ANALYSIS: Evasive manoeuvres — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi
In Pakistan the future of democracy will be secured only if political parties and societal groups develop the habit of working together even when they have differences
The divergence between the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on the restoration of the ousted judges and their relationship with President Pervez Musharraf is a major setback to Pakistan’s transition towards a fuller, more meaningful democracy.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari have vowed to continue working with the PMLN, but mere words or good intentions do not solve problems. The differences between the PPP and the PMLN can deteriorate into an acute political divide if they do not quickly adopt concrete measures to resolve these issues.
The lawyers and many civil society groups are expected to start street protests for the restoration of the judges. Several political parties are also expected to join them. The PMLN will certainly not hold back because such a situation would strengthen its position. The movement will target the government, especially Musharraf, and Asif Ali Zardari.
Any violent clash between the pro-judges protesters and security personnel following orders from the PPP government would be an extremely unfortunate development. This will make the PPP-PMLN divide unbridgeable and tag together the presidency and the PPP.
The current differences between the PPP and the PMLN demonstrate once again that political leaders have a limited capacity for conflict management. They are often overwhelmed by narrow individual or party interests and cannot adopt the enlightened approach of evolving a shared perspective on issues through political accommodation.
It seems that two main parties are equating national interest with their respective party interests. For the PPP, the national interest is served by a selective restoration of the judges and by keeping Musharraf in the political system.
The PMLN does not share this perspective. For them, the advantage gained by political forces in the February general elections would be lost if the judges are not restored and Musharraf is not removed from office. They believe that the new trends in Pakistani politics and society are not sustainable without making a break from Musharraf’s second suspension of the Constitution in November 2007.
The national interest is not what the PPP and the PMLN articulate in their individual capacity. Each party’s individual viewpoint on national issues is a constituent element of the national interest that evolves only through consensus building, dialogue and accommodation. The real issue is not how each party can prove the correctness of its viewpoint but how they can all evolve a shared approach on national issues.
Political forces often get carried away with a self-articulated aura of righteousness, ignoring the importance of working together for creating a coherent and stable political order. In Pakistan, the future of democracy will be secured only if political parties and societal groups develop the habit of working together even when they have differences.
The PPP’s major argument is that they want to restore the judges through a constitutional package so that there is no constitutional or political crisis. This strategy may satisfy Musharraf, his loyalists and the reconstituted judiciary.
However, there is no guarantee that the government would not face a constitutional and political crisis if the judiciary is restored in that manner. First, no constitutional amendment will be possible without the support of the PMLN. Second, political and societal forces will challenge the PPP’s constitutional package in the streets.
Confrontation between other political forces and the PPP government will make the latter more dependent on the presidency, its loyalists and the army. This may keep the PPP in power for some time but Pakistan will return to its traditional system of governance where the political initiative stays with the establishment even if the political leaders hold high offices.
The dialogue in London showed that Zardari was surrounded by non-elected advisors who did not directly experience the societal movement for the restoration of judges, and thus lacked an appreciation of the intensity of emotions on this issue in the politically active circles, who view it as a ‘make-or-break’ affair. PPP negotiators in London treated the restoration of the judges as one of the key issues that must be handled from the narrow party perspective. They felt that party interests would be served better by working for an arrangement that also kept Musharraf and his loyalists on board.
The PPP’s current position on the restoration of the judges is close to that of Musharraf. This strengthens the perception that Zardari wants to maintain working relations with Musharraf in order to continue enjoying the blessings of the US administration, which has not given up on Musharraf.
US nervousness about post-election political arrangements is understandable because they are not yet confident about their endurance. Further, they have to deal with several Pakistan political players who are not prepared to take a categorical position on various aspects of the war on terrorism. With the exit of Nawaz Sharif, the future of the coalition has become increasingly uncertain, convincing some elements in American official circles of Musharraf’s continued usefulness for policy management if he can be ‘reinvented’ through the PPP. Zardari appears to be inclined towards pursuing this option. The appointment of the new Governor Punjab shows that the PPP promotes people who are acceptable to Musharraf.
US official circles may continue to have a soft corner for Musharraf but if American interests pertaining to the war on terror are taken care of through stable and assured interlocutors, Musharraf loses his significance for the US.
In addition to the current political and diplomatic channels between US policy makers and the Pakistani government, a new and more significant channel is shaping up. This involves the Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and National Security Advisor Maj Gen Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US.
Both enjoy good reputations in Washington, and can thus function as credible interlocutors for Pakistan on the war on terrorism with the US. If this link is fully articulated, the PPP would not have to accommodate Musharraf to placate the Americans. This strategy will make it easy for the PPP to work out some arrangement with the PMLN and the lawyers for the restoration of judges and the future of Musharraf.
The PPP’s policy on the judges and Musharraf has created a difficult situation for many party stalwarts. They are supporting the party line without being convinced that it serves long-term party interests. They had actively participated in the societal movement for the restoration of judges and they understand that the PPP’s current policy conflicts with the consensus in politically active circles. These low-key strains within the PPP are likely to become pronounced if the lawyers and some political parties launch street protests.
Voters gave an opportunity to the political parties to assert their primacy and trim the role of the military, the bureaucracy and the intelligence agencies. They should not let this opportunity slip out of their hands by quarrelling with each other. They need to work together to sustain democracy so that the people do not lose faith in them.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst