After nearly nine years, Pakistan finally has a real Prime Minister. Yusuf Raza Gilani hasn’t been nominated by Pervez Musharraf, who, after running his uniformed show from 1999 to 2002, ‘selected’ three PMs after the 2002 elections. Gilani, a Bhutto loyalist from Multan, was actually jailed by the ex-General. But he is the new PM, elected by anti-Musharraf forces with a thumping majority.
<b1>And thus, the wheel has turned for both Musharraf and Pakistan. It is the President’s weakest moment and one of celebration for democrats. But it’s also a time for reflection on the State of Pakistan and its institutions — a time for all Pakistani democrats, both within and outside the main political parties, to work together to repair the damages done over the decades. Which is easier said than done. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (N) coalition has ‘anti-Musharraf-ism’ as its only glue. If and when Musharraf departs from the scene, this coalition could come apart.
The challenge for Gilani, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has just presented itself: how to work the coalition for the long-term and restore judges sacked by Musharraf while not unduly disturbing the polity. It looks highly likely that the powers to dismiss an elected government, which were re-usurped by Musharraf, and associated issues like the President deciding on a new army chief, will be revoked in the weeks ahead. This will be in keeping with the spirit of the democracy movement led by the community of lawyers throughout 2007. But all this depends on the maturity of the political leaders. Can they rise from the past and show that they have really changed?
Many Pakistani analysts, including those of the ‘hard-boiled’ variety, believe that their leaders, who have previously stooped to unprecedented levels of pettiness, have actually changed. These analysts point out that the language being used by key Pakistani leaders is now different. One can only hope that these changes are for the long-term and that public statements will be backed by action.
Apart from the power-sharing paradigm, the Gilani-led political leadership will have to work with Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Kayani will be conscious of the role of the military as an institution in Pakistan’s future. Above all, the political leadership and the army brass will have to display an unprecedented appetite to work together to tackle the rising tide of extremist violence. After all, the context for the jehadis hasn’t changed. They remain committed to destabilising the Pakistani State and putting in place a Sunni Islamist emirate that would include Afghanistan.
Benazir Bhutto was eliminated because she spoke a language that the jehadis didn’t like: a language that Musharraf has used in the past; a language the jehadis believe is appreciated by the United States. It’s no coincidence that senior American officials were holding talks with Pakistan’s new and old leadership on Tuesday, the very day that Gilani was sworn in as PM at Aiwan-e-Sadar, Musharraf’s official residence.
There is no doubt the US-Pakistan equation is important. It’s well-known that Benazir returned to Pakistan after a deal was brokered between Musharraf and herself by Washington. Again, the US wants to safeguard its interests in Pakistan. While Washington may have its own compulsions, the Gilani government must be allowed space and time to take its own decisions.
Nawaz Sharif stated after meeting American officials in Islamabad, “Pakistan wants to see peace in every country, including the US. However, to ensure peace in other countries, we cannot turn our own country into killing fields.” The battle against the jehadis hasn’t really been a ‘team effort’ in Pakistan. It has to be a collaboration between the government and the military. A distance between the American ‘war on terror’ and the internal battle against the jehadis would help Pakistan. This must be seen as a battle for Pakistan’s own stability and strength, not as a war for which the Pakistani military is paid by the US.
On February 18, the people of Pakistan surprised the politicians by their vote. It’s time the politicians of Pakistan surprise the people of Pakistan by showing that they can govern — even by coalition.
Amit Baruah is author of Dateline Islamabad.