Dangerous business of looking back

The year 2006 was a continuum of what has been happening since the 2002 elections: crucial national security targets were not achieved to cement the economic base of the country; and the high level of national discord over major issues of survival did not come down. Looking ahead, the prospect is bedimmed by the expectation of confrontation and further instability because of the 2007 elections and their ‘foretold’ lack of ‘free-ness and fairness’.

Nothing has gone forward from the leftovers of the 2005 agenda. The trouble in Waziristan has become further complicated after three years of military operations. Now GHQ has agreed to call off the whole strategy of trying to get the ‘foreigners’ out. The main problem remains lack of political support for what President Pervez Musharraf has undertaken. A ‘pact’ was signed with North Waziristan after which the trouble did not abate. It was merely a stratagem to get the army out of a place where it had got bogged down and was taking casualties.

The failure of the ‘forward’ policy in Waziristan had two very serious fallouts. Because of the increase in the insurgency in Afghanistan after the North Waziristan ‘deal’, international pressure began to pile up. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces started to accuse Pakistan of doing nothing to stop the Taliban from carrying out raids from inside Pakistani territory. Pakistan’s denials were, alas, not credible. The other aspect of this failure was the Talibanisation of the ‘settled’ areas of the NWFP. Many parts of the Tribal Areas developed their own illegal governance; some districts of the NWFP were simply lost to the new warlords.

In Balochistan, the disaster was almost terminal. It brewed through 2005, but in 2006 the bottom fell when the army went in, saying that the Indians were pumping money into Baloch rebel groups to stoke the uprising. Instead of tasting the benefits of a better revenue collection, Balochistan saw Nawab Akbar Bugti getting killed in a botched operation. Thus all chances of getting Balochistan to cooperate on such big futuristic projects as Gwadar and the Iranian Gas Pipeline were lost. Sindh remained adamant on rejecting Kalabagh Dam, and one saw the Sindh Muslim League refusing to side with President Musharraf when the die was cast with an ‘announcement date’. President Musharraf ended up announcing many mega-projects in one go, clearly an impossible undertaking to fulfill.

Law and order remained bad. In fact it became worse as sectarian violence flared up and the Barelvis were massacred in large numbers in Karachi even as the killing of such prominent Shias as Allama Hasan Turabi went on. Karachi could hardly govern itself with many battles being fought in the city. The traditional MQM-Jamaat fight was raging as the Pakistan People’s Party (Parliamentarians) majority in the assembly looked on helplessly. What was more upsetting was the simmering quarrel between the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) chief minister and the Muttahida Quami Movement governor, which became public again and again. The chief minister had earlier locked horns with his own party officials.

The Sindh crisis fed directly into the cleavage developing in the centre, much exacerbated by the local bodies elections in which the ruling party was its worst adversary, such was the infighting. A kind of polarity developed between Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the PML chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The cabinet too seemed divided between the President and loyalists of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The tipping point came when the bill meant to ameliorate the condition of women under Hudood was tabled in the National Assembly. Though separated from the PMLN, the PMLQ behaved according to its old instinct of siding with the clergy.

The opposition too has not been able to extricate itself from decades of polarisation. The clergy has come into the democratic system without developing the flexibility needed to get others to walk with it. Its radicalism has damaged its own alliance while distancing it from the mainstream political parties. But if the combined opposition was not able to walk together, the alliance of PMLN and the PPPP in the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) hardly fared better.

The economy was a bit of a plus point under President Musharraf. He relied on it so much that he became good at discussing it. But the consequences of living lavishly on low interest rates in 2005 began to loom in 2006 and now the State Bank warns of tough times ahead. Not letting the Steel Mill be privatised was not much of a feather in the cap of anyone. Unfortunately, too, economic vision didn’t extend to opening up with India as the prime minister made free trade with India conditional to Kashmir. In 2006 Pakistan became endangered from both sides, from Afghanistan through the creeping Talibanisation; and from India through non-resolution of long-standing disputes.

The year 2007 is threatened by more disorder, as President Musharraf will most probably get himself elected as president again without letting go of his post of the army chief. Without being a purist about democracy, one can say that this would be a dangerous course to take.

Source: Daily Times

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