The rise of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as the country’s new prime minister in the twilight of the PPP’s current government brings forth the clamour for fresh elections and a return to the electorate. Elections are due in less than a year, but how the Zardari/Raja duo holds out against the multifarious pressures on it from the various external and internal challenges will be the key to whether the current PPP government plays out its entire innings or is declared hurt. Will it, or will the military take its place, or whether Imran Khan wins the next election, as the curtain draws down on the PPP government, remains a moot point. Here is some prognostication.
The current stint of the PPP has been plagued with self-induced fears; and some of these have actualised in typical self-fulfilling prophecies. I was, perhaps, the first ambassador to host this leadership for a Saarc summit in Colombo in 2008, just a few months after the PPP had been elected to office. I saw fear and apprehension writ large over the face of the leadership as they rather tentatively measured their initial steps into power. And without doubt, their fear centred on how the military might treat them; such has been the historical record of the mutual animosity.
Perhaps, going a bit beyond my mandate, I proposed a certain approach which could develop a healthier relationship between the two. There had already been that initial assault, though, of placing Inter-Services Intelligence under the ministry of interior and then its sudden reversal; this was, much early into their tenure, the betrayal of an uneasy relationship.
If indeed Benazir Bhutto had been at the helm and had been this nervy, it would have been understandable, but when the stables of the party had been stocked anew with newer ensigns and top leadership that was more or less news, signs of such uncertainty had to do with something other than a historical basis. It seems to me that President Asif Ali Zardari’s traits of a fighter against the various odds that had bedevilled his life, more or less, have dictated the various institutional clashes that have dominated the current term of the PPP. Mr Zardari perceived the military, and then the judiciary, as his most probable nemeses. Hence, the ISI misadventure; the purported memo to the Americans by then-ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani; a continuous rendition of how the military just might unseat a democratic government while the signs of it were not even remote; and it’s now famed ‘bunkered’ mentality against some inevitable odds waiting to afflict it, have obsessed the PPP giving it a safety-first instinct taking away the initiative to work towards resolving the challenges which have only multiplied in the last four years. The same is the case with the way it has perceived the judiciary; whether it was the judgment on the National Reconciliation Ordinance or the Swiss money accounts, the reaction by the PPP has only been of predisposed defiance.
Yousaf Raza Gilani was sacrificed on the altar of these fears, and if there is time enough, so shall be Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. I wrote some time back that Mr Zardari’s instinct to perceive himself as the perpetual target had pushed him to establish concentric security circles around him, beginning with parliament, the prime minister and his close personal staff which would be the final offering before anyone can reach his person. Sadly, while it may be a saga of a person’s fight against his multifarious enemies using clever strategy, smart politics and expedient exploitation of a sense of loyalty among party-mates, what it has resulted in has been an abominable lack of governance, policy, vision and any kind of planning for the future. The track record of the current PPP government has shown that there never has been time for any of this, since most of the time its leadership seems to have been consumed by a continuous sense of a war against shadows, both past and perceived.
What of the title then? An aam admi that I am a client of once a month, is a great connoisseur of our politics. My background of the military and current occupation with the media makes for a deadly mix, and he partakes liberally of such opportunity. His wisdom defies his lack of a formal education and as much as anyone these days is stumped for answers to what any common man of Pakistan may ask of us, I, too, am mostly speechless when he rants and raves about how the elites have plundered his country and how they have singularly failed to do anything for the common man. He asks of me to convey to General Kayani that time may have come for him to hang his uniform if indeed there is nothing he can do or is willing to do about the current state of affairs. Some of his pearls of wisdom include asking me to convey the need for a policy to focus for the next 10 years only on education at the cost of everything else ensuring universal enrollment of all five-year-olds so that at least one generation of literates can be ensured which could then give us an educated and informed democracy. When I tell him there is no chance for a return of the military even if he loathes the possibility of the PPP winning yet another election, he wants to know if Imran could be the answer.
I wish I could offer him that assurance.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2012.
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