September issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 22 years ago

Asked what he regretted as being the low point in his three-year tenure as head of state in the BBC programme,Question Time Pakistan, General Musharraf disarmed the audience with his answer: it was the referendum, he said. The dubious manner in which it was conducted — “unbeknownst” to him(?) — had cast aspersions on his own credibility.

Having admitted to this flaw, one would have thought the general might have warned his men to hold their horses in the campaign run-up to the forthcoming elections. But alas, the administration is behaving even more brazenly this time round and the general can no longer feign ignorance about their wheelings and dealings in the current political process. Politicians have blitzed foreign observers and the media — and I take it, the President reads newspapers and meets foreign observers — with accusations of misconduct against Musharraf’s principal secretary and the Punjab governor. They are, allegedly, the central figures in the coterie that is out to steal the elections. It is an open secret that election offices have been set up in the Sindh House in Islamabad and the Punjab Governor’s house in Lahore for the benefit of the PML(Q), the blue-eyed boys of the current dispensation; also, that candidates are being vetted by provincial governors, chief secretaries and IGPs for the issuance of tickets. But these gentlemen are not the only ones doing the government’s dirty work.

Political parties are also accusing the all-purpose, ISI, of luring or coercing candidates from other parties to the King’s Party by offering ministerial slots or threatening to throw them into the accountability lair. Interestingly in Question Time Pakistan, in response to a question about the controversial role of the ISI, President Musharraf clearly stated that the ISI only follows orders! Another charge that is being levelled, equally vociferously, is that local governments that are siding with the King’s Party are being showered with development funds out of the government’s coffers, while the rest are being starved for cash.

The Election Commission, too, has committed certain blatant blunders, leading to accusations of favouritism. One has observed the dual yardsticks that have been applied to two sets of candidates. Cases in point: Ms Bhutto’s nomination papers were rejected from all three constituencies that she had filed for, on the grounds that she has been convicted for contempt of court; on the other hand, Mr Nawaz Sharif who has been sentenced to two life terms was cleared. In another travesty of justice, the nomination papers of Imran Khan were rejected from Mianwali because he presented a photocopy of his degree from Oxford (duly certified, however, by the University Grants Commission), whereas the fake degrees of two scions of a well-known Sindhi politician, acquired from a madrassa, were accepted.

President Musharraf maintains that these irregularities do not fall within his purview and that all such complaints should be addressed to the Chief Election Commissioner. They have been, in certain instances, but the CEC’s hands, it seems, are tied. For instance, following complaints of massive transfers and postings of government officials in critical positions at the local and police level, particularly in Sindh and the Punjab, the CEC levied a ban on all such transfers, but the administration carried on regardless. Is the general aware of all these moves to engineer a “positive” result? After all, this is not a referendum. It is a general election — not to be confused with a general’s election.

The questions plaguing all thinking minds are: Which party will make it to the coveted post? Will the machinations of some wily men work? What will the general elections throw up — a rubber-stamp parliament, a hung parliament, or a forceful parliament that challenges the writ of the president and the army?

Pakistan faces more uncertain, more chaotic, more traumatic times ahead…

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