliver, primarily by not keeping to the merit system of promotion. In contrast Kayani concentrated on the welfare of the soldiers and revived the merit system.

With almost all the present senior military leadership today seeing active combat in counter-insurgency in Swat and Fata, the army has radically changed, far different from what the COAS inherited in 2007 – and Kayani deserves credit for it. In contrast to Musharraf, however, Kayani needs to exercise more control over his siblings.

The best joke of 2012 is the finance minister being tasked to extol the Pakistani masses about the great “economic successes” achieved by the PPP government. The proposed “tax amnesty scheme” to legalise black money symbolises the inherent criminality in our system, need one mention the reason why? The PM could chip in with his many ‘successes’ as federal minister of water and power, making electricity into an ‘endangered species’. The minister for petroleum could tell us why stopping gas to fertilizer factories required importing urea fertilizer with precious foreign exchange, forcing increase in fertilizer prices for the farmer, and subsequently the price of wheat. The roti in PPP’s slogan roti, kapra aur makaan is costing the common man more, which means he should forget the dream of a makaan (house) of his own.

Can anyone outdo our interior minister Rehman Malik expounding upon his ‘great’ successes in ‘controlling’ the law-and-order situation? Maybe one day in the week can be set aside for him to tell the truth.

Tempered by internecine internal conflict, the army is convinced about the necessity of democratic dispensation and constitutional rule that does not give licence to run riot and give the most corrupt critical appointments.

A rot destroying the credibility of each and every institution in the country has set in. Does the letter of the constitution carry more weight than the spirit in which it was made and the morality that it embodies? Far more dangerous are the constant economic downslide and the energy shortages affecting both the manufacturing and services sectors. One can keep borrowing from banks and printing money, what happens when the money has no value?

While the army is not going to step in at the drop of a hat and certainly not without judicial direction, there is always a limit to patience, how much more will their patriotic responsibility be tested?

Incidentally, do we have the time to exercise more patience?

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

Ikram Sehgal, "State of the nation," The News. 2013-01-03.