ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 13

Benazir's rush to grab power

Across the Palk Straits By Kuldip Nayar

Begum Benazir Bhutto's one statement is that she has reached an "understanding" with President General Pervez Musharraf. Another is that she expects him to shed his uniform. She is making too many contradictory statements to raise the dust. However, this reminds me of the talks the political outfits had with London on transfer of power to India. They too would say that their negotiations were for a "transition" to sovereignty. Their helplessness was understandable because they were negotiating with foreign rulers.

Benazir Bhutto: Committing a grave mistake

How can Benazir bring in the word "understanding" when she is talking to a person in uniform? Such people, however high, have no independent entity in a democratic setup. To arrogate men in uniform to the place of authority first and then treat them as the dispenser of power has been Pakistan's tragedy.

Benazir has only aggravated the problem by reaching a "settlement" with them. All along, Benazir has said that Musharraf would have to take off his uniform before she accepted him as someone with whom she could share power. What has happened behind the scenes to maker her change if the office of Prime Minister was not on the agenda?

This age-old pattern of having a settlement with the fauj (Army) for coming to power has been the bane of Pakistan. It should have changed after the unprecedented victory of lawyers on the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. They, the civil society, represented the voice of people - the people who were pinning their hopes on the restoration of democracy. The military, however key to the affairs of Pakistan, cannot supplant popular say.

The country cannot afford to go back to square one and have the same exercise which Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir's father, did. The result was that the military came back. Benazir made sense when she said that fundamentalism might come to prevail if the elected representatives were kept out for a long time. But her formula to "share power" with the military would create two parallel lines of authority as has happened in the past.
It would be a matter of time when the line, backed by force, took over.

What is the guarantee that it would not be repeated? That Benazir should be oblivious of the danger means an undue haste to come to power. The contours of settlement are beginning to be clear. The Musharraf government has removed the bar on her election for the third time. The earlier decision that no person can be Pakistan's Prime Minister for a third term has been rescinded.

Benazir, in turn, has given an undertaking that her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) members in the National Assembly and the state legislatures will not vote against the Musharraf's re-election as President for another five-year term. They will abstain. The election is scheduled to take place between September 15 and October 15. There is no word from Musharraf or his supporters that he will shed the uniform.

Her plea to him to take off the uniform is only an appeal, apparently not part of the agreement. The settlement that Benazir has reached is not to the liking of the radicals in the party. There are rumours that she has made many compromises in her anxiety to become Prime Minister.

How do those who led the lawyers' agitation reconcile their uncompromising stand against Musharraf to Benazir's acceptance of him as President? It is obvious that they do not want to raise the standard of revolt. There is one lesson: it is easy to take part in agitations but difficult to fight against the political leadership.

The wilderness which may follow deters those who are not happy over the outcome. Maybe, Benazir honestly believes that the military has to have a role in any future setup in Pakistan. Turkey has such an arrangement and the three service chiefs are members of the apex body on governance. If this is the reason why she has accepted Musharraf in uniform, she should say so. There should be a public debate on it in Pakistan. Let the next election be fought on the proposition whether the military should have a role in governance.

In contrast, Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League looks firm not to have any truck with the military. The League may not come to power in the near future but its credentials for a democratic setup will gain support as the days go by. Nawaz Sharif has stuck to the Charter of Democracy while Benazir has not. However, both are signatories to the document.

Benazir's stand against fundamentalists should have distanced her from the military. It has created them and supported them. And one does not know how sincere it is to put up fight against them. US official documents reveal that Islamabad gave substantial military support to the Taliban in the years leading to 9/11 attacks, sending arms and soldiers to fight alongside the al- Qaeda. According to the Guardian, a daily from London, Pakistan's officials concede privately that the ISI was instrumental in turning the Taliban into an organised force till 2001.

Benazir correctly diagnosed that the uprising in Waziristan could not be curbed until Musharraf was in power. But then how does she explain her "agreement" with the same person? When power is the end, the means seem to matter little. Her entry into the government gives one positive message: relations between India and Pakistan would normalise.

She told me in London that she believes in a "borderless" subcontinent. I hope she implements this desire of hers. If nothing else, she should allow the Pakistanis to come to the Wagha border on August 14-15 night - something which people on the Indian side have been doing unilaterally for the past 14 years.

Once again, despite the blackout of the Indian media, the crowd on the Indian side exceeded five lakh. Some 30 MPs and MLAs from Pakistan participated in the function despite New Delhi's delay in issuing visas. They received the okay just a day before the event.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.