Two events of far-reaching consequences took place this week, one concerning Pakistan directly and one not so directly. Mian Nawaz Sharif and his entire family (Abbaji included) went off into political exile and Vice President Al-Gore finally conceded the US Presidential elections to the Republican candidate Governor George Bush. Gore was extremely gracious in his concession speech, seeking to unite the country under the new US President-elect. Undercurrents of bitterness notwithstanding, the possible rot within the US democratic polity was brought to a dead halt. To quote Gore, "that which unites us as Americans is far greater than that which divides us".
We were not so lucky, ours is not a win-win situation as the administration media spin-masters would have us believe. The military regime has bought time, it may have been at a price whose instalments the nation may not be able to pay.
Why on earth did the military regime, steeped in an aura of accountability, let the Sharif family out of their hands when they had clear proof of corruption? Why this sudden benevolence for committed opponents? Theories abound starting with the Chief Executive's statement that the pardon has been extended at the request of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Other reasons could well be, viz (1) financial pressure from friendly countries in withholding the funds necessary to stave off impending default in Jan 2001; (2) the threat to the military regime by the formation of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD); (3) ill-health of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his father, the possible demise of the former in custody could have sparked off an unmanageable crisis; (4) by accepting a pardon the Sharifs tacitly accepted their guilt; and (5) by having leaders of both major political parties (and one not so minor) in exile, a clearing of the decks by the military regime to bring back politics in a graduated manner, by either restoring the Assemblies and/or making a national government, etc, etc. It could well be simply what the CE said and/or any combination thereof or all of the above.
Needless to say, the godfather i.e. Abbaji, without whose sanction the Sharifs will probably not go to the toilet,- "Raiwind, We Have A Problem", The Nation October 10, 1998,- must have decided to cut his losses and evacuate from Pakistan, very much like the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) evacuating Dunkirk early in World War II, allowing Britain to keep on fighting. He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto must have had similar offers but he stuck to his guns and went to the gallows, very brave and very stupid. Of course it is a moot point whether Ziaul Haq, knowing Bhutto's vindictive nature, would have ever let him go. Writing about Abbaji "The Godfather" in The Nation on August 26, 2000, I noted, "The Army would be well advised to make the godfather an offer he cannot refuse". Obviously someone in Musharraf's thinktank took this advice seriously and Abbaji on his part must have decided discretion was the better part of valour.
One may have a hint of regret of Shahbaz Sharif. As Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz did a lot of good for the province, even as a rather autocratic democrat he kept the wheels of administration moving in instituting deliberate changes for the better. Abbaji erred in persisting with Mian Nawaz as the family's primary torchbearer, as an administrator he proved himself inept and indifferent. Moreover unlike Mian Nawaz, totally dependant upon his cricket-loving "inner circle" as a thinktank for major (and minor) decisions in the country's governance, Shahbaz consulted far more people, both of substance and maturity, none of whom he was dependant upon. A "time-out" in basketball or American football is a chance for the team to take stock of the situation, re-plan strategy and replace frontline players. Do not be surprised if Shahbaz Sharif comes out in the colours of the new captain of the team. Abbaji must have realised that had he not persisted with the culture of the eldest son being the only legitimate "Prince of Wales", he and his family would not have been in the predicament they are in. It only goes to show that however dexterous peasant cunning may be, basic education and world experience is indispensable when it comes to the corporate knowledge of running nations. Repeatedly Abbaji's "guided missile" ran out of his remote control, overstepping his known limitations at the behest of his "close-in fielders", on Oct 12, 1999 his luck ran out. Though he defers to Abbaji in all matters important, Shahbaz had shown signs of independence even before he became CM Punjab. If he can really be his own master, PML (N)'s future in governance will get a new lease in the political life of Pakistan. The military regime has anointed Mian Nawaz Sharif as a "political martyr" who may yet rise again, phoenix-like, from the ashes and haunt Pakistan again, hopefully not as an executive head of government.
We should not believe for one moment we have been well rid of our most potent and controversial politicians, that the decks are now clear for the supreme national agenda of surviving economically and politically as a nation. Each of the politicians in his/her own personal capacity has considerable hold over their part of the electorate, a significant hard core will never desert them irrespective of what may be proven against them or not. Less than 400 days of military rule has been enough to resurrect (in the eyes of the public) the likes of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto. These two politicians took turns at bad (and even atrocious) governance for the past 12 years, corrupting society beyond redemption. For the state Pakistan is in today, the blame cannot rest entirely on them but they were young and had a golden chance to turn things around, they not only blew it they took us many many fathoms down the road to economic and political apocalypse. Ms Benazir is best in adversity, she kept fighting the PML (N) government and after a brief hiatus when the military regime came to power, she has kept on fighting them from self-imposed exile. One must also note the way Asif Zardari has conducted himself in incarceration, maintaining a very remarkable public posture, retaining a strong sense of humour. Rumours are adrift that a quid pro quo may be in the works, the return of Ms Benazir for sending Asif out on exile, a possible "DS solution" (a common military school phrase for the correct option.
Luckily for us Musharraf and party are not corrupt (at least for the most part), otherwise our present state would have been far less than bearable. However, some things must be the subject of censure. With hard evidence about Asif Saeed's misdemeanors as a banker, why did the Finance Minister recommend him for the job of Chairman NDFC except to curry favour with two important Generals of the Musharraf regime who were Asif Saeed's classmates? Upright military officers, they would have never supported Asif Saeed for even a dogcatcher's job given the correct picture. And why include someone of no stature and even less intelligence into the Economic Advisory Board knowing that all his money was black and then sending up a trial balloon to check whether the young man's father, having successfully bankrupted Shaheen Airlines, would be acceptable as Chairman PIA? That would have been a neat coup, his son's uncle-in-law was already PIA's MD. Enough to give one pause to think and reflect whether those who rule over us understand that the public perception about credibility is dictated by such observations.
For the short term, the military regime has bought time by putting the ARD in temporary disarray while being relieved of political pressure by friends who will now probably be willing to bail the country out of debt default status. However, the credibility of accountability, the mainstay of this military regime has taken an enormous hit. There has been a decidedly negative fallout, the least of which may be the demoralizing of those engaged in pursuing the accountability process. Frustration is now at boiling point at the street level across a broad spectrum of the intelligentsia and the masses, this has to be assuaged and contained. The Sharif family has also bought time, exile has been politically and financially pragmatic. One has to see which side uses this "time-out" best. The military will have to work overtime to sell a seemingly irrational decision to a disbelieving public, a tremendous erosion of moral authority. If, however, the military regime has a definite gameplan to bring democracy of sorts back, then we are in for interesting times and Musharraf & Co will have proven to be better politicians than the master of all uniformed politicians, Gen Ziaul Haq himself. In the meantime, in Pakistan, anything goes.
ing of those
engaged in pursuing the accountability process. Frustration is now at boiling point at the
street level across a broad spectrum of the intelligentsia and the masses, this has to be
assuaged and contained. The Sharif family has also bought time, exile has been politically
and financially pragmatic. One has to see which side uses this "time-out" best.
The military will have to work overtime to sell a seemingly irrational decision to a
disbelieving public, a tremendous erosion of moral authority. If, however, the military
regime has a definite gameplan to bring democracy of sorts back, then we are in for
interesting times and Musharraf & Co will have proven to be better politicians than
the master of all uniformed politicians, Gen Ziaul Haq himself. In the meantime, in
Pakistan, anything goes.