There’s still time for a salvage mission

The anti-Musharraf movement in full bloom this summer has passed. The opposition parties fluffed it or our stars were not in the right conjunction. We have entered a new phase in our political life, calling for a shift in strategy and a new order of battle. No army general in power has ever been removed by a popular upsurge in Pakistan. Ayub Khan, self-appointed field marshal for wars unknown, does not count. He was not army chief when he faced an uprising. Yahya was the army chief who conspired against him to engineer his ouster.

When the wheel turned for Yahya he went because of defeat in East Pakistan. Zia was blown out of the skies. But before that his power was diminished after the 1985 elections when Mohammad Khan Junejo became prime minister. Gen Pervez Musharraf has arrived at the same twilight zone in his presidency. As long as he enjoys the army’s backing he will remain in power. But he faces a election and there is pressure on him from Washington to cut a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto, which makes her (paradoxical as it may sound) his possible Mohammad Khan Junejo.

Admittedly, there is much cynicism around and the political parties are falling back into their traditional mode of mutual vituperation and mudslinging. But if they are not to make a hash of things again, if they are not to play the mutually destructive game Musharraf and his coterie would like them to play, they have to be realistic and see what the possibilities for expanding democracy are in the current situation.

Benazir Bhutto must know that Washington may have brought her back to Pakistan but Washington cannot fix the coming elections for her. The powers-that-be — under which rubric fall Musharraf, Q League president Chaudhry Shujaat, Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi, Sindh chief minister Arbab Rahim, and all those who are congenitally averse to a PPP comeback — will do all in their power to ensure that the PPP is cut down to size.

A PPP majority in the elections may be Washington’s desire. It doesn’t suit Musharraf or his allies. Benazir can come close to winning the elections only if she has the support of other opposition parties, principally Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Not a national alliance with drums beating and flags flying because that would scare Musharraf’s inner circle out of its wits but loose seat-winning alliances across the country — the PML-N supporting the PPP where it is strong, the PPP backing the PML-N where it is the other way round. Baloch nationalists can be a part of this arrangement as can the ANP. This is the only way to beard the lion in his den, the only way to get a pro-democracy majority in the next National Assembly.

Benazir is the camel who has entered the Bedouin’s tent. It is in the national interest to see that the camel occupies more space, leaving progressively less space for the Bedouin. So why not cool down the overheated rhetoric regarding deals, betrayal of ideals and the dry-cleaning of corruption? Let us concentrate on essentials, on first things first.

The long march to idealism and high principles can be resumed later.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad