By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Fast changing political activities have bred uncertainty and doubts whether coming elections will be held in time. All stakeholders inside and outside the parliament have begun to make moves to gain an edge over their opponents. PPP lost the support of Sindhi nationalist parties as well as Jamots of PML-F by associating itself with MQM on the sensitive issue of local bodies. This loss together with the loss of neglected PPP stalwarts in Sindh was cashed in by PML-N, desperately seeking to get a toehold in Sindh. PML (N)-Nationalists-PML-F alliance weakened the fort of PPP in Sindh and to make up the loss Zardari used the occasion of 5th death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto to launch his son Bilawal Bhutto in the political arena. Bilawal’s address in Urdu did help in boosting the sagging spirits of Jayalas but his unwise diatribe against the judiciary wrongfully blaming it for not arresting and punishing the murderers of his mother was not well received.
In order to stem the downslide of PPP vote bank in Punjab and to enhance political space in southern Punjab, Zardari has appointed Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood as the new Governor of Punjab at a time when PPP’s tenure is ending. Earlier on, Zardari had brought in wily Manzur Watoo as PPP Punjab President hoping he in conjunction with PML-Q would bolster PPP’s chances in by-elections. But PML-N’s sweeping victory left the two contenders dazed. PPP is now hoping that Tehrik-e-Insaf (TI) would erode the vote bank of PML-N in general elections. PPP is also pinning hopes on the votes of beneficiaries of Benazir Income Support Group program. PM’s discretionary funds are being used generously and thousands are employed in government jobs to buy voters.
Bashir Bilour’s tragic assassination in Peshawar was a huge loss for secular ANP which has already lost several of its leaders and over 600 activists in militancy. Asfandyar Wali Khan survived an attempt on his life in his Hujra in October 2008, forcing him to shift to Islamabad. Owing to its tough stand against the TTP and its affiliates, ANP’s leadership is on the hit list and this threat would become a serious handicap for the ANP during forthcoming elections. It has now softened its stance and expressed willingness to hold talks with TTP without insisting on surrendering arms first. It was however inspiring to see the sober and dignified conduct of hunted ANP and the bereaved family of Bilour, which was in sharp contrast to the violent reaction of PPP Jayalas witnessed after the murder of Benazir Bhutto and of MQM whenever any its low ranked leader or activist gets killed. Like ANP, TTP consider liberal MQM as agent of USA and counts it as its adversary. As per Rahman Malik, TTP is planning to strike at Tahirul Qadri’s long march. If so, will it benefit TTP to disrupt the march, wanting to bring down a corrupt government which is fighting the TTP and its affiliates relentlessly?
Although Nawaz Sharif seemingly returned back from exile in November 2007 as a changed person wanting to make amends, but he couldn’t set aside his aversion for the military establishment which he had piled up in his heart because of the rough handling meted out to him and his family by Gen Musharraf. Having had strained relations with all the Army chiefs starting Gen Mirza Beg, he is not prepared to buy the idea that the Army is any different under Gen Kayani. It is essentially due to his distrust for the military establishment that Nawaz chose to remain attached with Zardari despite his repeated betrayals thinking him to be a lesser evil.
Another thing which kept him soft towards the ruling PPP was his deep seated desire to regain power with a heavy mandate similar to the one he had gained in 1997 and to have a full tenure of five years. As a result, PML-N behaved as ‘friendly opposition, and overlooked the misdeeds of the rulers. Nawaz readily extended support to Zardari whenever he was in crisis mainly because of the inherent fear that the Army may not step in. This fear psychosis from democracy-friendly Gen Kayani who had umpteen chances to takeover and has categorically assured CEC of Army’s full cooperation in holding free and fair elections in a transparent manner is juvenile and uncalled for.
