July Issue 2003

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 21 years ago

Why is there so much hoopla about the fact that General Musharraf was invited to Camp David, heaped with praise by Bush and promised three billion US dollars in aid? By at least one account — that of Musharraf’s predecessor, Zia — it would amount to “peanuts,” given the General’s unstinted support to the US in its war against terrorism, that involved targeting yesteryears heroes and friends — the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But all the General’s men are ecstatic at the brownie points Mush has managed to score with Bush and Blair and Schroeder and Chirac.

Meanwhile, back home, there is trouble brewing. The opposition is still gunning for the Legal Framework Order, and his army uniform. And the most vitriolic are the MMA, the army’s erstwhile handmaidens, who are heading towards a final showdown with the General. Fearful of being relegated to the sidelines by their partners-in-jihad as the General seeks new foreign policy initiatives in Afghanistan, India and the Middle East, the MMA are accusing the General of a volte face and of selling out to the Americans.

On the face of it, the religious parties’ honeymoon with the army seems to be over. At least, for now. But in the long run, is the General prepared to go the extra mile. Is he willing to rock the mullahs’ boat? Not everyone is willing to hedge their bets on that. People are still wary of the unholy mullah-military nexus that goes back a long way — and is a self-serving relationship.

For the moment, General Musharraf is more inclined towards appeasing the Americans and strengthening his power base — no matter what it takes. The mullahs are feeling betrayed, bereft and threatened, as they see their power base being eroded. They are not willing to give in, or give up. And especially not now when they’ve tasted power up close. They control two of four provinces in the country. And are well on their way to Talibanising the country, without facing any resistance from the centre. Yet.

Incidentally, they have Musharraf and his men (besides the US) to thank for their present showing in the assemblies. Firstly, by splitting and sidelining the two mainstream parties, and secondly, by making sure that sanad-waving mullahs made it to the assemblies, despite the graduation clause. It is a known fact that the University Grants Commission was asked to recognise the sanads from madrassas as being equivalent to graduate degrees.

Now suddenly, the establishment seems to have woken up to the worth of those sanads. The recent judgement of the election tribunal of the Peshawar High Court, disqualifying an MNA from Kohat on the grounds that his sanad from a madrassa was not equivalent to a graduate degree, would’ve been commendable, had it not reeked of political motivation. Under this judgement, around 160 legislators from the Senate and the assemblies, mostly members of the MMA, would stand disqualified if the Supreme Court were to give its assent to the ruling. The MMA is understandably livid and threatens to carry its anti-Musharraf campaign to the streets.

Does Musharraf’s camp have any back-up plan to rid themselves of their meddlesome priests? Given Musharraf’s recent anti-mullah tough talk, the MMA’s first brush with governance may well be short-lived, with the Frontier government being the first casualty.

Meanwhile, according to the buzz in Islamabad, there is yet another plan afoot — one that dispenses with the most harmless of the motley crowd in Islamabad, Jamali. Reason: he lacks leadership skills. But wasn’t he handpicked because he was a pushover.

Where does that leave General Musharraf’s ‘democratic’ dispensation? Or has the General finally given up his search for “true” democracy since the “champions of democracy” sitting on Capitol Hill have conveniently stopped asking questions about democracy in Pakistan.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.