May issue 2006
Editor’s Note: May 2006
One-time political foes, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz, meet in London after a gap of nearly seven years. The topic of discussion: the ouster of their common enemy. A caretaker PM, Balakh Sher Mazari, and an erstwhile PM-in-waiting, Jatoi, visit London to break bread with former PM Nawaz Sharif, whose brother meanwhile is busy renewing his links with the MMA to launch an anti-Musharraf movement. And back home, old ties are being snapped and new alliances forged to ensure a ticket to the corridors of power.
As 2007 appears right round the corner, the pro-democracy, anti-Musharraf movement gains momentum. The only opposition to Musharraf’s ouster comes from the current political dispensation, which sees its sphere of influence being whittled down if mainstream political parties are allowed to enter the political arena. So fearful are the Chaudhrys of Gujarat that they speak of the necessity of postponing the elections by a year and of Musharraf remaining in uniform.
But the clamour for democracy grows shriller, with even the Americans pitching in, though in somewhat muted tones. Obviously, they are contemplating the consequences of life without Musharraf.
But life with Musharraf hasn’t been smooth sailing either. Balochistan, Waziristan, the mullahs, the Taliban, the growing lawlessness, the escalating poverty — his boiling cauldron of troubles is spilling over.
As the west’s ‘best bet’ walks the tightrope, he is aware of the plunge in his popularity graph. He admitted as much in an interview with the Guardian correspondent. The General may be down, but he’s certainly not willing to bow out. In fact, he appears more determined than ever to prove his indispensability to Pakistan.
Musharraf is cracking the whip to get all his men to perform at their optimum level. Buy and sell loyalties, announce new development projects, reshuffle and expand benefits — in short, do all within your power to ensure positive results, seems to be the new mantra in Islamabad.
First came the expansion in the cabinet, to accommodate all the disgruntled elements and coopt some of the defectors from other parties. Apparently, the Prime Minister is presiding over one of the largest cabinets in Pakistan’s history — 38 ministers, each costing a cool 350,000 rupees, according to one estimate, in addition to junior ministers, advisers, parliamentary secretaries. How is this battery of ministers going to serve the President’s cause now, when it hasn’t delivered the goods in the past six years?
Even the information ministry’s enfant terrible has been moved to another ministry in a belated bid at damage control, but the man who replaces him doesn’t enjoy a clean reputation either: he is a notorious political turncoat.
So what does the future hold for Pakistan’s masses?
A coterie of turncoats, defectors and yes-men, presided over by the head of what is now being touted as the country’s largest political party: the army? Or will the forces of democracy be allowed to finally prevail?
Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.