Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussian's call for imposition of martial law by patriotic generals to weed out corrupt politicians has few takers. So much so that, as a result of the adverse reaction to it, the MQM chief had to go on the back foot and somewhat retract his statement.
However, instead of clarifying his intention to "weed out the corrupt," his interview with Geo News added to the confusion. He claimed that he was not in favour of imposition of martial law but wanted "a line of action on the pattern of a martial law" to change the destiny of the country. In the same breath, he reiterated his call for patriotic generals to intervene under Article 190 on the direction of the Supreme Court and set up a government of generals, judges, intellectuals, journalists and bureaucrats to replace the "corrupt politicians."
Mr Zardari, whose reaction was rather muted in the face of such a strong indictment, and that also from a coalition partner, had help from unexpected quarters. It was Nawaz Sharif and his so-called hawks, like Chaudhry Nisar and Khawaja Asif, who came out most strongly against Altaf Hussain. In the process, they have incurred the wrath of the MQM. In response to privilege motions filed against the MQM leader his party members filed tit-for-tat motions against Nawaz Sharif in the National Assembly.
Why did the PML-N chief come out so strongly against Altaf Hussain, with whom he has no direct clash of interests? According to some political observers, although the ANP is in the firing line of the MQM in Karachi, its ultimate clash is with the PPP in a struggle for a hold on urban Sindh.
The other day, when I met Mian Nawaz Sharif at his Raiwind estate, he ruled out the possibility of a martial law in the country. He was of the view that Gen Kayani is not a general who would impose a martial law. He added that the times have changed, so that it is no longer possible for a general to simply walk in and take over with impunity. Any future adventurer will have to grapple with a fiercely independent higher judiciary and a free media.
The chief justice of Pakistan, indirectly reacting to Altaf Hussain's onslaught, vowed in the Supreme Court to protect the Constitution under which the judges had taken oath.
Mian Nawaz Sharif was of the view that another coup would sound a death knell for the already fragile federation, as there will be stiff resistance to such an adventure in Sindh and Balochistan. To a query why Mr Altaf Hussain raised the bogey of martial law or military-backed rule at such a crucial juncture in our national history, the PML-N chief said that it is precisely the instability generated by military rule that will suit those who have their own agendas.
Contrary to what some media reports say, a much-mellowed Nawaz Sharif is in no mood to rock the boat. He ruled out a demand for mid-term elections or regime change. In fact, his former hatred for the PPP and Mr Zardari (still present in some of his stalwarts), which was his hallmark in the late eighties and the nineties, seemed to have dampened during his years in exile.
He is willing to wait for his turn in the next general elections, and is determined not to lend a helping hand to adventurers who prefer an extra-constitutional change in the name of weeding out the corrupt. Nor, as a status quo politician, the "revolutionary situation" as being lately advocated by Altaf Hussain suits him.
However, the PML-N supremo is quite disappointed with Mr Zardari and feels that the president has spurned his gestures for cooperation. The latest being his proposal for the formation of a flood commission. He feels that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, whom he had met to discuss the proposition, backed out on the pretext that the provinces had shot it down.
The unstated reason, according to him, was that Mr Zardari had vetoed the whole plan. "The prime minister had spoken to the chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in my presence, and he agreed. I was representing Punjab, and in Sindh and Balochistan the PPP has its own governments, so where is the disagreement?" he asked.
Ideally, for the sake of stability, the PML-N and the PPP should be natural allies. But even if the leaderships of the two parties wanted to form a coalition the hawks on either side would not let it happen, contending that the parties are anathema to each other.
So far as Prime Minister Gilani is concerned, he could act as a bridge. But he is considered too weak and has to seek clearance for his initiatives from his party chief for any major initiative. The fireworks in the requisitioned session in the National Assembly could easily have been avoided if the PPP had made a serious effort to bring all parties on board, including the PML-N, for the gigantic task of flood relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Last week while meeting a few television anchors and columnists over a working dinner, President Zardari refrained from being critical of his coalition partner, the MQM, despite prodding by his guests. He was mildly critical of Punjab chief minister but did not mention Nawaz Sharif.
President Zardari, on the other hand, is quite upbeat over the PPP candidate winning the Gujranwala bye-election, which he considers a stronghold of the PML-N. He also thinks that Jamshed Ahmed Dasti's victory in the Muzzafargarh bye-elections vindicated his decision to award the party ticket to the person who had been disqualified for possessing a fake degree.
He thus inferred that the onslaught of a section of the media against the PPP for awarding tickets to fake-degree holders and overtly critical stance of some television anchors had no impact on the voters.
Paradoxically, Mr Zardari acknowledged that the PPP is ill-organised in Punjab and underscored the need to recruit fresh cadres. He did not reveal how he expects to trounce the PML-N in its stronghold in the next general elections, which cannot be more than two years away even if all goes well. With the ruling party's poor record on governance and its maladroit handling of the floods situation, it will be a difficult act to follow.
While the politicians are squabbling and undermining each other, the military, thanks to its hard work during the relief operations, has been able to rehabilitate its reputation, which was tarnished during the misrule of Gen Musharraf. It is perhaps the first time in the country's history that the military is engaged in fund-raising for flood relief. This is essentially the job of the party leadership and cadres that has been outsourced to the army, thanks to the low credibility of the politicians.
Reputedly, the prime minister does not make a major move without consulting the army chief, and major foreign policy and domestic security issues have long become the domain of the military. In such a scenario, why should the army listen to Mr Altaf Hussain? In any case, Pakistan in its present state is virtually ungovernable. And if the army can rule without overtly taking over, why should it upset the applecart?
Suicide terrorists' killing of at least 33 mourners in Yaum-e-Ali processions in the heart of Lahore amply demonstrates that the hydra-headed monster of terrorism is out to devour Pakistan. Military rule as a result of mayhem and anarchy would take the terrorists closer to their nefarious goals. Hence, the urgent need for politicians and the military to be on the same page to fight this menace. If Mr Altaf Hussain is keen to usher in a revolution of the have-nots he should return from self-imposed exile and play his role.