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The frenzy

Talk now is firmly focused on the election, which is less than two months away. So far, the PPP and the PML-N remain the two most potent forces in the country – with many expecting that the real contest will be between them.

But there is a broth being cooked up, with many ingredients added to it, as if by a cook who has entered some state of frenzy as he grabs what he can from left, right and centre and chucks them into the pot. And more ingredients continue to be added to the frothing mixture with each passing minute.

We have Pervez Musharraf dropping in on the scene after many years, still talking as he did five years ago. The role he is to play, with his All Pakistan Muslim League, is unclear. Certainly, the former dictator has no genuine ground support of his own, and it is unclear how much help the MQM can offer him. His return also re-ignites ugly memories, with the ex-commando being blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

One theory goes that the shadowy, unnamed players who are accused of manipulating events on the political scene wish to cram the field, hoping for a split in the vote, coalition forming and a weaker government that is easier to tackle. The ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan, after 2014 when the Americans pull out, is the trophy these players eye and wish no force – such as elected civilians – to hold them back. These factors cannot be ignored, considering our electoral history, the revelations made of ISI involvement in the process in the recently concluded Asghar Khan case, the astonishingly inflated total votes cast in 1997 and apparent efforts in 2008 to bolster the score for selected candidates.

The ‘divided vote’ point could also become a crucial issue. PML-N stalwarts are already scratching their heads, considering the extent to which Imran Khan may divide their vote in Punjab, thereby giving the PPP an edge. The PML-N and the PTI appeal to a similar faction of voters.

While the PTI may not quite create the tsunami it predicts, going little beyond the lightening storm that cut short its March 23 rally in Lahore, this could still inflict some damage on the PML-N in its home province – where every survey shows a rise in popularity. How much damage the PTI can inflict is as yet difficult to predict, though it seems voters in many parts of Punjab still see this poll as a tussle between the two larger parties. Some are savvy enough to point out that tsunamis do not occur away from the sea anyway.

It is always worth remembering that the voters themselves are a potent, active, lively force – aware of their own power. This gift to them, bestowed in 1970 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a then very different PPP, is an extremely significant one. They speak with intelligence and sagacity as well as the wry sense of humour required to survive the situation they face. We can only lament the fact that their leaders do not match up to them.

These leaders need to rise to the occasion. So far we have before us only a set of rather lame manifestos. The one by the PML-N for instance makes only fleeting mention of the militancy issue, which has been identified by the army – and every sensible citizen – as the biggest threat to our security.

Certainly it is the most acute problem we face. The razed homes of tribespeople in the Tirah Valley of the Khyber Agency come as the latest proof of this. It is astonishing that the terrible images from the intensified war being fought in this area have not figured more prominently in the mainstream media. The process of ‘agenda setting’ as far as the news goes is always something worth looking at very closely.

The PPP has discussed extremism in greater depth in its manifesto and states it must be eradicated, but of course given the record of the past five years, it is hard to believe what the PPP says. We also need to explore exactly why leaders are saying so little anyway. Is it that they have no real solutions to offer? Are the crises our country faces too grave to solve?

It is perfectly true that Imran Khan was not able to present his manifesto at his March 23 rally because of intervention by the weather. However, what he said before this should also make us think. Imran promised to always speak the truth, a hard task for any politician in any country, but one we hope he will stick to.

He also, according to reports by the media and those who followed his speech, referred to the Almighty at least 25 times during his address, emphasising also that Allah “loved” him. This may of course be perfectly correct, but it does not suggest how the people of the country will benefit. To be fair to Imran, we might have known more had Allah been kind and allowed him to complete his rally rather than bringing the rains pouring down on him.

On his arrival at Karachi airport, Pervez Musharraf continued the incoherence he had acquired in greater degrees during his final days in power, making repeated references to his religiosity and the fact that the doors of holy places in Saudi Arabia were open to him when he visited them.

Again, we have no argument with any leader doing as he chooses in his private life, or being treated like a VIP. But we would, as citizens, like to know what these persons intend to do for those of us who do not have so many favours bestowed on them from above.

All the political parties at this point need to spell out – in clear terms – their plans for the next five years. This is the basis on which votes should be cast. We badly need the compass to be used so that the path into the future can be set along safe routes and away from dangerous winds.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "The frenzy," The News. 2013-03-28.
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