The hour-long resignation letter Pervez Musharraf read out to his countrymen in a televised address was a dubious attempt at making a virtue out of a politically inevitability. His claims of demitting office in national interest rang hollow — the farewell pitch for the politics of reconciliation he so often scuttled, lacking any conviction or meaning.
For most parts of the speech, he appeared farcical — a character out of a Mel Brooks parody. The former General’s divestment from Pakistan’s power grid was at once a moment of joy — and serious stocktaking — for the ruling combine.
Street celebrations will last only if the PPP-PML can keep their pre-poll promises of roti, kapda aur makan. Till now, the coalition could explain its failures to powers remaining with the presidency even as the problems got transferred to elected representatives after the February 18 polls. That isn’t a valid excuse post-Musharraf. “The government’s responsibilities have increased. They have no scapegoat left in the presidency,” remarked IA Rahman, well-known Pakistani commentator and human rights activist.
He wasn’t sanguine — not yet — whether the coalition with its inherent contradictions will last after the removal of their common adversary: “I’m not sure whether it will happen. With Musharraf gone, they have a rare opportunity to strengthen Parliamentary democracy.”
In the obtaining economic meltdown, resurgent fundamentalism and recurring terrorist violence, the coalition will be under close scrutiny at home and abroad. Specifically in India, a section of the establishment has gotten used to the single-window clearance the all-powerful Musharraf could offer on complex bilateral disputes, notably Kashmir.
In recent weeks, the diplomatic lexicon of the early 1990s when Pakistan tirelessly invoked the UN resolutions have taken precedence over Musharraf’s out-of-the-box solutions. The slide can be checked only if New Delhi restores calm in Kashmir and Islamabad refrains from fishing in troubled waters.
With all his flaws, the ousted President was his country’s sole self-declared warrior against terror after Benazir Bhutto, who fought and fell to the menace. In that limited sense, his departure has left a void the elected regime will have problems filling. The PPP might take the battle forward as a tribute to Shaheed Bhutto. But does its PML ally have the political will to resist the right-wing fringe it so expediently wooed during elections?
Key questions these with no ready answers.