By Najam Sethi
19 Aug. 2011
PRESIDENT Asif Zardari is working overtime to stitch up his alliances so that his government can withstand any conspiracy, singly or in cahoots with one another, by the army or judiciary or the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz or the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf to dethrone the PPP from Islamabad.
Maulana Fazal- ur- Rahman’s Jamiat- ul- Ulema- i- Islam is being appropriately appeased in the Senate and National Assembly, ditto Altaf Hussain’s Muttahida Quami Movement by amendments in the Local Bodies system in Karachi and Hyderabad, the Balochistan government by new packages of goodies and the Awami National Party by dragging Federally Administered Tribal Areas into the domain of the political parties.
Mr Zardari is also playing the Seraiki card to woo linguistic sentiments and political ambitions in southern Punjab in order to offset the loss of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a key political player in the region. Rather cunningly, too, via Hussain Haqqani, his glib Ambassador to Washington, Mr Zardari his leveraging with the US by letting it negotiate with GHQ over the net worth of the strategic or transactional dimensions of US- Pak relationship whereby each actor is venting its anger, alienation and frustration directly and bluntly with the other.
On the other side of the equation, Mr Imran Khan is feverishly trying to assemble a party organisation that can sink roots and compete effectively with the PPP and PMLN in the next elections. His strategy is dependent on getting the army and judiciary to throw out the PPP, prop up a caretaker government that can knock out the leadership of both the mainstream parties via a new National Accountability Bureau and CEC as well as take the hard and unpopular economic decisions that are required to put Pakistan on the rails again. Once the decks are swept by an unrepresentative regime that doesn’t have to worry about what the masses are saying, an election can be called to enable the PTI to romp home in style.
NATURALLY, Mr Nawaz Sharif isn’t sitting idly. He wants an early election to stop the PPP from sweeping the Senate elections in March 2012 and the PTI from getting its act together and snatching a critical slice of the PMLN vote bank. He welcomes help from the judiciary to challenge the PPP and PMLQ and erode their credibility but is totally opposed to any covert or overt alliance between the judiciary and army for regime change as demanded by Imran Khan because he fears it could lead to a widening of the net to trap and exclude him from the reckoning. Barring a handful, he is also actively wooing all those Leaguers who either strayed from the parent party or who were excluded from its fold during the Musharraf years. This includes the Like Minded Group and doesn’t exclude the Clean Tareen Group.
Meanwhile, the superior judiciary and army are honing their own agendas. The judiciary is constantly trying to compel the executive to do its bidding so that it can enlarge the scope of its writ and strike when the iron is hot. GHQ is biding its time because it is unsure of how the deteriorating US- Pak matrix might determine domestic convulsions and compel the military to either seize the domestic initiative in an upfront manner or scurry behind the coattails of the civilian regime.
Each anti- PPP political player is hoping that something, anything, might precipitate a situation that leads to regime change at a time that suits its interests and ambitions. A single spark — power shortages, inflation, natural calamity, assassination, institutional gridlock or confrontation — could light a prairie fire of discontent and bring Zardari’s house down. More probably, an outrageous and unilateral act by the US in pursuit of its Afghanistan objectives — like the OBL Abbottabad raid — on Pakistani soil could trigger a media- driven wave of revulsion and anger not just against the sole superpower but also, more pointedly, against the Zardari regime for its abject helplessness in the face of American arrogance and power. The sentiment that would sweep the country in the wake of such an American intervention would compel all the domestic players to scramble and exploit openings for their narrow party political or institutional interests rather than band together and build a national consensus over national security that indirectly helps the Zardari regime to survive.
If Pakistan proposes, how will the US depose? By all accounts the US- Pak strategic relationship has become purely transactional.
Washington has now linked economic and military assistance to the Pakistani military’s “ performance” in aid of the US mission in the region. The new yardstick is joint- ops cooperation against Al- Qaeda and the Haqqani network, enhancement of drone strikes and abolition of restrictions on the American civilian, intelligence and military footprint in Pakistan. Most of these conditions are unacceptable to GHQ. With General David Petraeus in charge of the CIA and Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, Congress at its wit’s end about spending cuts, foreign aid and taxpayers scarce dollars, and President Obama increasingly nervous about his prospects in the election next year, matters are bound to flare up between the two erstwhile allies to melting point as Af- Pak policy is cranked up by each side to deliver short term mutually antagonistic goals.
The tail has always wagged the dog in Pakistan. This time too it might be the same, except that it might be a harbinger of paradigm change in the future rather than paradigm reinforcement as in the past.
The writer is the editor of The Friday Times, Lahore.
Source: Mail Today