Despite Rahman Malik and late Salman Taseer’s conspiracies at the behest of Zardari to undermine Punjab government in 2008-09 and willful blocking of Punjab’s quota of gas and electricity in Punjab, PML-N has emerged as the most popular party in Punjab. Shahbaz Sharif has proved to be a far better administrator than his counterparts in other provinces. Large numbers of PML-Q parliamentarians have returned to PML-N. It has swept by-elections in Punjab. Besides making inroads in Balochistan and Sindh with the help of nationalist parties, it got a shot in the arm in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPk) when PML-Q’s Amir Muqam joined PML-N. It is likely to form an alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) which is hoping to capture sizeable number of seats in KPk. JI whose two respected stalwarts died recently has exhorted all patriotic forces to form a grand alliance and block Tahirul Qadri’s long march.
Tehrik-e-Insaf (TI), which has emerged as the third force is likely to cut PML-N’s votes in Punjab, which may go in favor of PPP. But Imran’s Tsunami has lost its steam after in-house heart burnings over induction of heavyweights from other parties and Tahirul Qadri’s mammoth public meeting in Lahore on 23rd December. The two emerging powers outside the parliament seeking a change have posed a serious challenge to the two mainstream political parties believing in status quo, but TI’s decision to go on a solo flight, and if need be oppose Qadri, will weaken both. PPP, PML-N, ANP, JI, JUI, judiciary, Election Commission, and military establishment have joined hands to contest Qadri’s threat of bringing a change through unconstitutional means.
PML-Q, fast losing ground even in its hometown of Gujrat, is desperately in need of a tonic to put some life in its frail body. It hastened to jump into Qadri’s bandwagon like a drowning man clutching at the straw. Leaders and activists of both PPP and PML-Q are pressing their respective leadership to break the unproductive alliance before elections.
Dr Qadri rearing to storm Islamabad is these days under fire. He is being asked whether his arrival and demand of electoral reform is well timed considering that elections are round the corner and some reforms through 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments in constitution have been made and an honest Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) acceptable to all stakeholders has been appointed and bogus voters list has been corrected? He is asked whether his choice of allies is proper and how can he expect MQM and PML-Q to reform the system when they are upholders of the corrupt system and have not resigned? How does Qadri digest continued target killings, extortion and kidnapping for ransom in Karachi where MQM is the dominant ruling party?
How would Qadri overlook PML-Q’s tainted past of having remained as Gen Musharraf’s created King’s Party for five years and suspending and mutilating constitution twice? What is his yardstick of considering MQM and PML-Q better than PPP and PML-N? Why was he sleeping all this time when Pakistan was sinking? How does he expect the electoral reforms to be completed within 90 days when successive regimes failed to do so in 65 years? Does he not know that the TTP and its affiliates wanting introduction of Shariah are against imported electoral and parliamentary system as well as judicial system and would not accept the present system unless brought in conformity with Quran and Sunnah?
The US suspected of nudging ambitious Qadri to enter the political arena and challenge the status quo has denied backing Qadri. Although it has assured that it will support free and fair elections, but so far it has not uttered a word of censor against Qadri’s outburst. It would like to act as a referee or be in a position to help out winning side and earn its gratitude. GHQ has also adopted a similar stance of neutrality and so far it has kept its distance. Notwithstanding several conspiracy theories in circulation, one thing is clear that no stakeholder in Pakistan as well as foreign powers would like chaos and anarchy in nuclear Pakistan, particularly when threat posed by religious extremists has become menacing.
Timely fair, free and transparent elections and peaceful transition of power to the next government will be in the interest of the country. Talk of Mahmood Achakzai taking over as PM interim government if true is heartening. Considering his upright and honorable conduct, he should be acceptable to all stakeholders. Caretakers and CEC should ensure strict scrutiny of contestants under Article 62 so that only righteous and truthful candidates with good reputation enter the legislature. Let the next government take its time to carryout desired electoral reforms, but its priority should be to restore the flagging health of economy and state owned public enterprises and to end the futile war on terror that has bankrupted the socio-economic fabric of the country.