Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pakistan Politics Big Game

Faces in Pakistan Politics
Political engineering is the name of the game. There is news of two parallel developments that will shape the nature of politics in the run-up to the next election and possibly after it. The first is a strategic decision by the PMLQ and PPP to join hands as coalition partners in Islamabad this month and electoral allies next year; the second is a strategic decision by the military to cobble an electoral alliance comprising Imran Khan’s PTI, the “Like-Minded” breakaway rump of the PML-Q, Gen Pervez Musharraf’s APML, JI, MQM and JUI. All this jockeying for power makes sense.

The PPP is sick to death of the constantly blackmailing tactics of the MQM and JUI. They’re in and out of the coalition every other day. With the budget two months away, President Asif Zardari can’t afford to take any chances in the numbers game. Failure would amount to a vote of no-confidence and curtains for his government. So he needs a stable partner who’s out in the cold and desperate to climb into bed with him. The PMLQ fits the bill nicely. It has as many MNAs to offer as the MQM and JUI combined. But not perfectly, because it was the “Qatil” League only three years ago after Mr Zardari accused it of murdering Benazir Bhutto. It is also a good electoral partner to have in the Punjab where it will eat into the anti-PPP vote bank targeted by Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN and the PTI-led alliance that is in the offing. In a three way fight, the PPP-PMLQ alliance with creative seat adjustments – on the basis of the new population census which will significantly change the constituency landscape – has a great chance of bumping off its rivals in many hotly contested constituencies.

The PMLQ’s leaders, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Chaudry Shujaat, have barely managed to hold their own in the face of raids on their uneasy MNAs by the PMLN in Punjab. Abandoned by the military after General Musharraf’s exit, they need to clutch at someone’s coattails for survival. The PPP under Mr Zardari is as pragmatic as it can get, which suits the Chaudhries and all those old and new Muslim Leaguers who can’t stomach Nawaz Sharif’s autocratic ways or fear his vindictive tendencies. Imran Khan’s anti-corruption, anti-establishment, revolutionary rhetoric is not palatable either. And since Mr Zardari has clarified that his reference to the “Qatil” League was aimed at General Musharraf and not the Chaudhries – which is why Gen Musharraf is in the dock for the murder of Benazir Bhutto and not the Chaudhries – the route is open for their alliance.

This PPP-PMLQ alliance will be based on a detailed MOU about key issues of policy and power-sharing during crunch times ahead. Among these are budgetary proposals, AF-Pak and Pak-US relations, local body elections, seat adjustments, allocation of funds for MNAs and MPAs, allotment of ministries and advisorships, etc. The inevitable disgruntlement in their respective ranks and files will have to be handled effectively.

The military is backing Imran Khan as a spoiler. He is popular with young people. His problem is a lack of organizational ability to pull the voter out. But the ISI is a past master at creating parties and cobbling alliances – PNA, IJI, MMA – with a view to ensuring that no party gets such a majority that its leaders run amuck and break loose from their masters in GHQ, as happened with Mohammad Khan Junejo in 1987-88 and Nawaz Sharif 1999. So if Imran Khan & Co can split the vote and stop the PMLN from galloping past the poll, or the PPP from getting out of hand, the military’s objectives will be well served. One way to keep the civil-military imbalance tilted in its favour is to keep the civilians divided and disorganized.

All this leaves Nawaz Sharif in the lurch. If he pre-empts these moves by trying to oust the Zardari regime by joining hands with the MQM and JUI, he risks being sidelined by a third force comprising the judges, media and military which is rooting for a quasi-constitutional technocratic regime instead of him. If he bides his time, the PPP-PMLQ budding alliance will blossom to his disadvantage when the elections roll around.

The hard budget in June will test everyone’s nerves. The PPP and PMLQ will have to shoulder the burden of public hostility. An election soon thereafter could prove to be their death-knell. So they will want to keep the government and alliance going the full hog until Feb 2014, enabling them to live to fight a better day.

By the same measure, however, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan & Co will find no better opportunity than budget time to gird their loins for a final Heave-Ho and early election.

