It’s an absurd idea

Thursday, May 07, 2009
It’s an absurd idea!

Just before President Zardari left for a critical visit to US; Pakistani and US media were rife with the news that US wants to bring in Nawaz Sharif at a position of influence in Pakistan’s Govt. set up. There have been three explanations about timing of this story. Some think that to get a better leverage on Zardari during his visit, US administration decided to play hardball. Others say that to undermine the significance of President Zardari’s visit, his political opponents (specially PML-N) spread this news story. If either of these is true, Pakistani media was very irresponsible in undermining the national interest by playing up this story. And for Americans, playing hardball at this critical juncture when the whole order is at stake is outright stupidity. In the quest for survival, you do not look for bargains.

However, it is the third theory which bothers me the most. What if US and Pakistani establishment have seriously made up their mind for having a Zardari-Nawaz or Nawaz-alone power setup. Just when I fully support PML-N’s inclusion into the cabinet and government coalition at this critical juncture and expect their all out support in war against extremism, I think it will be a disaster-in-waiting if Mian Sahab becomes part of the power structure at this juncture and this is why.

There are only two ways Mian Sahab can be at the helm of affairs right now. First, by working with Mr. Zardari, it will bring in two of the most powerful men in the country into the power setup. I never underestimate the ability and power of local and international players but if two most powerful men in Pakistan, claiming 2/3rd of populace support between them, hit a deadlock, the results will be devastating for the fragile state of Pakistan. Real life and real politics is never 2+2=4. In the event of such deadlock, the strong egos of powerful men will kick in and will make it impossible for either to back down. We saw what happened during long march. Now imagine such a deadlock emerges when two men are at positions of power and where will it lead the fragile state of Pakistan. There exist differences of opinion between PPP and PML-N on war on terror and fighting Taliban. N has yet to take a clear stand on Taliban. Confusing the existential threat to our nation state (i.e. Taliban) with issues like delays in court proceedings and lack of speedy justice will not help in this war. In fact, it will be a criminal diversion in combating the existential threat to not only our nation state but also to our society. It is heartening to hear voices like Kh. Asif coming from N quarters and one hopes that such clear voices against Taliban will intensify in times to come.

Other way of replacing Zardari with Nawaz will be even worse. Despite all the opinion polls, President Zardari has established himself as the leader of PPP. Unlike in the West, in Pakistan, supporters of a government are generally opposed to it when it is in power but they remain loyal in their voting. Also, most of the opinion pollsters have access to urban educated classes of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and a media dominated by Lahorites and Islamabites. This segment, though very influential and wealthy, is a very small fraction of a diverse nation called Pakistan. So assuming that Mr. Zardari’s exodus, especially only a year and a half after Benazir Bhutto’s burial, will be smooth is a gross miscalculation. PPP vote bank, which has been around 35% – 40% throughout, is fully in the hands of Bilawal/Zardari leadership. 35% – 40% of votes guarantee a majority in almost all parliamentary democracies including Pakistan and unless there is a sea-change in public support over time, Mr. Zardari is here to stay. Trying to eliminate him from the power structure will be a fiasco, especially in the fragile state of the state. Also, bringing Nawaz in at this moment is also likely to create frictions because serious quarters in Pakistan establishment are very apprehensive of Nawaz for his reckless near mutiny attitude during the recent long march.

I personally do not think that there is any threat to Zardari government right now. I also do not think that American administration or Pakistani establishment, for now, are looking beyond Zardari. The notion that reports in American media are always reflective of policy decisions is grossly exaggerated. Like any corporate media, American media is for sale too (probably more so than any other media in the world). PML-N, PPP, and elements in both Pakistani and US establishments fully know how to buy traction (by turning their desires into news) in US and world media. For serious men in governments and nations of Pakistan and US, for sale media and its stories should not be taken too seriously. We will all be better off without it.
posted by Ali Malik at 12:46 AM

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