Zardari’s back-peddling from agreements spells doom for Pakistan’s ruling coalition

Developing Just Leadership

Waseem Shehzad

Jumada' al-Ula' 27, 1429 2008-06-01


by Waseem Shehzad (World, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 4, Jumada' al-Ula', 1429)

The manner in which Asif Zardari is wriggling out of his promise to reinstate the judges who were illegally dismissed by general Musharraf on November 3 last year has increased people’s cynicism about Pakistani politicians. At long last the people thought that they had found in the judiciary, especially former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, someone who would deliver them badly needed justice, but now they feel betrayed. Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who inherited the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as if it were a family fortune, has back-peddled from the agreement he signed with Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif in Murree on March 9. This has led to the ruling alliance unravelling; political observers had predicted that the coalition would not last long anyway. The allies’ deep divisions have come into the open sooner than most had expected.

Zardari is only interested in saving his own skin by getting the corruption charges against him dismissed; for this he is prepared to strike a deal with the devil. The US wants Musharraf to remain president even if the people of Pakistan despise him and want him gone. Washington is also dangling the carrot of $7 billion in ‘aid’ over a five-year period; Zardari and his cohorts are salivating at the offer. The US has made its aid conditional on Musharraf’s remaining in power, because it sees him as its best bet to fight the “war on terror”; Zardari has been offered indemnity from corruption charges in return for his support of Musharraf.

Zardari fears that if Chaudhry were reinstated as chief justice, he might declare Musharraf’s presidency illegal; this would automatically void the indemnity granted by Musharraf to Zardari. He has also on numerous occasions complained that while in “jail” these same judges had refused to grant him bail. Zardari is stretching the facts; he spent much of his jail time in hospital, pretending to be sick. Using the same excuse, he also refused to appear in court to face the charges of corruption. If he is not guilty as charged, he should have no fear of appearing in court; in fact, were he to do so, it would enhance his standing in the country. But he would rather have the charges dropped through a political deal than face the courts. Zardari also says that he would like to solve the people’s problems. He has resurrected the time-worn slogan of “roti, kapra aur makaan” (food, clothes and shelter). This is a fraud the PPP has perpetrated for forty years; while the masses continue to be impoverished, the Bhutto family and Zardari have become billionaires. The least he could do is stop insulting people’s intelligence with empty slogans.

Despite all the hype about economic progress under Musharraf, Pakistanis are reeling from skyrocketing food and fuel prices, rapidly dwindling food supplies and long hours of electricity blackouts (“load-shedding”) in Pakistan’s scorching heat. The country is becoming an environmental wasteland, with millions of cars, trucks and buses belching toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Respiratory problems have escalated alarmingly but medical care is grossly inadequate. There is also a thriving industry in fake medicines that put people’s lives at risk. More than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, even as the elites live a lifestyle that is the envy of most people in the West. Their primary concern is to get as rich as possible as quickly as possible by any means, foul or fair.

It is simplistic to hope for anything else from those who are in politics to line their pockets, because they spend millions to get “elected” in the first place. It is an investment on which they expect quick returns. One bunch of corrupt politicians takes over the reins of power from another equally corrupt bunch of politicians. Such chicanery naturally leads to cynicism and popular feeling of “a plague on both your houses”. But that is the nature of party-based politics. In fact, democracy itself is a huge fraud perpetrated on people to make them believe that they have a choice in who rules them, or how. It is like mice voting for a white cat because the black cat was too hostile. Such simplicity is touching but it does not solve problems.

All this is nothing new. For more than sixty years, Pakistan has staggered from one crisis to another like a corner drunk. What we have to find out is why this has happened to a people who are generally hardworking and honest; other peoples with far less to their credit have fared much better. The answer lies in the fraud that was perpetrated at the very creation ofPakistan by the feudal lords and their allies, who had jumped on the Pakistan bandwagon when it became clear that its creation was inevitable. The Muslim League, the party that led the demand for Pakistan, was dominated by secular elites who had been trained and nurtured by the British, and who had proved their loyalty and subservience to the raj. The party was established in 1906 at the behest of the colonial masters, ostensibly to “safeguard the interests of Muslims” in British India, yet in reality it was essentially intended to serve the interests of the elites as well as the raj.

Gradually, it became a party of those among the elites of whom the British approved: British-educated and -trained lawyers, feudal lords who had been granted vast estates for betraying fellow Muslims during the 1857 uprising; and bureaucrats. It was this greedy and sycophantic bunch that led the movement for the creation of Pakistan. They mouthed a few Islamic slogans to pacify the ordinary people, who were far more aware of and sensitive to the anti-Islamic policies of the British. The masses assumed that Pakistan would be an Islamic state on the lines of the khilafah established by the khulafa’ ar-rashidoon; the elites were determined to create a replica of the British colonial model in which they would be masters and the masses would be their serfs.

This has been the story of Pakistan for the last sixty years, with the sole difference that the military that had played no part in the creation of Pakistan came to regard itself as its guardian. The reason why the military—or army, to be more precise—came to dominate politics in Pakistan in such a way is that the feudal lords had complete disdain for their people, and still do, considering them too ignorant to determine who should rule. Politics was a game for the elites, and they alone would decide who should wield power. The more ruthless and intrigue-prone they were, the more successful they were. It was natural for the army to muscle its way into the political arena because might became the sole determining factor in who should control the levers of power. As the most organised party, it could out-muscle any other group. This explains why Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators for most of its history.

But civilian rulers have been no less corrupt or incompetent. Zardari and his late wife are typical of this breed. Benazir’s two terms as prime minister in 1988-1990 and 1993-1996 were marked by massive corruption and graft. Zardari earned the title of “Mr Ten Percent” by taking bribes and commissions, and he ruthlessly eliminated any political opponents, including relatives. Although technically he has been “exonerated” since the elections on February 18 of the charge of killing Murtaza Bhutto (Benazir’s upstart and equally criminal brother), few doubt that Zardari was involved; no court has ever convicted a politician in office or a serving general. Justice (such as it is) is reserved for use against the poor and helpless.

Those who had pinned their hopes on the elections of February 18 to solve Pakistan’s problems have already had a rude shock. Elections and party politics are not the answer; only an Islamic revolution led by a muttaqi leadership can cleanse the political system in Pakistan. It would also involve eliminating the gangsters, thieves and crooks who masquerade as politicians from the political arena. Until then, Pakistan will remain trapped in an endless cycle of disappointment and political chicanery.

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