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Islam and Politics ( 15 Jul 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan: Sectarian Politics

By Ayaz Amir

Friday, July 08, 2011

Exceptions apart, as a general rule in politics it doesn’t pay to raise too many temples to emotional instability: lurching from one position to another. For instance, making a fetish of going out of one’s way to attack the MQM, often totally unnecessarily; then, when the weather slightly turns, lunging in the other direction, desperate to get into bed with the same nemesis. Dramatic behaviour such as this leaves ordinary mortals slightly bewildered.

And it doesn’t help to bandy about that trite phrase, ‘there is no last word in politics’. How many phases of the moon does this piece of wisdom cover?

The MQM consists, on the whole, of some of the sharpest political operators in the country. I say this in a good sense. They’ve made mistakes in the past but, generally, they have turned their Karachi and Hyderabad urban fiefdoms to huge political advantage. Time was when they imbibed their lessons, and took their cues, from our ideological guardians bunkered in what passes for our Langley, Virginia – Aabpara, Islamabad. But having come of age, and experienced many highs and lows, they are now very much on their own. And there is not much that anyone can teach one of the world’s most successful remote-control politicos, Pir Altaf Husain, who has turned the long-distance telephonic address into a virtual art form.

There is a bitter and bloody turf war on in Karachi, being fought not by resolutions and statements but live bullets and what we call target-killings. Not the Kashmir elections, which are a sideshow and an excuse for other things, but the urgency of this battle for survival and dominance lies at the heart of the MQM’s grouse against the Zardari dispensation. By using the ANP, now entrenched in large swathes of Karachi territory, El Presidente is playing games with the MQM and the MQM doesn’t like it. Hence it’s growing anger.

But this is still very much suppressed rage as the MQM tries to strengthen its bargaining position and weighs the pros and cons of burning its boats and taking a direct confrontationist stance against the government. While the benefits of such a stance are tenuous and vague, the risks are obvious. Unrest in Karachi costs the PPP govt in psychological terms. But there is little in a physical sense that it loses. And manning the trenches are the new urban warriors of the Pakhtoonkhwa-derived ANP. The PPP can sit this conflict out. The MQM risks sustaining physical and political losses. And if, as a spin-off of this conflict, the PPP and ANP enter the next elections together, the MQM will have a contest (of sorts) on its hands.

In guerrilla warfare – and what we are seeing in Karachi is a form of guerrilla warfare – holding on to territory is more difficult than weaving in and out and sniping from the sidelines.

So the formation of a PNA-like opposition alliance – the alliance which gifted Pakistan Zia’s benign dictatorship – is still very much an idea residing in the realm of the imagination. The PML-N, always a victim of impatience, would of course like an immediate assault on the bastion of Zardari power, so as to force what it increasingly seeks, and with growing desperation – early elections – but the MQM is playing a tantalizing game and will not commit itself until President Zardari shows it the red flag...which he is not likely to do, this not being his style. It’s hard to concede this but if there is a master of cool, as his detractors even are now grudgingly coming to admit, it is Zardari.

Let’s not forget that Pakistan has a long history of both holy and unholy alliances, the unholy outnumbering those which had any good in them. For alliances forged against seemingly-democratic governments – against Bhutto’s in 1977, Nawaz Sharif’s in 1999, just prior to the Musharraf takeover, and two conditions have been essential: a Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and the blessings of Aabpara.

The late Nawabzada had a gift for getting the most unlikely bedfellows together, only to see a fresh posse of generals take over when the situation was ripe – the Nawabzada in the immortal role of teaser (ask stable-owners what this means) and GHQ in the role of stallion. There is no Nawabzada around and GHQ and Aabpara are fed up of the political class, especially when they see former patriots (and pupils) changing stripes and biting the hands that fed them (once upon a time).

So what do the masters of impatience get out of this yet-to-be-sewn deal? Advantage tenuous but plenty of questions requiring some answers.

The first mantra, or first commandment, of the new morality of which the nation had an earful after the 2008 elections came in the form of the loud declaration that there could be no truck with the leftovers or remnants of the Musharraf order. Which meant that the Chaudries of Gujarat – Gujarat surely deserves better than to be known by them – and the Q-League were forever beyond the pale? In Punjab there was a minor variation on this theme in that the Forward or Unification Bloc was accepted as part of the Punjab government. That was out of political necessity, their numbers being essential to shore up the fortunes of the PML-N. But in the National Assembly this commandment held and even though most of the Q-League was of a mind to join the PML-N, the high tide of morality, and some misplaced confidence, barred the way.

How the situation has changed and all because of effective manoeuvring and coalition-building at the centre. Which has made the unlikely come to pass: the mountains not coming to the saints, the saints have had to march to the mountains. If the Chaudries were Musharraf loyalists, the MQM was in the vanguard of Musharraf support, ultra-loyalists to his cause. And the PML-N, finding the moral high ground a waterless summit – which can remain on the moral high ground forever? – is trying to make common cause with an entity that only a short while ago in its lexicon stood for the devil.

A bit like the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, which was the prelude to the opening of the Second World War (although one must hasten to proffer one’s apologies to the ghosts of Hitler and Stalin for comparing them to our political heroes)? But ours is still not a pact, not by a long shot. So even if it produces some stirring music, although I have my doubts even of that, it will not be the prelude to any grand opera. Not unless the sages of Aabpara also move into the act, but they have too much on their plate, too many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to contend with.

Political interventionism they will not try, not because of any moral aversion – perish the thought – but because they know it will stick in their throats. So they are content to see the political class make further asses of themselves.

The PML-N leadership constitutes the luckiest political family in Pakistan’s history, everything coming to it easily and quickly, a bit too easily and quickly. Other leaders have come and gone, many with little to show for themselves even if claimants to greater capacity. The PML-N leadership has thriven and prospered, emerging from deep ends in which others would have drowned. This has bred a sense of entitlement and a style of leadership at once impatient and impulsive, 12 Oct, 99 being one of the fruits of such impulsiveness.

Zardari is an altogether different customer, one who has played a long and cool hand. Who would have given him so much time at the top? But he has managed to survive, against the odds. Those out to destroy him should be careful with their methods. Or, fearful thought, there will be more to moan about than just one Zardari term in that ugly box on the hill.

Source: The News, Islamabad