Machiavelli Turning in his Grave


By Dr. Haider Mehdi

With general elections in the country only a couple of days away, we, this nation of 180 million people, need to ask some very basic and simple questions and at the same time reflect, analyze and understand the significance of our political response (meaning voting behavior) on May 11th

Following are some of these important questions:

1) Why is there a mysterious silence by the PPP leadership on the eve of the May 11thelections?  Why hasn’t the PPP conducted an election campaign to win over voters and vigorously contest the elections?

2) The COAS, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, strongly and enthusiastically supported the conducting of the May 11th elections and the advancement of the democratic process in the country in an April 30th speech at the military General Headquarters.  Why did the COAS do so at this particular time?  What motivated the General to deliver such a strong political statement?

3) Would the PML-N leadership (its Quaid) accept the incumbent president for another 5 year term as the Head of State (that is if the PML-N wins the election and is in the position to form the government in the Center)? Why has the PML-N Quaid promised the nation a bullet train from one end of the country to the other?  Why is there such urgency for a bullet train? Why is the PML-N leadership promising to privatize banks and several other commercial state institutions if they win the elections?

4) Why is it likely that PTI, a newly emerging force on Pakistan’s political horizon, might have a landslide victory on May 11th?  Would the PTI leadership accept the incumbent President for another term of office, should PTI win? If not, why not?

Machiavelli, the early 16th c. Florentine political guru known for his methods of political expediency, craftiness and duplicity, must be turning in his grave, amazed and utterly surprised at the extent of the PPP leadership’s cunning artfulness in handling “the defense of the realm” (the President’s personal fortune and future as the Head of State for another 5 years) with such a remarkable and sleazy approach (surpassing even Machiavelli’s) to possibly carve a political future for himself as President of the country for the next 5 years.

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The incumbent President’s plan for this imagined eventuality goes as follows: The PPP leadership understands that it has nothing to offer the Pakistani electorate based on its performance in the last 5 years.  Then why should they indulge in massive political campaigning – it might turn out to be counter-productive. Muhammad Arif, a blogger, has brilliantly summed up Zardari’s political strategy as follows:

“President Asif Ali Zardari has been emerging as one of the strongest power-brokers in Elections 2013 in Pakistan…Zardari has remained successful to keep himself aloof from the ongoing tussle between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan which is now in the critical stage and which is closing the doors for any alliance between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif for the formation of government in the center. Thus whoever takes most of the seats will solely rely on PPP which is supposed to get a maximum number of 50 or more seats in the center and a considerable majority in Sind.

The PPP’s bargaining chip in the post-elections scenario would possibly be unconditional support to any major party in the center in exchange for accepting President Asif Ali Zardari for another five years as the President of Pakistan and Chief Minister of PPP in Sind.”

End of story. Triumph over Pakistan’s politics of democracy by skillful exploitation of its parliamentary political system and the constitutional flaws within it. The incumbent President envisions his comeback as the constitutional Head of State. Zardari set the stage for the support of his incumbency in the Senate years ago.

Having said that, the vital question is: eventually, “Oonth kis karvat baithe ga?” (let’s see how the wind blows). Are all of the intermediate political forces and factors going to work in absolute harmony with Asif Ali Zardari’s plan?  I dare not think so.

Let us move forward to question 2: In the aftermath of Musharraf’s debacle, General Kayani has honestly, tirelessly and diligently worked hard during the last 5 years to restore the Armed Forces’ image and prestige as a vital national institution.  The COAS’s April 30th address to the GHQ was an exemplary speech in public diplomacy responding to the call of the nation and supporting the forces of political change to ensure that the May 11thgeneral elections are held at all cost. Good move. Commendable act in the national interest. Congratulations, COAS.

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But the vital question in this context is: Will the traditional political actors and the status quo oriented forces engage with the military establishment in a meaningful, constructive, and productive manner? Will these forces offer the military leadership enough leverage for the Armed Forces to continue to carry on with their exclusive constitutional role in the future? That will have to be seen. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is on extremely shaky ground at the present.

Let us move to question 3: The PML-N Quaid is on record to have said that it would be acceptable for him to take the oath of office as Prime Minister, if elected, from the incumbent President.  That, indeed, in itself explains the PML-N leadership’s future political discourse and its strategic management vision for the nation. They have termed it “the politics of reconciliation.” However, seen from another perspective, it is clearly a “Muk Muka” strategy for mutual interests, is it not?

The PML-N leadership’s promise of a bullet train from Khyber to Karachi is, once again, an echo of a traditional mindset that believes that the people of Pakistan will respond positively to the symbols of grandiose projects. It seems that the PML-N leadership is remarkably unaware that such slogans might be considered by people at large as the setting of flawed national priorities. China, the present world’s second most powerful nation, built a bullet train only last year, nearly 7 decades after independence. But first came people’s mass mobilization, nearly full employment and literacy, huge improvements in health and educational facilities, new universities and vocational training sectors, scientific and technological innovation, massive industrialization, and global eminence in trade, diplomacy and commercial enterprises. Are Pakistani common citizens, already deprived and suffering from inadequacies of all kinds, so ignorant and unaware of their fundamental requirements that they would prefer grandiose projects over their primary needs?

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I believe that the PML-N leadership is flawed in understanding public temperament and the national priorities concept.  On top of that, the privatization of banks and other national commercial institutions points to a policy in the direction of ultra-right wing economic planning and a dichotomy of control over economic resources through political power. This doctrine will not work for Pakistan any more – it has failed in the past and it will fail in the future.

The last question: Can PTI win a landslide victory on May 11th?  Indeed, there are visible and clear indications that it might.  PTI advocates a political doctrine of change in the political structure and political culture in Pakistan — an echo of public sentiment in present day Pakistan. It has demonstrated empowering common citizens by intraparty elections and giving party tickets to youth and many new entrants in national and provincial politics.  It has a straightforward stance on drone attacks, relations with the US, and the end of the so-called “war on terror.”  It has vividly prioritized its economic planning in tune with public demands. And, added to this, is a massive and powerful force of new youthful voters enhancing its chances to emerge as the leading winner on May 11th.

And yet, above all, the PTI leader, Imran Khan, has surprised everyone, his friends and foes alike, with remarkable and endless determination, synergetic and limitless energy, political campaign management capabilities (imagine 6 public jalsas in a day) and personal charisma.

Would PTI accept the incumbent President for another term of office?  No- the forces of political status quo and the forces of political change have no fundamental or mutual interests to share. End of story.

Watch out on May 11th.  It is your turn to empower yourself!! Get my drift?

P.S. The news of Imran Khan’s fall has shocked the nation.  Let us all pray for his safety, health and recovery. Ameen.