Best of Pakistani Political Drama
By Adnan Gill
One can always count on Pakistani politics for being full of entertainment. In fact, its twists and turns can not only rival but beat any of the Holly-Bollywood soap operas or action-packed thrillers. The political drama never fails to keep the pundits at the edge of their seats. The best part is, one doesn't have to know its 60 years old history to be entertained. One can jump in at any time and catch up with confidence, that still it will be packed with plenty of comedy, conspiracies, suspense, cheating, switching of partners, vulgarity, arm-twisting, backstabbing, murders, and unadulterated violence.
The roots of the latest drama go back to the time when President Musharraf vainly tried to sack the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Pakistani Supreme Court. Fast forward to October, 2007; assassination of Benazir Bhutto leaves a leadership vacuum in PPP. A behind the scenes power struggle starts within the PPP. Conspicuously, Ms. Bhutto's widower Asif Zardari produces a handwritten living will of Ms. Bhutto, according to which the crown was passed to him and his son, Billawal Zardari.
Through a LFO, General Musharraf clamps second martial-law on his own government, suspends the Constitution and the judiciary, gags the media, and throws some 4,500 perceived opponents into the jails. Unconstitutionally, gets himself reelected as the President for another five years. To guarantee his presidency’s survival, Musharraf signs an unprecedented ‘you scratch my back, and I will scratch yours’ deal, also known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Reluctantly, Musharraf transfers the Army command to General Kiayani. PPP goes through the February 18, national elections under the leadership of Asif Zardari to win 121 seats in the National Assembly, though far less than what political pundits were expecting.
In a stunning development, enraged voters threw out Musharraf's party (PML-Q) from the ruling benches. Rumor is: the credit for the humiliating defeat of PML-Q goes to General Kiayani for allowing free and fair elections to be held in Pakistan.
To the dismay of President Musharraf and his cronies, Nawaz Sharif's political party PML-N emerges as the second-largest winner with 91 seats in the National Assembly. PPP and PML-N, at least on the surface, decided to let the bygones be bygones by joining hands to form coalition governments in the center and in Punjab. PML-Q came at the third-place with 54 seats. MQM, ANP, MMA and PML-F secured 25, 13, 6 and 5 seats respectively; while independents won 18 seats.
Like the Kumbaya singing hippies from the 60s, the politicians were hugging each other like there was no tomorrow. Media elevated Asif Zardari to the status of Nelson Mandela. He was shown going from door to door to hug the leaders of every party in sight. He even remembered to pay homage to the powers to be in the US Embassy to thank them for keeping him in their good graces. Appreciating the complexities of new era in Pakistani politics, a parade of American diplomats also descended upon Islamabad to warn that their multi-billion dollar investments in the dictator would not be flushed down the drain.
Remember, the pesky little issue of sacking of Superior Court Judges? Yes, the one which started when President Musharraf vainly tried to sack Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry? It turns out; Justice Chaudhry was becoming a thorn in the sides of the Pakistani elite, including President Musharraf’s and the ex-Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Another rumor is, CJ was declared persona-non-grata when he started to look into affairs considered ‘none of his business,’ like the shady sales of multimillion Islamabad Farms, which were allegedly bought for pennies on a dollar. Originally, these farms were sold to the famers at subsidized rates, with the intent of supplying Islamabad with fresh poultry and produce. But oddly, the farms turned out to be an exclusive society of the Pakistani elite, who instead chose to build multi-million mansions on the subsidized farms.
Apparently, CJ’s cardinal sin was his word to the nation, that he will see to it, that for the first time in nation’s history, the court will dispense justice without any bias or prejudice, and according to the Constitution. The court was becoming independent. This meant: the court could have demanded the bureaucracy to justify their actions; the court could have declared General Musharraf’s second presidential term to be unconstitutional and illegal; the court could have ordered an inquiry into May 12, Karachi Massacre, or it could have ordered an inquiry into the mysterious disappearances of journalists who dared to report on the American attacks on the Pakistani civilians; the court could have released the extrajudicially incarcerated citizens; the court could have demanded explanations of why Pakistanis were being extrajudicially deported to Guantanamo or Saudi Arabia; and the worst, the court could have declared the infamous (party specific) NRO to be an illegal ordinance.
Naturally, there was too much at stake for too many players to have allowed the independent Judiciary to do its job. The euphoric hugging and new alliances were forming, not just for show, but they were for real, because almost everybody had their axe to grind against the Judiciary with the exception of PML-N. They had their own axe to grind, but not against the Judiciary, rather against the presidency. The only way for PML-N to have any chances of winning enough seats to make a difference was to capitalize on anti-Musharraf sentiments by jumping on the Lawyers Movement bandwagon. However, it boxed itself by taking up lawyers’ cause of the restoration of Independent Judiciary.