The X factor remains the Supreme Court. It has the capacity to upset the Chaudhry’s cart by derailing the political career of Moonis Elahi. It also seems intent on knocking Mr Zardari and his government. This is ominous. If there is gridlock between the executive and judiciary, the anti-American media and anti-politician military will become the arbiters of Pakistan’s fate. In the event, Pakistan’s fledgling democracy and ailing economy will suffer an epileptic fit again.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Win-win situation

Before the match, the weight of history was with the side batting first which has won in 72 per cent of all matches played at Mohali. The experts and bookies had also tilted in India’s favour. It had a better batting line-up, half a dozen players were firing on all cylinders, captain MS Dhoni was tried and tested for Tests, ODIs and 20/20s. The Indian cricketers were also playing before a highly charged and partisan home crowd. Pakistan, by contrast, was just beginning to shrug off the burden of shame and demoralization after the match-fixing scandal in England last year that laid three of its most talented players low, captain Shahid Afridi had a spotty record, and the youngsters were not fully groomed. Indeed, it was remarkable that they had beaten giant-killers like Australia and the West Indies to inch their way to the top.

In the heat and dust of battle, however, two key facts have been overlooked in Pakistan. 

  • First, the better performing and more professional Indian “team” won by using its brains and not brawn. This is largely a consequence of a developing Indian (not Hindu) mindset based on the mundane but fierce aspirations of an upwardly mobile, educated, secular, middle-class that is billing itself not only as an organized, disciplined and reliable engine of economic and cultural growth but also as a most attractive emerging market with disposable money in an increasingly flat world. This is in stark contrast to Pakistan in which the state is riddled with problems of identity (Muslim or Pakistani) and notions of national interest (honour versus interests), and Pakistanis are consequently grappling with multiple crises of economy, culture, education, integration and cohesion. This is a recipe for pride and passion in all aspects of life and sport, not professionalism and principle. Interesting, the other cricket match finalist is another secular South Asian country, Sri Lanka, which has nearly 100 per cent literacy, a high economic growth rate and has just won a civil war to unite the country and make it strong and unified. Both ambitious-country examples prove that while individual talent is a necessary condition for sporting success, the sufficient condition is provided by strong nationalist motivation based on a realistic sense of economic destiny and political confidence that stresses the role of unity, discipline and professionalism rather than faith or the hand of Providence alone in determining fate or destiny.
  • Second, the cricketing encounter has opened up the possibility of serious discussions about “permanent peace” between India and Pakistan. 
    • There are five main reasons for this initiative. 
      • First, Dr Manmohan Singh’s government is dogged by charges of corruption and mismanagement and is weaker today than at any time before. Personally, too, he is at the fag end of his political career without having made any great mark of distinction. So now was a good time to take a more inspiring initiative and invite the leaders of Pakistan to smoke the “permanent peace” pipe at Mohali, especially since the odds were heavily tilted in favour of an Indian victory.
      • Second, India’s investigations into the Samjhota Express bombing case in which 47 Pakistani were killed have revealed the hand of Hindu extremists in India rather than Islamic hardliners in Pakistan. This gives Pakistan a fillip in countering India’s charge of sponsoring terrorism against Pakistan. 
      • Third, the Indian courts have convicted Ajmal Kasab but acquitted two Indian Muslims of links with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayba leader Hafiz Saeed, thereby debunking the claims of India’s National Security Advisor MK Narayanan that all three were taking orders from Mr Saeed. This too has weakened India’s charge-sheet against Pakistan’s ISI. 
      • Fourth, India’s quest for a permanent Security Council seat at the UN requires it to be reasonable and responsible by at least mending fences with its neighbours, especially nuclear-armed Pakistan.
      • Fifth, a continuation of India’s rapid economic growth is predicated on a permanent peace and trading relations with its neighbours rather than the specter of nuclear war and terrorist subversion.
  • Pakistan has invited Dr Singh to visit Pakistan and make a notable gesture of permanent peace. He should seize the day. At least Siachin and Sir Creek are amenable to quick resolution as all Indian and Pakistani diplomats and pundits know. So India’s win at Mohali needs to be cemented with an Indo-Pak “win” in Lahore during Dr Singh’s visit to Pakistan as soon as possible.

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