Pak political heavyweights to meet in London

By K.N. Pandita – On April 23, 2006 three Pakistani political heavyweights, all in exile at the moment, are scheduled to meet in London to evolve a strategy for future political destiny of their country. The initiative has been taken by the ANP leader Isfandyar Khan.

For some time in the past, silent initiators have been working behind the curtain to bring the three leaders together and make them discuss the serious issue of where Pakistan was headed to under the rule of an army general now posing as a civilian democrat.

This initiative received a boost after President Bush’s short visit to Pakistan on March 3 last. In Islamabad the American President made some blunt statements generally not considered suave and diplomatic by political pundits. He said that Pakistan should go for parliamentary elections in 2007 reiterating India’s repeated assertion that India would be too happy with a democratic Pakistan.

Besides a signal to the banished leaders to review current political situation in the region, the statement may have prompted the initiators to become more active in their pursuit of a common political porogramme.

In this background, Pakistan’s President gathered nearly a hundred thousand people to listen to his pontification on Pakistani democracy. The real purpose was to send a signal to the American President that he could maneuver democracy as deftly as he could manage the coup of 1999.

As these political somersaults are underway, the question whether or not the General continues to hold both of the top posts in future, has stirred the hornet’s nest. The American Under Secretary Boucher had to make it clear in his recent televised address in Islamabad that Washington would like a Pakistani President without a soldier’s olive green.

The three top political heavyweights, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain have before them an appetizing agenda of replacing the military regime with genuine and convincing democratic dispensation in Pakistan. But having a common agenda is not enough unless the basic contours of democracy are defined and addressed.

Even earlier Pakistan had a few spells of democratic dispensation, the elected parliament and other pseudo-democratic superstructures. These, however, ended in smoke as these were replaced by the military regime, which exuded the oft repeated rhetoric of endemic corruption and inefficiency eating into the vitals of Pakistani society.

In Pakistan even a semblance of democracy may not stabilize unless Pakistani society’s feudal structure is dismantled and the power of the generals is curbed. The nexus among the feudal lords, Generals and top bureaucracy has also to be dismantled.

Two of the three top political heavyweights are supported by their special constituencies, which hold the centre stage of Pakistani civil society: Benazir by the feudal and Mian Nawaz Sharif by the industrialists’ constituency both having developed vested interests in Punjabi bureaucracy. It is only the MQM leader who, just last week made it clear in a public statement that unless feudalism was dismantled in Pakistan, his party would not rest.

Obviously, with these conflicting interests, there appears very little chance for a unanimous line of action emerging from the proposed meet in London. Some analysts may presume that Washington has indirectly hinted that it would not be interested in lending traditional and historical support to the Pakistan Army. This does not appear convincing. Washington cannot afford to distance from the Generals who have willy-nilly thrown in their lot on the side of the Americans in their war against Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, Pentagon is aware that the younger officers’ cadres in Pakistan Army are fully indoctrinated in radical Islam and are not secretive of their anti-American psyche. This could, perhaps, be one of the factors why President Bush bluntly told Pervez Musharraf to shift to democracy in Pakistan. It was a friendly advice.

As this political landscape is meeting the eye, two issues are haunting military regime at the moment. These are the sectarian clashes leading to massive blood-letting and Baluch insurgency now gaining popularity among the Baluch youth. If there is a consensus of sorts among the three political stalwarts in their impending London meet, they will have to concede the right of self-determination to the resisting Baluchs. At the same time they will have to chalk out a policy that aims at curbing the subversive activities of radicals especially of Sunni-Wahhabi orientation. If the trio has any serious plan of forming a common platform, it is logical that they should involve the Baluch nationalist leadership also in their London parleys. It will lend credibility to their futuristic vision of Pakistan (The writer is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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