July issue 2004

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 18 years ago

On June 25, a confident Prime Minister Jamali, addressing a group of journalists at a reception, debunked media reports — for the umpteenth time — that he had been asked to relinquish his post.

On June 26, Mr Jamali tendered his resignation, in the full glare of media lights at the PML House, dissolved his cabinet, nominated the ruling PML president, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, as interim-prime minister who, in turn, proceeded to nominate Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz as the future prime minister.

General Musharraf’s “democratic” dispensation seems to be coming apart at the seams, but the General does not seem unduly concerned. The world may wince slightly, but so long as the war on terror rages on, and so long as we are in the loop, few in the “civilised world” who are waving the flag of “democracy” in Iraq, will concern themselves with whether Pakistan changes its prime ministerial cloak 10 or 20 times a year.

But this comedy, or rather tragedy of errors, is beginning to rankle with those who have a stake in this country. First, the establishment chooses Mr Jamali as prime minister because he is a pushover, then it forces him to resign ostensibly because he is a pushover. Then the ousted prime minister names Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain as “interim” prime minister, but Hussain maintains he is the “real” prime minister. Then the “real” prime minister proceeds to declare that Shaukat Aziz is General Musharraf’s nominee for PM, but the President, in his address to the National Assembly, insists Aziz is a PML nominee.

Pakistan’s 140 million people are expected to gulp down this theatre of the absurd with no questions asked. The politicians who do have the mandate to question have zipped their lips. With skeletons aplenty in the NAB cupboard, most of this docile, opportunistic lot are so beholden to the army — who has virtually released them on parole — that they dare not raise a squeak.

And the callous indifference with which they are being shuffled around on the political chessboard is indicative of the contempt in which the army dispensation holds them. The merits (or demerits) of Mr Shaukat Aziz apart, the fact that in an assembly of 342 members, the PML(Q) could not find a single, healthy, competent MNA to take over from Mr Jamali, that a senator has to resign and contest the election on a National Assembly seat to be vacated by a sitting MNA, in order to take over from Chaudhry Shujaat, is shocking and outrageous. It reflects on the calibre of the assembly of “graduates” that Musharraf’s men had carved out so painstakingly. Clearly, the General has no faith in the current legislators. His inner circle continues to experiment with still more permutations and combinations — each one more disastrous than the last.

After sidelining the two main political forces in the country, the army was banking on the support of all its fair-weather friends from the religious groups to sail through. However, the six-party religious alliance, the MMA, after helping Musharraf with the passage of the National Security Council Bill and securing for itself the role of opposition leader in the National Assembly in return, are now refusing to play ball with the General. They stayed away from the first meeting of the NSC and continue to insist that Musharraf remove his uniform by end December.

The General’s other “trusted ally,” the MQM, is given to presenting a list of demands at short intervals, with threats to quit if they are not met.

Musharraf has wedged himself between a rock and a hard place and can no longer recognise friend from foe. The political machinations of his establishment are distorting the democratic structure and creating more enemies and anomalies than ever before. But the experiments continue, leaving a nation bewildered.

Doubts are being expressed about whether Chaudhry Shujaat would be willing to give up the coveted chair two months down the road. Or even, whether the disgruntled elements within the ruling PML would allow a technocrat, who has no constituency of his own, to continue in the hot seat.

Presumably the President’s team of spin-doctors must have an alternate plan which they intend to pull out of their bag of tricks if the present one goes awry. There are rumours of a Presidential form of government being in the pipeline. If that is, indeed, the plan, why put the nation through so much trauma and torment in the name of introducing “real” democracy.

Let’s cut out the dramatics, sir, and get to the real gameplan. The nation is waiting to exhale.

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