The players in the game are all old hands; they are enjoying the drama, but the nation is deeply suffering in this zero-sum game.

By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

The generals, the honorable judges, and the politicians all know that they are involved in a zero-sum game. In game theory, a zero-sum game is a game in which the total of all the gains and losses is zero. Pakistan has been thrown into this nonsensical game collectively by all three pillars of state: the army, the judiciary and the politicians. In the political sphere, the incidental President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the master of the show; everyone else is disposable. The Prime Minister, along with his whole cabinet can easily be offered as sacrificial lambs, if circumstances so desire. That will not alter anything in the nauseating political culture of the country. The master of the show also knows that the generals may be hard pressed for a change, but they cannot stage a coup; no one will accept that. The judiciary may also be frustrated by the lack of implementation of its rulings, but it also knows that the maximum its pen-strokes can achieve is limited to disqualification of certain individuals, and that too will be of little consequence because by the time things finally settle down through the system, it will already be time for the next elections.

Thus, the current high-profile dramas are mere entertainment for a nation now hooked on such dramas to such an extent that it cannot live a day without a new twist. Yet, despite all the twists and turns, there is nothing significant at the end of the road. There is no way to get rid of the master of ceremony without a coup and coups are what the Chief Justice of the Republic has himself decreed as something belonging to history. What, one may ask, is then the raison d’être for the continuation of the show? Mere entertainment?

The players in the game are all old hands; they are enjoying the drama, but the nation is deeply suffering in this zero-sum game. Instead of positive moves toward an honest and healthy political culture, leading to fair elections in the next few months, the attention has been diverted to a meaningless show of force, which will neither change the system nor get rid of the major hurdles which have blocked the arteries of the nation.

With barrister Aitzaz now joining the show, one hopes that a certain degree of clarity will emerge. Strange is his own rise and fall, but that is another story. For now, he has been hired to carry on the show and he has rightly stated what everyone knows: Under the Constitution of the Republic, Asif Ali Zardari enjoys complete immunity in Pakistan; and by convention, such immunity is respected in other countries. So, even if the Prime Minister were to write a letter to the Swiss authorities, it would have no practical effect. He has also candidly said that there are only two ways to remove the prime minister: a no confidence motion is moved against him in the National Assembly or he himself resigns. He did not mention disqualification by the court as a third option, but even if that happens and he is removed, would that change anything? Certainly not.

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What is needed at this stage is rather something else: under the present circumstances, there is no possibility of holding fair elections: there are millions of bogus votes, one report says. Even if the numbers are exaggerated, everyone knows that the voters’ lists are not up-to-date. Then, there is the question of delimiting the ridings. The old divisions need drastic changes because of population changes and it will be a great service to the nation if the conventional vadera-zamindar-dominated ridings are reconfigured so that the old faces do not return to the Parliament.

In addition, all political parties need to focus on matters of great national importance: what would be their foreign policy? How would they negotiate a way out of that terrible war of terror which has brought Pakistan to the brink of a catastrophe? What about Balochistan? How would this wonderful and resource-filled province ever come back to the mainstream political screen?

In addition, there is the nagging question of restructuring of the entire administrative system along with the need to bring about radical changes in the educational system. If Pakistan is to move out of its present bleak situation, the army has to learn to restrict itself to its legitimate limits and not be the institution which decides the foreign policy of the country. The politicians and the army need to come to an understanding that the era of multiple agendas has come to an end.

The next two years are going to be of great importance for the future of the region. Whatever happens in Afghanistan after 2014 is going to drastically affect the entire region. The United States is desperate to find a way out of Afghanistan before 2014, but at the same time, there are many in the United States who are interested in attacking Iran after the US Presidential elections. They would like to prolong the physical presence of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

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Imagine the following scenario: Shortly after the elections, some excuse is found to attack Iran; the US army in Afghanistan will provide a strategic ground connection while its satellites in the Gulf region would provide cover for water routes. The entire region will be engulfed in a terrible war with unpredictable consequences for the whole world. What are Pakistan’s options in such a scenario, especially if Balochistan remains in the present state? This nightmare does not seem to be on anyone’s radar in Pakistan; all that its leadership seems to be interested in is a zero-sum game.