PAKISTAN: NEW DAWN OR NEW NIGHTMARE?
There has been a delay in Government formation in Pakistan due to the resistance faced by Mr.Asif Ali Zardari from the loyalists of theBhutto family to his efforts to have the claims of Maqdoom Amin Fahim, Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), excluded fromconsideration for the post of Prime Minister in favour of Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, who was the Commerce Minister of Mrs.Benazir Bhuttoduring her second term as the Prime Minister (1993-96) and was the Party's Secretary-General. .
2. Chaudhury Mukhtar, reputed to be the richest industrialist of Pakistan ( he owns a shoe-manufacturing empire and his family allegedlymonopolises the leather business in Pakistan) , has been a crony of Zardari for many years. He was widely alleged to be Zardari's front-manin all his commission-making deals when Benazir was the Prime Minister and was known to be fierce in his loyalty to Zardari. When theNawaz Sharif Government, which came to power in 1996, sought to have Zardari harassed on various charges relating to allegations ofcorruption and the death in police firing in September 1996 of Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir and claimant to the post ofVice-Chairman of the PPP, Mukhtar refused to betray Zardari. He even spent some years in jail on a charge of alleged irregularities in theimplementation of the textiles policy when he was the Commerce Minister. The charge could not be proved and he had to be released bythe Musharraf Government.
3. As Commerce Minister, Chaudhury Mukhtar was reputed to be well-disposed towards India and the US and had many friends among thesenior Generals of the Pakistan Army. He was known as a pragmatist in foreign policy matters.It was he, who recommended to Benazir thatPakistan should emulate China in its relations with India by not allowing the pending differences over the future of Kashmir come in the wayof normal economic relations. Benazir was inclined to accept his advice, but ultimately decided not to do so due to strong opposition fromthe Pakistan Foreign Office and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to any delinking of the issue of economic relations from the Kashmirissue.
4.According to well-informed sources, it was he, who prevailed upon Benazir and Zardari last year to make a deal with President PervezMusharraf with the blessings of the US in order to let the corruption charges against them be lifted so that they could come back andresume their political activities. It was reportedly under his advice that Benazir agreed to work with Musharraf as the President provided hegave up the additional post of the Chief of the Army Staff and agreed to the removal of the power of the President to dismiss the electedPrime Minister and National Assembly. Musharraf agreed to the first demand, but not to the second.
5. Ahmed Mukhtar continues to be of the view even after the assassination of Benazir that the PPP should not associate itself with any moveto force the exit of Musharraf from power and that since Musharraf seems to enjoy the confidence of the US despite his mixed track-recordin the fight against Al Qaeda, the PPP should not embarrass the US by rocking the boat for Musharraf. He is of the view that Pakistan'seconomy could again face serious difficulties as it did in the 1990s if the flow of economic assistance from the US stopped or declined.
6. An examination of the recent pronouncements and actions of Zardari would indicate that he is in broad agreement with the policydirection suggested by Mukhtar. When Zardari originally accepted the policy advice of Mukhtar, he was confident that helped by thesympathy wave caused by the assassination of Benazir, the PPP would emerge as a party with an absolute majority of its own so that it didnot have to depend on other parties for forming the Government.
7. This has not happened. It has emerged as the largest single party, but without a majority of its own. It can form a Government only withthe support of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif and the Awami National Party (ANP) of the North-West FrontierProvince (NWFP) or the PML (Qaide-Azam), a pro-Musharraf party, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which is equallypro-Musharraf. In the recent elections, only 40 per cent of the popular votes went to pro-Musharraf candidates.Sixty per cent of the popularvotes went to candidates, who were critical of him. Under this circumstance, Zardari has no other option but to rely on the PML (N) andANP--- at least for the time being.
8.The ANP, despite its strong dislike of Musharraf and opposition to his co-operation with the US in its so-called war against terrorism, isprepared to go along with the PPP's policy of at least temporary accommodation with Musharraf. But the PML (N) is not . It is determined toforce a confrontation with Musharraf on issues such as the reinstatemnent of the judges sacked by him and removing the variousamendments incorporated by him in the Constitution when he had preoclaimed an emergency in November,2007. It is also determined tomodify the counter-terrorism policy as followed by Musharraf, even at the risk of displeasing the US.Nawaz Sharif, also a businessman likeMukhtar, does not agree with his view that lack of co-operation with the US and the consequent decline or discontinuance in the USeconomic assistance would seriously damage the economy.
9.Thus, Zardari finds himself in a dilemma. He wants to work together with Musharraf under mutually agreed conditions. He wants to bereceptive to US concerns on the terrorism issue.But his dependence on the PML (N) would make this difficult. He foresees a confrontationwith Nawaz Sharif in the short term after the PPP has been in power for a few months, though not immediately. He wants to prepare himselffor that confrontation and feels that Mukhtar would be the right person as the Prime Minister to keep the PML (N) under control. If Zardaridoes not agree to rock the boat for Musharraf, Nawaz might rock the boat for Zardari. That is his fear. Only a Punjabi can check-mateanother Punjabi. Only a businessman can check-mate another businessman. That is his calculation.
10. Nominating a Punjabi as the Prime Minister will be disliked by the rural masses of Sindh, who have overwhelmingly voted for the PPP andremained loyal to Benazir. They look upon Mukhtar as Zardari's man and Amin Fahim as Benazir's man. Amin Fahim has had a relativelyclean public image. He was fiercely loyal to Benazir and rejected Musharraf's offer of Prime Ministership after the 2002 elections if heresigned from the PPP. He comes from a Sindhi family with a formidable reputation in rural Sindh. His father was a founding member of thePPP. They view Zardari's reported attempts to bring in Mukhtar or some other Punjabi loyal to him as meant to marginalise the influence ofthe Bhutto loyalists in the party. They do not look upon Zardari as the natural leader of the PPP after the death of his wife. They rather lookupon him as an usurper.
11. If Zardari overrides their feelings in favour of Amin Fahim and has Mukhtar or some other Punjabi nominated as the Prime Minister, thediscipline in the party is likely to be weakened, with the danger of a Sindhi-Punjabi divide emerging ultimately. After the assassination ofBenazir, the riots in rural Sindh took an anti-Punjabi direction because the Sindhi cadres of the PPP blamed the Punjabi administration forfailing to protect her.
12. There is another reason why Zardari feels uncomfortable with Fahim. Zardari describes himself as Pakistan's Sonia Gandhi--- a leaderand guide of the party, who does not aspire to the office of Prime Minister. He wants as Prime Minister someone, who will keep his influenceparamount. He is worried that Fahim may turn out to be Pakistan's Narasimha Rao. After becoming the Prime Minister, he might try to have Zardari and his son marginalised.
13. Whoever ultimately takes over as the Prime Minister will have to depend for his survival not only on the Army, but also on Al Qaeda andother jihadi terrorists. They look upon the PPP as apostate and the ANP as even a greater apostate. They dislike the PPP as intensely asthey dislike Musharraf because of its pro-US image and Benazir's support to the commando action in the Lal Masjid in July last. They alsolook upon the PPP as the Trojan Horse of the Shias. They allege that Benazir was a Shia and that so is Zardari. Their dislike for the ANP isbecause of its secular and leftist image. The jihadis are determined to see that the PPP-ANP combine will not work ----neither in the NWFPnor in Islamabad. A further surge in jihadi terrorism is to be expected.
14. In a recent article in "The Hindu", Ms. Malini Parthasarathi, the well-known analyst, described the post-election scenario in Pakistan asmarking a new dawn for the country. A new dawn or a new nightmare? Let us keep our fingers crossed. (7-3-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )