Feb 27, 2009


Whatever the constitutional rights and wrongs of the imposition of governor rule in Punjab, or the fairness or otherwise of the Supreme Court’s decision against the Sharif brothers that has effectively ended their political lives for the time being; it is clear that the fallout is going to be with us for months – perhaps years – to come. We will never know if the government had the judges in its pocket, nor are we ever likely to get clarity on the ‘deal’ discussed with the president whereby the brothers Sharif would get to hold on to their fiefdom so long as they turned down the heat over the reinstatement of the judges. The ‘deal’ has been roundly denied by Ms Sherry Rehman the information minister and we must not expect any defining statements on the matter by the president or prime minister. Salman Taseer is now installed for two months, a man who has had some very public and acrimonious spats with the Sharifs, and parliament seems to be nowhere at all, neither the cabinet. This perhaps is the most telling aspect of the whole sordid episode because with a provincial legislature still in place the PML-N could have elected a new leader of the house even with the disqualification of Shahbaz Sharif. An innocent bystander may be forgiven for thinking that Pakistan was being run by the president and the small coterie around him, with democratic process bound and gagged in a cupboard in the bowels of the National assembly. The coming fifty-six days are going to see the PPP, the minority party in the Punjab Assembly, attempting to cobble together an alliance with the PML-Q (a political party that we should never forget was an ersatz confection designed to keep our most recent military dictator in power) in order to outnumber the PML-N in the PA. It was also the subject of sustained vilification by both the slain leader of the PPP Benazir Bhutto and a host of other political figures – who now seem happy to tack their flags to its mast in the name of expediency, this arrangement having nothing at all to do with ‘stability’ or ‘the good of the nation’ and everything to do with the preservation of dynastic politics. Any notion that the PPP is truly a party of and for the people must now be regarded as firmly quashed, and it is revealed as being a family heirloom to be passed from generation to generation. The lawyers’ movement will be discreetly satisfied with the decision, which will have further strengthened ties between themselves and the Sharifs; and they are now gearing up for a Long March that has suddenly gained in both focus and import.One-hundred-and-thirty-two PML-N members of the provincial assembly spent the night of Feb 25 camped in the cafeteria of the assembly, fearful that if they left the building they would be prevented from re-entering, and on the morning of Feb 26 they carried on their protest from the front steps of the assembly itself. As the MPA’s protest, desultory rioting dots the country and the Sharifs contemplate their next move, the world watches. Thus far comment from outside has been limited to ‘this is an internal matter for Pakistan’ with both the US and UK administrations saying words to that effect; but neither can view these developments with equanimity. Feb 26 saw the release of a report by the Atlantic Council, a US based foreign policy think tank whose representatives met the president when they visited last December. The president made a significant and prescient statement to the members of the Atlantic Council, saying “[w]e are losing the battle” when it comes to keeping Pakistan stable, at peace and prosperous. Rarely has he spoken truer words. The report, titled ‘Needed: A comprehensive US policy towards Pakistan’, says Pakistan is on a rapid trajectory toward becoming a failing or failed state. The Council spells out what is needed to prevent this from happening: ‘…Pakistan has the manpower and infrastructure to win its battles. But Pakistan can only do so if it gets the necessary support urgently. And it is self-evident that a secure, stable, and prospering Pakistan is in the best interests of the international community.’ We need to see massive investment over and above that which we have already received. In global terms the sums are not large – $4-5 billion above the Biden-Kerry-Lugar proposals is needed beyond the IMF and other loans from the US and other sources. Of this, about $3 billion should go to the economic and social sectors directly. We need money and resources and the vision to develop both. We do not need our politicians ripping the country asunder in pursuit of petty power-politics. The clock is ticking.

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