Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Answers to Difficult Questions

A reader recently asked your Blogger a number of pertinent questions and the questions were:

Which political leader/entity do you think presents the best hope to take Pakistan in the direction you want?

And do you think this person or party can be voted to power if fair elections are held this year?

What do Pakistanis really want?

Not easy questions to answer. But as the reader has put your Blogger on the spot, he will attempt to answer these questions as candidly as possible.

Some readers will disagree with my views, and they are perfectly entitled to express their contrary comments - providing of course it is done in a civil manner. Recently a reader described one of the blogs as a ‘big fudge and an outright lie’. No one appreciates being called a liar. Is it too much to expect readers to be tolerant of views they disagree with?


A Preamble

Musharraf has to go!

Why the vehemence?

In my mind’s eye I can still picture the television shots of Musharraf gloating over the fact that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s attempt to address the Karachi lawyers had failed. The reality of the bloody carnage at Karachi – some fifty dead and over a hundred badly wounded with bullet wounds - seemed of little significance to him.

Unfortunately Pakistani military dictators have all be prone to such callousness. The fact that fifty civilians (as in Karachi), a thousand plus (as currently in Balochistan) or a million (as they did in East Pakistan) may die is a matter of no consequence to them as long their self-interest is protected.

Today it is believed that Musharraf is prepared to do anything to stay in power, even if it means letting Pakistan sink into a chaotic social, political and economic quagmire. Therefore, the quicker he goes the better for all of us!


The Attempted Answers

From a purely Pakistani perspective, your Blogger believes to replace him we need a leader who:
- is honestly determined to cleanse the political system from military interference for good. While it will not be easy to remove such an entrenched political ‘foe’, the task should be commenced soon and with earnestness.

- is sincere in strengthening institutions such as our judiciary and refrains from using the law enforcement agencies as a personal tool for extracting political vengeance.

- will provide smaller provinces a greater clout over their natural and other resources and provide for greater provincial autonomy for the sake of national harmony.

- will allocate sufficient funds and restore life to the debacle currently known as our educational system.

- will genuinely tolerate a completely free press and media and show respect for dissenting views.

- does not fall victim to the traditional political system based on sycophancy, corruption and crony capitalism

Okay this idealistic wish list can go and on, but the realistic question that was asked remains as yet unanswered: Which political leader/entity do I think presents the best hope to take Pakistan in the direction you want?

Recently I was a spectator at the All Party Conference which was recently held in London and had a chance to observe some of current political leadership, in particular Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, at close hand for a period of two days.

Ten plus years ago I had a one-to-one with Benazir Bhutto for a period of half an hour or so and subsequently had a chance to witness her in action with some of her team as she dealt with a political crisis.

Having said all this, this does not render me an expert on any of them, but it does give me something to work on, by adding flesh and bones to what I already know about them.

In my opinion if free and unrigged elections do take place, the voters in Pakistanis will unfortunately have only two realistic options left to chose from: Nawaz Sharif of the PML and Benazir Bhutto of PPP.

(Other parties such as MQM, ANP, etc are regional parties and possible future government coalition partners and no more. And in my book PML(Q) does not qualify as a party as it is widely recognised as consisting of a motley crew of political ‘lotas’ and self-seeking sycophants who are now happily faced with a dismal future.)

Unfortunately for us, the eleven years in political wilderness have, it appears, done little to change Benazir. Over a year ago she was reportedly prepared to go to any lengths to make a deal with Musharraf – even accepting him in uniform as president – as long as he got her off the Swiss and other overseas money laundering / corruption cases. Sadly she has proved to completely unchanged and remains utterly self-centred and opportunistic to do any good for the future of this country.

The uncerebral and crony capitalist Nawaz Sharif was packed off five years ago into exile. These days, much to my surprise, he seems to be somewhat of a changed man. Not only does he appear to be reasonable and tolerant of dissenting views, but also seems genuine about the need for change in Pakistan’s political system. His uncompromising stand against the military’s role in politics has won him many public plaudits. (However, only time will tell how authentic his conversion has been).

(In London the person who actually appealed to me was Imran Khan but his national political muscle, if it exists, lies in the future. It will take him at least another election or two to consolidate his party in the national scene, but he can play a valuable role in the meantime. His political strength - and possible weakness - lies in the fact he is a straight shooter, but his sincerity of purpose will always be his strongest asset.)

And now to answer two questions:

Which political leader/entity do you think presents the best hope to take Pakistan in the direction you want?

And do you think this person or party can be voted to power if fair elections are held this year?

In the given circumstances Nawaz Sharif currently presents the best hope for Pakistan in the near future.

And yes, with Benazir Bhutto’s declining popularity as a result of her publicly perceived rank opportunism, Nawaz Sharif has probably the best chance of getting voted into power if fair elections are held this year. In all likelihood he will sweep central Punjab and with his current alliance with nationalist and the mullah parties he will have little difficulty in forming a government in Islamabad.

But we hope for better leadership to emerge once democracy is allowed to take root in the country. It must be borne in mind that with an aggressively free press and a recently liberated judiciary, all future governments will be kept under close scrutiny for all their acts or omissions. And Hurray for that!


And now to the final question: What do Pakistanis really want?

