‘I am not at all a politician. I don’t think I am cut out for politics,’ an upbeat Pervez Musharraf once said in happier days. Well, he could have fooled us with the manner in which he is trying to hang in there despite a resounding verdict, some even call it referendum, against him. What must be even more disconcerting for him is that Pakistani politics, once a chiaroscuro, now seems to have coalesced into a tangible coalitional entity. In what must be any politician’s worst nightmare, Mr Musharraf’s arch rivals, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have come together with both sides adamant that neither will have anything to do with the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), a pro-Musharraf formation. It gets worse. After flirting with the General, even the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) is tilting towards the coalition.
Though the modalities of power-sharing have yet to be worked out, the very fact that the two democratic parties have come together eschewing other alliances of convenience is a positive sign for Pakistan. Fortunately, there is General Ashfaq Kiyani who has replaced Mr Musharraf as army chief in the background. Unlike Mr Musharraf whose Macbethian ambition proved his downfall, the soft-spoken General Kiyani is a pragmatist who also has Washington’s ear. So Mr Musharraf’s après moi, le deluge line is not going to wash in some circles in Washington, though he still remains something of a favourite. The electoral verdict should be wisely utilised by the army to carve out a more constructive role for itself and for the greater good of Pakistan. Things have never looked better for the country. The atmosphere of terror and fear following PPP chief Benazir Bhutto’s brutal murder has lifted. The fundamentalist parties have been routed comprehensively in these elections. In fact the Awami National Party, headed by Wali Khan, son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, has notched up impressive gains, a shot in the arm for secularism. Both Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir’s widower and leader of the PPP as well as former PM Nawaz Sharif appear to have learnt from bitter experience that it does not pay to play footsie with the army. Whether they will together succeed in containing the army, long used to vast power and pelf in Pakistan, remains to be seen. But as things stand now, they are in with a fighting chance.
The issue of reinstatement of judges sacked by Mr Musharraf remains to be resolved with the PML(N) and the PPP holding differing views. The main challenge now for the coalition is to undo the damage done to democratic institutions during these long years of military dictatorship. It seems unlikely that Mr Musharraf can be wished away overnight. To oust him would smack of political vendetta, something Pakistan can do without as it embarks on a new course. So we can expect that he will stick around for a while more. If the coalition is effective in addressing some of the more pressing problems facing Pakistan like terrorism and poverty, the generals will have little choice but to stay within their barracks. The people have clearly decided that they no longer want either the mullahs or the military. Maybe it is time to give the markets a chance. This would help Pakistan shake off the ugly sobriquet, ‘the most dangerous place in the world’.