Friday, November 23, 2007

Sher View: The deed is done.

Indeed the deed is done. The General has got the endorsement from the Judges he appointed, announced the election date, and before December 1st 2007 will have shed the military uniform and seemingly all will be well. His good friend President George W Bush has said while the emergency is not something the US is elated about, 'General Musharraf has done a lot for democracy.' A truly puzzling statement. But then what Mr. G W Bush thinks of the General is not important, what the people of Pakistan will feel is more crucial.

Yes indeed the General was doing fine for democracy up to a year or so back, then the proverbial 'drunk with power' syndrome got to the man. Locking up political opponents, firing a Judge for alleged corruption without referring the case to the judiciary to try their own, and mishandling the siege of a mosque a few hundred meters from the Presidential residence in Islamabad all started a response from the General that has not made sense. In an interview to BBC the General tried to justify his actions and asked 'you think I just went mad in the last few months?'. The truth is Yes sir you have gone pretty mad. Here is why.

Building democracy by tearing up the constitution, locking up over 3,000 lawyers and human rights activists and rewriting the rules to protect your position is NOT Democracy. Interestingly Benazir Bhutto in championing 'democracy' cut her deals, then the general reneged and she did a hasty U turn and now might well contest the election as the sole main political leader if Nawaz Sharif is not allowed to contest the election. Under the new rules Mr. Sharif has to be personally present to file his nomination papers, so it is likely he will convince his Saudi hosts to let him return. Perhaps this was one of the reasons General Musharraf visited King Abdullah in Riyadh to either ask the Saudis not to let former PM back, but is more likely that he was trying to ask them to get Mr. Sharif agree to not demand the general's removal as President if he, in return, is allowed to return.

The Americans have again got this wrong, as if their main purpose is to fight terrorism and restore democracy then the way forward is rather simpler than backing just the General and Benazir Bhutto. They should engage in a contact with Mr. Nawaz Sharif and indeed the religious political parties in getting them to agree that Washington will support a full free election in return all political parties must agree to reduce violence within Pakistan. This is also in the interests of all the political parties, as terrorism within the country takes the political initiative away from the party leadership. Ms Bhutto and General Musharraf, now out of uniform, will not be able to deal with terrorism on their own.

If full and free elections are held and all parties are allowed to contest then this is what is likely, Sind province will go to Benazir's political party, Punjab to Nawaz Sharif, the North West Frontier Province to the MMA (a coalition of religious political parties) and Baluchistan to the Baluchi nationalist parties. Only the PML of Nawaz Sharif can deal with the groups who will win in NWFP and Baluchistan, and it is in these provinces that the problems of militancy and terrorism exist. This is why I have always argued that the country needs a government of national reconstruction where all parties are encouraged to form a collective government. Backing only one or two horses in this complex race will never be a fruitful bet and hence the dialogue has to be more broad based.

For the US hence the option has to be a neutral encouragement for free elections after they have had contacts with all political parties. It would seem while there will be legal and political resentments to the generals 'election' as the President, there is a chance that if free elections are allowed and all are allowed to participate then perhaps the chances are that this sordid deed will be buried in the need for national interest.

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