30 October, 2006
By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu
"Quaid-e-Azam's Pakistan will be dead if the extremists win," so said President Musharraf. Communication these days is a mixture of hope and despair. Judging from the recent statements of the president, the good news is that elections will be held on the due date or before. And the bad news is that the president is worried. His statements tell a bit more, and that is horrifying. He says the Quaid's Pakistan will be dead in case the extremists win the elections. The president's worries do not appeal to many observers. Their assessment is that the extremists have not acquired so far the kind of clout that would win them countrywide electoral support. Yet, the justifications for and against the president's worries could be established only by debating various scenarios that may emerge before or after the elections.
If the situation remains as it is now, the coming elections will not change anything radically. The PML (Q) in the absence of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and in the presence of the 'uniform' will win more seats in spite of the fact that there are not many Pakistanis around who have affinity with it. Yet, it is a political party and is in power also. It is in fact a party of stalwarts and that is a great advantage. What else have we strengthened in Pakistan other than the generals, the administrators, the rich, the stalwarts and the extremists? The PPP will emerge as the second largest parliamentary party, but with reduced seats, and the MQM will maintain its ethnic support base.
In Balochistan, pre-poll, during the poll and post-poll rigging cannot be ruled out. The forces in control would like to prove that they were right in taking action against the 'rebels', because the people in general wanted so. (It is interesting to point out here that a retired general wrote in his book that Bhutto was hanged on public demand.) The MMA if left alone will not be able to maintain its previous performance, in spite of an unprecedented increase in religious extremism. However, it can emerge much, much stronger than before, if the invisible hands continue to help it. The nationalists will win a few more seats in the NWFP. The gist of the first scenario is that the major parties in the election will be the PPP, the PML (Q) and the MMA. There is a possibility that the MMA and the PML (Q) may enter into an unwritten alliance, as they did in the 2002 elections.
What if the PML (Q) and the PPP join hands? If things remain calm, they will win more seats and form the government with a comfortable majority, but the alliance will lead to polarisation. The PML (N) and the MMA will come closer, of course, with the blessings of those who matter, and that will destabilise the situation before or after the elections. And eventually, no one will be able to stop the extremists from coming into power through elections or through rebellion.
What if the PML (N) and the PPP form an alliance? Both will reduce their seats, particularly in Punjab, because anti-PPP voters and the extremists will vote for the PML (Q) candidates where needed. What if the PPP, the PML (N) and the MMA form an electoral alliance? The PML (Q) will still win as many seats as before. If the alliance of the trio continues, a destabilisation campaign will begin just after the elections and that will lead to the eventual rise to power of extremists.
If Nawaz Sharif and Benazir come back the scenario will certainly change, and so will the alliances. The PML (N)-MMA alliance will win most of Punjab and NWFP. In case the PML (N) and the PPP coordinate, the PPP will get more seats provided the PML (Q) stalwarts do not return to the PML (N) fold, which is likely if the president sheds his uniform. In solo flights too, the PPP will win more seats than before. In case the PPP and the PML (Q) form an alliance, the results will again depend on the uniform. If the president chooses a civilian role before the elections, the PML (N) alone will win most seats in Punjab, and its alliance with the MMA will win NWFP.
What if Benazir Bhutto returns and Nawaz Sharif stays back? The PML (N) will be the net loser. The PPP and the PML (Q) will win most seats with or without forming an alliance. The MMA will either go for the elections alone or if directed will form an alliance with the PML (N). In the latter case, polarisation will begin, leading to destabilisation and eventually to the victory of extremism.
In all the discussed scenarios, we find that the 'uniform', extremism, the invisible hands and opportunism are the factors that will determine the shape of future politics and hence of Pakistan. Politics of meaningful policies and the commitment with the nation are absent from all these scenarios, whereas the mechanism for growth of extremism exists and is dominant also. Musharraf's worries do have legs.
No one could predict victory for the MMA in two provinces. No one could predict even the formation of the MMA. Yet it happened. The situation can take a further and better turn for the MMA. It can expand its capacity to win much more seats in Punjab and Sindh also. It may not be able to form its governments there, but it will seek a partnership from a position of strength. Things have certainly developed to such an extent and there are reasons for it.
President Musharraf knows the reasons well. All those state actors and agencies that helped in the creation of the MMA and also in its victory afterwards are still supporting it, rather with much more sincerity and vigour. The MMA components were loyalists ever since their equation with the army and the civil administration developed. The MMA as an entity proved not only loyal but also much more beneficial. Thus, it was rewarded with more than what it used to get before. The agreement between the Taliban of Waziristan and the Government of Pakistan is the latest example. It is like creating a country within a country.
Through its governments in NWFP and Balochistan, the MMA might not have added much to its basic vote base, but it has certainly strengthened its support base among the influentials as well as in the equation. Those who are aware of election skills know that the support base is the key to victory. It will help them win the elections that are still far away; its results as of today are unprecedented and evident in the unchecked rise of religious extremism everywhere in Pakistan and even outside Pakistan.
The Taliban are active again in Afghanistan. If the Afghanistan experiment fails or comes under threat, our love of democracy will either end or come under stress. Afghan anti-democracy forces and ours have many things in common. Their success or even near-success in Afghanistan will also affect us. Three possibilities will shape the future. A new and independent political dynamic may emerge and that may try to tear apart whatever social fabric we wear. The other possibility is the military's pre-emptive intervention to stop it from happening. Yet another possibility is fulfilment of a vision in totality: the Waziristan arrangement is a trailer, the rest is to follow.
How to save the rest of Pakistan? The only way out is if an alliance of the PPP, PML (Q), PML (N), MQM and PONAM is formed, provincial autonomy as demanded by the smaller provinces is granted, relations with India are improved without core conditions attached, sincerity towards the Afghan government is shown by deeds and not merely by words, the budget allocations are diverted from defence to development, the army and administration turn to their constitutionally assigned jobs, foreign policy is revised to return to the real world from a fantasy called the Muslim world; and before all this is done, President Musharraf convinces the elite and the men in uniform that if the Quaid's Pakistan is dead, they too will have a terrible time.
The means and methods explained will not check the unprecedented rise of religious extremism immediately. It will take time, maybe a couple of decades or even more, but slowly and steadily we will again become normal. In case institutional interests, extremism, opportunism and fantasies continue to dominate political scenarios, then there is no way out but to pray for NATO success and start Talbanising our lifestyles also: Better 'red' than 'dead'. Whatever the future, democracy or theocracy, the Talbanised will remain the favourites.
Seven years of his rule did not improve much in Pakistan, but it has helped President Musharraf to attain political maturity in some critical affairs. His apprehension that the Quaid's Pakistan will be dead in case extremists win elections has a rationale, both empirical as well as informative. He deserves a matching response.