Feb 28, 2009

Who is the pied piper?

Don't shoot the messenger
By Shandana Minhas
Big decisions are never spontaneous (though sometimes we wish those making them would do us all a favour and spontaneously combust). If the Feb 25 verdict of the Supreme Court to uphold a ban on the Sharifs holding public office was indeed a political rather than judicial one, what grand plan were they facilitating? There is a host of theories to choose from. Such is the intensity of revulsion for President Zardari that some are taking it simply as yet another example of his growing megalomania, the logical progression of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Zardari got rid of Nawaz Sharif 'because he is the most popular leader in Pakistan. Sharif outstripped him in a recent poll about which of them Pakistanis would prefer as president--a bit like asking people to choose between Haiga and Sargam that. But Zardari's fluid outmanoeuvring of all opposition in his current incarnation as political animal suggests he--or his "advisers" are--smart enough to understand that the verdict will make Sharif more rather than less visible, if not popular. His is not the only hand that rocks the cradle. Sharif has taken a page out of his rival's book and reinvented himself as a democrat par excellence, aligning himself with the lawyers' movement seeking a restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry, much like the PPP leadership before its convenient attack of collective amnesia. His determination to finally keep a promise-- how nice it would have been if he had remembered his oath to uphold the Constitution as Prime Minister while his minions were kidnapping journalists, storming the supreme court and smashing that portrait of Jinnah not so long ago--is what on the surface of it ultimately led to the parting of ways between the PPP and the PML-N. It is also being touted as another reason the federal government is seeking to neutralise his party. By "independent judiciary" the Sharifs presumably mean one that would support the PML-N's strategy rather than the PPP's. Sharif has revealed--rather belatedly, considering it happened a month ago: is that the average gestation period for a differentiation between right and wrong in your mind, Sir?--that "Zardari had tried to offer a business deal to his brother if he supported the legitimacy of the Supreme Court," branding the judgment "an edict, not a verdict."PPP stalwarts have yet to break ranks. They might be on board the "attempt to finally wrest control of Pakistan's most populous province." They might be giving their chairperson enough rope to hang himself with so they don't have to do it later. They might be dim witted and emotional enough to capitulate to this flashback to the politics of negativity that characterised the nineties. But what if it is not microevolution that is calling the shots but macroevolution? What is the situation in the rest of Pakistan as an unpopular governor's rule destabilises Punjab? In the NWFP, anti-state elements benefit from the distraction by entrenching themselves further. US drone attacks target the Afghan Taliban while others work to preserve the local Taliban, aiming for more leverage against an India-US nexus in the regional poker game. In Balochistan no serious headway has been made in the plan to engage with rather than exploit valid grievances, leaving ample room for militants to make further inroads. Infrastructure development translates into building a dam in the religiously sensitive, ecologically blessed, protected habitat of the Hingol National Park. An administration willing and able to negotiate with anti-Pakistan forces determined to dismember it refuses to do the same for what too many governments have seemed to consider the children of a lesser god.That leaves Sindh, the land of the once bountiful river and the radicalised Mohajir. The police has just released a report saying the Taliban have established strongholds in Karachi. The ruling MQM has quietly thrown its weight behind the decision to oust the Sharifs, saying in a statement on Friday that while it "had sympathy" for the brothers the court's conclusion had been based on "merit." What will happen in March then, if Nawaz Sharif comes to Sindh and the lawyers and the PML-N seek to mobilise their cadres on MQM-PPP turf? Will there be a repeat of the bloodshed witnessed when Iftikhar Chaudhry landed in Karachi? Will those still unidentified "rogue elements" that terrorised this city after Benazir was assassinated mysteriously reappear to ensure all parts of our country are in turmoil?That is the local scenario. Internationally too, the plot continues to chicken (different from thicken, in that it lays little baby plot eggs). India claims to have tied a Pakistani colonel to the Mumbai attacks. A whole lot of American soldiers will shortly be heading to the region. Obama's administration is waving the stick in our direction. The ripple effect of the global economic crisis continues to intensify. Everyone is vulnerable, but no one is sure what they are most vulnerable to, exactly.I can identify one thing, at least. It is times like this when our peculiar brand of Stockholm syndrome tends to kick in. We look most anxiously towards those who are our captors, squinting against the light so they seem to be saviours. Where is Kayani, the echoes ask, where is our army chief while all this is unfolding? The wisdom or lack thereof of that damned souls-in-distress philosophy of life can be well illustrated by an answer to that question. General Kayani, a perennial beneficiary of fortuitous travel planning, was last sighted at a gathering of an American military institute's best and brightest, to be inducted into its hall of fame. He is apparently only the fourth Pakistani military man to have been awarded this honour. The most famous of the other recipients would have to be one Zia-ul-Haq. Enough said.

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