A country that thrives on its paradoxes

THE Jeddah meeting of the two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif would have gone off as nothing more than a photo opportunity if information minister Shiekh Rashid had kept his mouth shut.

By A. Masroor

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Published: Mon 14 Feb 2005, 9:12 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:11 PM

But just as the meeting was getting into gear in Jeddah, a desperate Sheikh Rashid in Islamabad was seen making a transparently crude attempt to sabotage the meeting with the incredulous claim that the ruling PML and the PPP-P were negotiating for seat adjustments in the next election. It was clearly a panicky response on the part of Shiekh Rashid to an event, which was on the cards for so many months.

Rashid’s panic becomes understandable if the Jeddah meeting is viewed from the government’s perspective. The powers that be had done everything over the last several months to create misunderstandings between the two parties. And they were also perhaps expecting a destructive struggle for leadership between Benazir and Asif Zardari within the PPP and between Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif within the PML (N). Nothing of that sort had happened and instead, the top leadership of the two parties not only did meet for the first time in 17 years, but they also expressed their intentions to broaden and deepen further their alliance.

Though the PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has already refuted the claim of Shiekh Rashid, yet while refuting he has taken care not to rule out completely the possibility of the PPP and the government reaching a deal for mutual political accommodation on government’s terms. These responses of the top leaders of the ruling party to the Jeddah meeting gives one the impression that the government is finding itself on a weak wicket presently. Also, it appears as if it does not know how to handle the evolving political situation and is flailing its hands in desperation.

To put the things in their correct perspective, the Jeddah meeting itself was long over due and what was announced after the meeting had carried no surprises. The two leaders reiterated the political strategy the PPP and the PML-N, had already evolved from the platform of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) for meeting the political challenges the opposition was facing in its struggle against the Army rule. And also there is nothing new in the so-called pact the two leaders signed at Jeddah. The three points contained in the pact — restoration of democracy, appointment of an independent election commission and respect for popular mandate — were already on the demand list of the ARD. And they are already following a code of conduct for framing which they have constituted a committee.

Pakistan is a paradox. As a state, it seemingly thrives on army rule and the US crutches. But at the same time, these very two factors appear to be seriously undermining its statehood. And whenever the Pakistan Army and the US join hands to promote what the two mistakenly believe to be their respective domestic, regional and global interests, they have ended up subverting the very foundations of the state of Pakistan. Each time an army general took over the reins of government in Pakistan, he brought with him a host of political and economic reforms and a modicum of prosperity to the country. As against this, each time a democratic government was installed in the country, it slipped into political and economic chaos paving the way for a military take-over.

Pakistan had gone all the way with Washington during the Cold War out of what used to be its security-related necessity. But by the time the bipolar world came to an end, this necessity had become a habit. And today, friendship with the US has become something of a necessity as well as a habit. And this very paradox — the paradox of being a state needing for its viability both, the army rule and the US crutches, but whose very existence is being threatened by its continued dependence on these two factors — seems to have affected the way the Pakistani nation looked at itself and perceived its goals and objectives, its raison d'etre and its place in the comity of nations. The images that emerge from this look-see seem all topsy -turvy, distorted. And this, in turn, has caused the nation to regard its problems as opportunities and its opportunities as problems, it advantages as disadvantages and disadvantages as advantages and its strengths as weaknesses and its weaknesses as strengths.

The nation has become so habitual of the army rule and the American crutches that it seems to have stopped contemplating Pakistan without the two. And during every democratic pause, the GHQ and the American embassy in Islamabad become the hub of political activities in the country and serve at times as the courts of last resort for the out of power political elite. But then, during the army rule, the nation led by an all-powerful General always embarks on the uphill, but never ending task of restoring democracy. And halfway through this exercise, a sense of extreme confusion grips the society and more often than not every thing comes to a stand still and people at large starting asking the question:

What or who after the incumbent General? And at about this time, the disparate elements in the opposition waiting in the wings all this time join hands and start looking around for an ambitious general, fresh and fit and also seek a nod of approval from Washington. This phase takes a year or two to end. But at times, it has been seen to have ended abruptly within a matter of months or days even.

That is exactly the situation that Pakistan is in today. While the nation is waiting for the other shoe to drop, the ARD seems to be all set to give the General and his ruling alliance a run for their money. But the question is, will the ending of the story be any different this time? Will it be possible for the ARD to restore democracy without a helping hand from an ambitious General and crutches from Washington?

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