Pakistan News Service

Thursday Aug 18, 2022, Muharram 20, 1444 Hijri

Elections and Role of Political Parties

19 November, 2007

By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu

Notwithstanding his deviations from many commitments there are no reasons to doubt General Musharraf’s proclamation that the elections would be held in the first week of January 2008. The situation on ground foretells that the Pakistan Muslim League (Musharraf)/PML {(Q+F) + (turncoats)} will win a majority in national as well as Punjab elections if the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) boycotts the polls. It will happen, despite the fact that the PML (Q), the major faction of the PML (N), has limited political support in the masses.

The PML (N), a congregation of the stalwarts, will not win through all out rigging or on the basis of its so-called development programmes.  It will win due to an election culture that has been developed by the local and national elites, the administration, the agencies and the mafias through forty years of strenuous efforts. This culture exploits the economic miseries as well as emotions — based on biradris, ethnicity and religion — of the people. This culture has introduced opportunism. It has in fact killed the fighting spirit, the will of the people. No wonder we do not have trade unions, student unions, political pressure groups and organised political parties around. What we have is Asma Jehangir, Mukhtaran Mai, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif or Pervez Musharraf.  Yes, the lawyers’ movement is a new development. Yes, Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, Tariq Mahmood and Ali Ahmed Kurd have emerged as strong and committed leaders, but will their movement continue and create a political culture? If a positive answer does not come within a year or two then our multi-mafia possessed country will have to live for a long time like Afghanistan or Rwanda.

However and presently one person can change the course of history. He can change the election culture, provided he is ready to change himself first.  He is Nawaz Sharif. How? Before elaborating this ‘How’ let us elaborate further this election culture.

Hafeeza Begum, a lady in her late forties, is the executive director of a UK based Islamic NGO. I met her about six months ago. She wanted to build a house in Islamabad and had come through a reference to seek advice from my sister. She was wearing veil. However, she uncovered her face, because the situation demanded from her to be audible. It could also be due to the reason that all those who were seated around were older than her. The hot topic other than the housing was of course the post 9/11 situation regarding Pakistanis in the UK. She was full of praise for the Labour Party, whom she identified as the socialists. ‘ As long as they remain in power, we are safe. If Conservatives replace them things may not remain as smooth.’ Her words were not a surprise for me, after all it is economy and not  religion that guides the survival instinct of human beings.      


Since Hafeeza Begum originally belonged to Toba Tek Singh, I asked her, out of curiosity, about the socialists who had held a conference over there. ‘Brother, it was Kissan Conference. From children to the elderly almost every one participated in it.’ After a pause she continued to speak, ‘Brother, in Toba every young man used to wear ‘Asia is red’ batch in those days.’ ‘Did they knew the meanings’, I asked further. ‘Brother, they knew. We all knew what the ‘red’ meant. Even our Imam-e-masjid knew about it.’ Then she narrated the story that how after the Imam’s death her family had found communist literature in his home. It was a terrible shock for us, as the mosque and the Imam’s home had been built on our land, and we were the known supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami.’

The situation then in the central Punjab meant the country was ready for the change. There is one more support to this analysis. In those days in the elections of the students unions, one side used to raise the slogans ‘Asia is green’ and the other ‘Asia is red’. There was no other jingle in between. Moreover the leftists were running the trade unions, and the Rightists and the Islamists were taken by the labour as the opponents. The election culture was designed to bridge this divide. The Islamist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto bridged the divide through the slogan of Islamic socialism, and won majority in the West Pakistan in the first ever-national election. In East Pakistan Mujib’s secular socialist Awami League won all but one seat. The divide between the Islamic socialists and the secular socialists was not allowed to be bridged by the establishment and the elites of West Pakistan. 

The well-designed political culture had a sinister objective, to create confusion by mixing religion with a well-defined political thought.  In the end it served the actual purpose. It ruthlessly suppressed the voice of ant-status quo people. In a poor and resource less country where most of the revenues were to be spent on the army and the administration, there was absolutely no room for socialism.  Speaking frankly in such a country there is no room for implementation of any type of modern political thought; be it the socialism, communism or capitalism. What was achieved through Islamic socialism was destruction of the trade unions, the student unions and the political culture that was legacy of the British and was strengthened by the post-1947 tussle between the Soviets and the Capitalists. The ultimate result of this great election culture was that there was hardly any difference of ideology or political practices left among the people. Most of us became the same.

Was Bhutto aware of this terrible outcome? No. He was a fundamentalist. He believed in the strong centre, strong army, and Islamic re-emergence through Islamic economic unity — common banking and currency. He had divided the world much earlier than Samuel Huntington had. He was the first notable political leader who had referred to the Western Civilisation as the Christian Civilisation.  His Islamist vision was reflected in his constitution as well. He also saw to it that the word ‘socialism’ should not become a part of the constitution, though the majority of the PPP MNAs wanted so. Anyway allocating almost every thing that the nation had for the strengthening of the security apparatus failed his economic policies, and failure has no friends. However, his judicial killing was not due to his failures. It is how the civil-military elites of powerful ethnic majorities usually treat the strong leaders from the weak ethnic minorities. His hanging was a part of the management of ethnic minorities through shocks. 

Benazir Bhutto is not in the good books of the establishment and the elite. She is being stopped from mass contacts even before the start of the election campaign.  If Musharraf remains president, with or without emergency, or with or without uniform, the PML (M) would win again in the absence of Nawaz Sharif, and will form the federal government. Supposing the PPP wins a majority, even then it cannot deliver. The PML (M) too will not deliver, but as happened earlier it will be accountable to none. It will not be loathed.

What is to be delivered? It is some kind of sustainable relief to the miserable masses. The activities of the moneymaking mafias must end, and most of the national revenue should go to the places and people or from where it comes. Doing so would mean waging a war against the mafias, and also reducing the budget allocations to the army. Only an elected leader, if he is committed, from Punjab can do it. The others will be taken as the traitors.  The eradication of religious extremism is next thing to be done. It is an equally difficult and time taking task. In the Frontier and Balochistan the local liberal political forces can deliver. As far as Punjab, Islamabad and Karachi are concerned, pair of Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf, or the PML (N+Q+F) and the MQM can succeed in keeping the militants awa. Hence, there is a national case for Nawaz Sharif’s participation in elections. He must be allowed to return.  The alliance of the PPP and MQM can provide good governance in Sindh. In the centre there cannot be a better opposition than the alliance of the PPP and the nationalists. If sanity is given a room, the nationalists will win the elections in the Frontier and Balochistan. Let us try to grow. Let us give ground realities and sanity a chance.

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