Guessing year of polls

Daily: Pakistan Observer
Date: 09.12.04

On December 21, 2004 the PPP Chairperson and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto
said on a private television network (on arrest of Asif Ali Zardari in Justice Nizam murder
case): “It is surprising as well as wrong on part of the government, as on one hand it talks
of national reconciliation while on the other it does not allow Mr. Zardari to even hold a
simple reception rally (in Rawalpindi/Islamabad)”.

The significant aspect of the statement is that — frustratingly though — Benazir hinted at
pre-existence of some kind of understanding with the government for letting Zardari bailed
out by the Supreme Court (in BMW case), after eight years of detention without sentence.

It is still not clear what are the salient features of the oft-repeated ‘national reconciliation’?
However, one point is sure that its first feature would be to reconcile oneself to the
existence of the two offices in one person.

It seems that the government is playing two games simultaneously. On the one hand, it is
persuading the MMA to abandon opposing the dual-office issue. On the other hand, it is
negotiating with the PPP of Benazir to reconcile.

For the PPP, if reconciliation is a key word, it may be two-step reconciliation, till the year
2007. The first step reconciliation is of the PPP with Musharraf (on the dual-office) and the
PML-Q/MQM. The second step reconciliation is of the PPP-Parliamentarian with the PPP-
Patriot. Collectively, it can be called an in-house reconciliation, though seems to be difficult
yet not impossible.

The willingness of Zardari to become a bridge to create an environment of national political
harmony and his policy of avoidance a street conflict with the sitting government, support
more the in-house settlement than a possibility of an early election. Consequently, another
shuffle of ministries and cabinet seats can be expected. Its immediate effect will be
dissolution of the ARD as well as isolation of the MMA and the PML-N in the political arena.
Their weakness will be strength of the Musharraf regime both nationally and internationally.
Secondly, both Benazir and Zardari can get a conducive environment to get settle their
court cases in their favour before the year 2007.

In retrospect, on December 24, 2003 General Musharraf addressed the nation through
Pakistan Television and made a commitment with the people that he would lay off his
uniform by December 31, 2004 — but on the date of his own choice and not buckling under
anyone’s pressure or intimidation. Interestingly, while addressing the nation, General
Musharraf did not mention that the commitment was with the MMA only and not with the
people. Secondly, he did not reveal that his decision about uniform was subject to some
circumstances next year.  

Now, Sheikh Rashid, the Federal Minister of Information, has repeatedly been uttering two
arguments. First, uniform is a non-issue. However, the aforementioned reference indicates
that Musharraf himself made it an issue. Secondly, he believes that the people are
unconcerned whether the President keeps uniform or not! He may be partially right
because it seems that the people have become either totally indifferent or politically
prudent. They know the make and break game of the Pakistani politics. As the people did
not agitate against the ouster of the heavy mandated government of Nawaz Sharif, the
people are also not holding pro-uniform rallies to support Musharraf. Hence, the things are
back to square one.

The existing rallies of the MMA have exposed its one weak point at least. That is, it cannot
make a significant impact alone outside of NWFP. Moreover, the indigenous strength of the
PML-N on the streets has already been gauged by the dismal nature of the reaction of its
workers to deportation of Shahbaz Sharif, in the recent past.

The MMA can get backing of the PML-N, as Sharif brothers know that they cannot go back
to Pakistan unless Musharraf is holding the reins of power. The MMA has already declared
January 01, 2005 a ‘Black Day’. It has also planned holding of a march to Islamabad
(Islamabad Chelo) and subsequently sit-in protests (Dharna) in Islamabad.

By doing so, the MMA thinks that the government can be brought down as happened in
1968 with Ayub Khan, in 1971 with Yahya Khan, and in 1977 with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
However, in almost all these precedents, a countrywide violent agitation either happened or
was anticipated for sure. This time, it seems that intensity of the uniform issue alone is not
such that could bring the people out on the streets for a violent protest. However, if any
religious issue joins it, coupled with certain mistakes of the government in the due course of
time, the situation can take a hostile turn.

Interestingly, if the MMA does not reconcile to the government, benefit will go to the PPP in
each emerging possibility. If the MMA fails in the confrontation, the next effective force left
in the country will be the PPP. Secondly, if the MMA succeeds to rock the government, the
in-house reconciliation with the PPP will be the possibility. Thirdly, if the MMA brings the
government down to compel it hold a new general election, besides removal of Musharraf,
the PPP will again be the gainer owing to its popularity in rural areas.

Nevertheless, removal of Musharraf is not in favour of the PPP. In that case, both Benazir
and Zardari will have to pass through the pain of the court cases filed by or during the
government of Nawaz Sharif. In the presence of Musharraf, there are more possibilities of
settlement of the cases before the year 2007, if the PPP try to rescue Musharraf from the
ugly situation in which he has plunged himself in.

To date, it is obvious that by providing certain favors to the PPP, the government is trying
to build a pressure on the MMA to come to terms. The reason is: the MMA is still the first
choice of the government for reconciliation.

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