May issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 17 years ago

General Ayub polled 97.7 per cent votes in his referendum. General Zia-ul-Haq polled an equal number. So if General Musharraf paralleled the record set by his erstwhile comrades, it should come as no surprise.

The stage had already been set for a resounding victory. The state machinery rolled into action — ministers, their minions, governors, nazims, naib nazims and, of course, the ubiquitous multi-purpose agencies. The state coffers were thrown open: Nazims who complained of lack of funds for development activities complained no more. The electronic media was turned on full blast, broadcasting paeans to yet another general who would be President.

The streets and the skyline were dotted with Musharraf hoardings and posters; giant banners were wrapped around five-star hotels. And the parks, hitherto padlocked to the opposition, came alive with the sound of ‘Musharraf zindabad.’

And the general hopped from one province to the next — kullah at one venue, ajrak at another; battle fatigues in one city, sherwani in another — promising roads, water, electricity, jobs, law and order, in short, the moon. He began to sound much like the politicians he so detests.

What subsequently followed in the form of a referendum must have sent Musharraf’s ‘silent majority’ into a state of deep depression.

Caution was thrown to the winds. Habitual voters had a field day. Given the free-floating arrangements, they voted to their heart’s content. I.D. cards, passports, driving licences, office IDs, no IDs, anything and everything went; indelible ink was not so indelible. Ballot boxes were set up at hotels, train stations, airports, schools and office buildings. Around every corner, you were hit by one.

If some ballot boxes remained empty at the end of the day, the polling officers did the needful. In some instances, the help of under-18s was sought. Government servants were threatened, nazims were coerced, vehicles were snatched and voters bussed in to put on a good show worthy of the “people’s general.” In short, the administration resorted to every trick of the trade to ensure a ‘positive result.’

General Musharraf has secured his positive result, but at what cost?

His supporters, the “silent majority” he often refers to, are stunned at his transformation from a well-meaning, straight-talking general to a man who talks too much and sees himself as “the chosen one.”

They are disappointed at the compromises he has made, the politicians he is associating with, the double-standards he is applying in his dealings with two sets of corrupt politicians and the manner in which he has allowed the state machinery and the state coffers to be used to serve his ends.

Meanwhile little seems to have changed on the domestic front. His promises of reining in the forces of extremism have come to naught. Karachi is once again being rent apart by a fresh bout of sectarian violence that is claiming almost one life a day. Musharraf’s government meanwhile does not seem unduly perturbed.

It seems that the nation is destined to survive on a spartan diet of hollow promises. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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