While PPP was hugging and shaking hands with everyone in the name of national reconciliation, in the background, it was contemplating on ways to sabotage the restoration of Judiciary. Obviously, restoration could have meant loss of billions of dollars for Mr. Zardari alone; so something had to be done to keep the PML-N from honoring its mandate. PPP released several trial balloons with nonstarters like ‘minus-one’ formula, meaning restored Judiciary with the exception of Chief Justice Chaudhry.
Since PML-N refused to budge from its stand on Judiciary, and Zardari’s dilemma of, on one hand honoring his promises made to the authors of much cherished NRO, and on the other hand loss of billions of dollars. Something had to be done to bypass PML-N’s stand. To the disappointment of PML-N, and to certain extent, to the disappointment of some of his own party members, Mr. Zardari made an appearance in the infamous Nine Zero MQM headquarters. Human rights organizations blame MQM for practicing politics at the barrel of gun. In a teleconference with its undisputed leader, Lord Altaf Hussain, Mr. Zardari extended his hand in friendship. All of this was done with lot of crocodile-tears and superficial drama. MQM, which has a history of becoming part of every government, only to backstab and demonize its partners later on, could not resist another opportunity to quench its thirst for power and plush ministries. Despite the fact, MQM website still calls PPP a terrorist organization (see: Altaf Hussain’s open letter to the people of Pakistan), despite the fact on May 12 dozens of PPP workers were killed by the MQM men, and despite the fact MQM was suspected to have a hand in the October 18 attack on Benazir Bhutto’s life, in which hundreds of PPP workers were cut down to shreds, but for some odd reason Mr. Zardari chose to become friends with the alleged murderers of his wife and his party workers.
Mr. Zardari stood at an impasse. Either he had to jeopardize his billions of dollars by breaking his promises made to the presidency, or he had to somehow marginalize PML-N. What better way to marginalize PML-N than establish a two thirds majority to veto PML-N’s every move? According to the current composition of the National Assembly, the magic number to establish 2/3 majority is 224. Since, PML-N held 1/3 of seats, Zardari had to scrape the bottom to come up with the magic number of 224. That is why he put up a dog-and-pony show of making mends with the MQM.
Evidently, Zardari’s idea of making mends with the MQM didn't go well even within his own party. At first, he promised MQM few lucrative ministries in the center and a bunch in the Sindh government. However, despite MQM’s public threats it realized, it had a chance of snow flake in hell of getting any ministries in the center, and later, it turned out they were swindled out of any ministries in the Sindh government too. Alas, MQM was left high and dry. MQM was stabbed in the back the way it had been stabbing others for the last two decades. Their so-called friend failed to deliver. The humiliation was too much to bear.
Plan, Marginalize PML-N failed to get off the ground. The freight train of the Lawyers Movement was barreling down the throats of strange bedfellows. The Presidency, MQM, PML-Q, and Zardari had to bring plan-B in motion to derail the Lawyers Movement. It was time for another dog-and-pony show. In a quick succession ex-chief Minister of Sindh Arbab Rahim and ex-Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sher Afgan Niazi were given a humiliating beating in front of live cameras. Even though, Dr. Afgan was rescued by the Lawyers Movement’s leader Aitzaz Ahsan, in a so-called reaction to the beatings by unknown men in whites, the offices of the lawyers and the Bar Counsel were burnt down in Mianwali.
Under the cover of protesting against the beatings of Arbab Rahim and Dr Sher Afgan, General Musharraf's strongest ally MQM decided to remind the newly formed government that the party which flexed its muscles on May 12 -- in which MQM cold-bloodedly murdered at least 40 political opponents -- was still strong enough to repeat the performance. In a premeditated attack, two busloads of MQM armed hoodlums in masks descended upon the lawyers offices in Karachi, where they burnt-alive at least five people in the lawyers’ chambers. By shooting some 40 civilians and killing 12 people, the power-hungry MQM sent a message: Sindh government will not be allowed to function unless MQM is also handed some lucrative ministries. Once again, instead of condemning the violence, General Musharraf unbelievably pinned the blame on the lawyers, like he did when Karachi suffered death and destruction on May 12 and when he threw his fists in the air declaring, people have shown their power.
But what is a drama without a healthy mix of comedy? In his typical style (reminiscent of Hitler’s style), for his party's failure to contain April 9 violence, MQM's Chief Altaf Hussain shed crocodile-tears and tendered his resignation, only to take it back within the next 60 minutes.
Pakistan's longest running soap opera is not over yet. Stay tuned!
- Asian Tribune -