In the past year, thanks to Aaj and other TV news channels - beginning with Akbar Bugti’s murder and followed by the crisis over the Chief Justice and the Lal Masjid debacle - Musharraf and his generals have been exposed as arrogant blundering incompetents out only to preserve their own selfish interests. These people are also now widely blamed for the insurgency in Balochistan and the cancerous spread of extremism in FATA and elsewhere.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of the public in Pakistan (as opposed to a few non-resident Pakistanis in the UK and US) want to get rid of military interference in politics for good.

They long for an independent judiciary, a free press and an accountability of their political rulers – in short they want a full-fledged democracy with all its trappings.

With an accountable government there is hope that a rule of law will finally emerge. People desperately wish for justice and an end to the corrupt anarchy that currently exists.


This of course does not concur with what the US wants.

As one of Washington Post’s leading columnists Jim Hoagland wrote yesterday: The Islamabad regime is being 'aided by the hidden hand of U.S. diplomacy working to preserve President Pervez Musharraf's dwindling power in Islamabad.'

Washington’s priority remains fixed on Al Qaeda and its associates. Just because Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld took their eyes off the target in Tora Bora in 2001 and foolishly (and quite calamitously) opted to attack Iraq instead, does not mean that 160 million Pakistanis have to indefinitely forgo our rights to a democracy. If they insist on supporting Musharraf (via Benazir Bhutto or some other route) then Washington will be loathed by secular moderate Pakistanis like never before.


There is perhaps a lot I have left said unsaid but then again a blog has to end somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Onlooker
Please keep in mind the possibility that the questions and the comment might be from the same faithful reader of your blog :).

To clarify- I have great respect for you and your writing and wasn't calling you a liar. I was referring to the 'Ayesha Jalal school of denial' of Jinnah's personal years-long nationwide and international campaign for a separate geographical state.

Thanks for this blog it clarifies a great deal for an outside observer. Pakistanis must get the government and institutions they want, no question. Will they also get the Afghan policy they want and what is that policy? The US government seems to be acting upon its own pre-judgement about the Afghan policy that a freely elected Pakistani government would choose.

Syed said...

Your approach is sincere but I am not sure about the intellect level of our masses and a good change after one election is hard to expect.
Anyway, the worst civilian setup should be better than the present nonsense. Just imagine, we do not have a clearly defined system for electing President and every thing else is under thick smokes as oil price regulating, sugar prices and above all electricity crisis.
Some times back there was a lot of muttering by Mush and company and their claims to bring Pakistan's economy to take off point instead they have taken the country very successfully to blow off point.
August 20, 2007
6:47 PM

Ahsan said...

nawaz sharif? well im sure you have your reasons. if you're as staunch a supporter of democracy as your writings suggest, i cant understand why you hold hope for someone who amassed almost unitary power for himself (everyone forgets this now, but NS in his second term was about the second most powerful leader this country has ever had, musharraf included). the man had his supporters storm the supreme court. he jailed and beat up journalists. most of all, he was (and im sure still is) a low-iq daddys boy who knows nothing about anything.

pls dont kid yourself onlooker. if a deal was being offered to the PML-N, you would see the BB and NS roles reversed. BB talked a good game on democracy too, until about last year. ones a feudal, the others a rich industrialist. neither of them have a democratic bone in their body.

all that said, i am a PPP supporter. i want them in power because i do not feel the PML-N is right for this country's security (they will not want to tackle extremism the way the PPP would), its political/religious future (one is avowedly secular, the other is not), and its ability to figure out center-province issues (PPP is much better established in NWFP, if not balochistan...sindh and punjab go without saying).

lets remember also that the PPP is the biggest party in pakistan. in an unrigged election, they could easily poll 35%. i wouldnt be so confident about what the "people" want. survey data is notoriously unreliable in developed countries, let alone in pakistan. i still say this is the PPP's election to lose. lets see what happens.

Anonymous said...

PPP is secular?

I thought most of the controversial religious ruling were passed under ZAB.


Ali Afzal said...

Now the only question that remains is the identity of Mr. Onlooker? Obviously someone well known who cannot/wont or does not have the conviction to voice his opinion openly with fear. Perhaps a part of the problem i.e. establishment afraid of repercussions?? Well we all have our issues, each to his own. Well done any how.

Onlooker said...

Ali Afzal

I am not a bureaucrat, been a member of any political party or ever held a job with any government.

And no I am not particularly well known.

To date I have written over 350 blogs, and some were about sensitive issues and yes, some attempts were made at times to track me down.

Truth be told, anonymity also provides me the freedom to write without being arbitrarily slotted into any category (i.e. age, gender, profession, ethnicity or class).

libertarian said...

Onlooker you've identified yourself as a man in a previous post. Now we're onto you :-)

Seriously though - keep up the great work. May not agree with your visceral reaction to Mush - seems more emotional than rational - but your analyses are great reading and insightful.

AAS said...

Great piece ONLOOKER. Even though i dislike NS and BB and would never wish them to return...i would go with your reasoning because it is the most pragmatic and i feel the same.

I really wish someone would push Aitzaz Ahsan to become the next prime minister...i really do believe he has all the qualities needed to really make a difference in Pakistan.

Ahsan said...

no thats zia you're thinking about. easy to confuse the two at times, right?

can i ask why you favor aa? im not saying i necessarily agree or disagree with you, i just want to know your reasons for saying so.

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