By Humayun Gauhar
Thank God Imran Khan is safe. I was giving a telephone interview to a television channel when I saw him falling off a forklift. Suddenly, the world stopped. I lost all interest in elections and choked up. He is our only international hero and is presence is good for Pakistan. Damn becoming prime minister, life and wellbeing are more important. He is the only breath of fresh air in our putrid political gutter. If God wants him to be prime minister one day no one can stop it. Depends on whether He wants to save Pakistan or not. We have certainly invited His wrath by our behaviour.
Good that Nawaz Sharif cancelled his party’s rallies the next day, whatever his real motive. Other politicians expressed concern. There is good in everyone, so it’s sensible to put the best construction on people’s actions unless they prove otherwise.
Imran’s brief interview from his hospital bed showed his ‘Jazba’ and ‘Junoon’. When emotion becomes ‘Passion’ it is ‘Jazba’; when love becomes ‘Rapture’ it is ‘Junoon’ from Mujnoon’s rapture for God symbolized by his beloved, the girl Laila. Pakistan is Imran’s rapture; his passion is to make it a great country. More power to his elbow and may God go with him.
God says in the Quran that sometimes something bad happens that makes you wonder why He has done this to me. You know not, says the Almighty, what I know: you will discover later that it was for your good. This accident could be good for Imran for a wave of sympathy and his display of courage can sweep him to power at best or win him even more seats than expected. If he sticks with his Jazba and Junoon he will be Pakistan’s leader one day as long as people understand that God doesn’t improve the condition of a people unless they first try and improve it themselves. Hopefully, this accident will make them understanding this Divine advice properly.
I am at a disadvantage, writing this on Friday, elections are tomorrow and you are reading this the day after. I don’t know the outcome, assuming that elections took place at all and weren’t derailed by Election Day violence as some fear. Naive to expect a new dawn when our political system is a poor photocopy of Westminster and doesn’t have the genes to produce good governments. It only perpetuates the iniquitous status.
At times like these it’s best to lighten up some. No point in worrying oneself sick when you are in only the “the worst of times” with no “best of times” visible. But of one thing I am certain: this is Pakistan’s survival moment. If we fail to grasp it not only will the system fall but it could take also take the State with it. Best-case scenario: someone, preferably Imran, wins a majority and forms a government. Not likely.
Worst scenario: no party can form a government, parliament is hung and another election is called, something that a country going down the drain fast cannot afford.
Likely scenario: If the traditional two, the PPP and the PML-N, cannot form a coalition with others, they will form a coalition government together again, with the prime minister coming from the one with more seats and the president from the other. Likelihood is Nawaz Sharif prime minister and Zardari president for another term.
Whatever scenario, Imran Khan would make a formidable leader of the opposition and become the future Prime Minister of Pakistan. To join any coalition would be a cardinal error for him.
The immediate post-election period will be a greater challenge than the pre-election. We should expect the unexpected, like Imran Khan winning more seats than conventional wisdom has it and more independents than usual. That will be bad for Nawaz Sharif but some think that it would good for Pakistan.
Zardari and Nawaz ganging up again should be no surprise. They are in politics to share booty, not to upset the pot of gold and get nothing. How long it lasts I don’t know, but with Zardari and Nawaz incorrigible haircutters of allies I wouldn’t bet that it would last the term. The good thing will be that Sharif’s softness towards the Taliban will be tempered somewhat. Reality will hit come the June budget. Pakistan’s economic, political, security and geo-strategic problems are so dire and deep that it is not too far to go before we sleep. It will take great statesmanship to find the way out of the maze. Like the last government could be the undoing of Zardari, this one could be the unmaking of Nawaz Sharif, but much faster, for the potholes ahead are deeper.
First pothole: making the June budget without any money.
Second pothole: paying the IMF $1.5 billion in August out of a total of $6.5 billion this year and the same the next.
Third pothole: an inevitable IMF programme on very tough conditions that a weak coalition cannot sustain.
Fourth pothole: the toughest condition: permitting IAEA inspectors into our nuclear facilities. That would invite another military intervention, with naked bayonets behind a civilian ‘technocratic’ front. The politicians seem to be making a habit of it.
Fifth pothole: September’s presidential election. If Sharif breaks his word to Zardari to give him his best protection with another term, it could be the end of the coalition, unless Sharif keeps his word or has purchased enough turncoats to maintain his majority and eject the PPP from the coalition, which is not entirely unlikely as most of our politicians are on permanent grand clearance sale anyway.
Sixth pothole: selecting the next army chief come October and what America has to say about it. If Nawaz Sharif appoints a stooge our last surviving institution will be further degraded. If he appoints one on merit then trouble will be averted provided Sharif doesn’t go bonkers again and commits another political suicide. Given his recent television interview to an Indian channel, chances are he will.
Seventh pothole: this is a deep and jagged one, the new chief justice. Will Sharif try and give the current one another 20 months to make up for ‘lost’ time? The age bar for retirement will have to be changed to accommodate one person, but considering that all sacked judges got their pay and benefits during their period in limbo, does the argument hold? I wouldn’t think so but what matters is what the new prime minister thinks. There is talk that one of the first people to get a haircut from Sharif will be the chief justice to prove that the Supreme Court is not the ‘Sharif Court’ as its detractors call it. If you are doubtful then recall that during Nawaz Sharif’s second government the Supreme Court was physically attacked by his parliamentarians, party members and goons while trembling judges hid in their chambers, some quaking under their ample desks perhaps. Some judges were purchased and ganged up against the then chief justice and forced him out of office in a shining example of Nawaz Sharif’s respect for the judiciary, the ‘beauty of democracy’ and our collective amnesia. We could be in for some very damaging democratic antics.
What could enable Nawaz Sharif to go this route is his possible disqualification for money laundering. We have the precedent of the disqualification of a prime minister before us unless the judges play ball, which is unlikely. They have tasted blood and are more likely to give Sharif a haircut if he tries to give them one, not least to prove by their own hand that they are not the ‘Sharif Court’.
Pundits say the Rupee will decline further to 115 to the dollar and to 150 by end-2014. What a far cry from when it was Rs 60 in Musharraf’s time. Musharraf’s was the ‘ugliness of dictatorship’, remember; this is another ‘beauty of democracy’. Though President Musharraf untangled us from the IMF’s tentacles, it is inevitable that the new government will feed us to the octopus again. With a new IMF bailout on very tough conditions inevitable, will they be able to sustain it?
While lack of electricity and gas are huge problems, an even bigger crisis looming is of water shortage. If we become even more water deficient we will also become food deficient with no money to import food. Then see the streets flowing with blood.
I’m not being fair to democracy. True democracy gives people many rights and is indeed most beautiful if it is in the right hands, not of demagogues and fascists. Then the human condition improvises continuously and significantly and hunger, poverty, insecurity, injustice, homelessness and illiteracy decrease. What we have now is the beauty of occupation by predators in the name of democracy.
If the system falls apart and there is danger of the country disintegrating, we will have two stark choices before us: a Taliban takeover parceling out the country into religious fiefdoms or army intervention. Take your pick. But don’t lose hope. It’s darkest before the dawn. It’s going according to script.