Birth pangs of saner politics?

PAKISTAN’S political developments have presented a good manner of poetic justice of late, with recently all powerful President Musharraf humbled at the polls, having to administer oath as prime minister to a man he kept behind bars for five years, whose first order as premier was immediate release of deposed judges the former general wouldn’t hear of discharging as long as he called the shots in Islamabad.

Washington has no doubt been relayed by its high level delegation holding important talks in Islamabad that with Musharraf’s sidelining from the main decision making process, the core of his, and by proxy Washington’s, policy might be on its way out as well.

Nawaz Sharif’s uncompromising tone in delivering to the US envoys that the days of Musharraf’s one-man-show are over, and the way forward on the war-against-terrorism would be debated in parliament, hint at a revision of the pretty much unquestioned implementation of US diktat that Pakistan has been carrying out till now. This ought to prompt a welcome breather in troubled areas in the frontier that are bearing the brunt of the crackdown on extremist elements, raising hopes of a negotiated settlement and lowering chances of increased suicide violence in major cities. It would not be surprising, though, to see parliament settle for little deviations in ongoing policy, once the matter of $10 billion in annual aid and the extremists’ rigid demands are brought into consideration.

However, ever since the February 18 shocking rout of the Musharraf-faithful PML-Q, it seems difficult to deny that Pakistan has been on a democratic upswing, with people unhappy with the highest offices prompting far-reaching changes. Already, elements the Musharraf dispensation reviled for most of its stay in office are at the helm, taking decisions that negate the most serious initiatives of the outgoing government. The judges’ release scripts a landmark event even though the matter of their reinstatement hangs in the air. It marks the end of the practice of chastising the judiciary when it refused to toe the high-level line, something that has been prevalent for most of Pakistan’s troubled history.

To say that election results have rid Pakistan of its ills would border on insanity, about the same level of lunacy that politics of dictatorship and coercion have featured time and again in a struggle that has yet to achieve success. Things might well get worse before they get better, but going by on-ground developments, it seems Pakistan’s recharged public stands ready to bear the costs involved in finally erecting a viable democracy as inevitable birth pangs of a much yearned for sanity in its politics.

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