PPP-Musharraf Political Reconciliation
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
March 16, 2005
LONDON, March 16: It was an amusing encounter between Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Dr Shahid Masood of ARY TV channel last Wednesday. The topic of discussion between the two was the so called political reconciliation.
I must admit, when the interview ended I could not make out whether he was elucidating in praise on the overall performance of General Musharraf or putting before the nation an irrefutable indictment of the General's failed government.
First thing first, since the program was on political reconciliation, I would like to thank Sheikh Sahib for having publicly acknowledged that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is the only national leader and her party PPP is a political force to reckon with and that any reconciliation between Ms Bhutto and General Musharraf would be "a major political development in our part of the world."
Since he has been talking about reconciliation with PPP since late last year, Dr Shahid Masood asked him the progress between the two political rivals. He confirmed the popular perception that the other name for Musharraf's reconciliation was nothing but deception.
In the same breath while acknowledging indirectly the political invincibility of Bhutto and the massive popularity of PPP, Sheikh Rashid parroted the words of his master that Benazir Sahiba would not be allowed to return to Pakistan to enable her to contest the general elections in 2007. He did not have enough courage to confess that his booted boss and his Praetorian establishment feared Habib Jalib's "Nehati Larki" (unarmed girl) as the only political force that could pose a fatal challenge to their monopoly of power and counter their bullet power with the power of the ballot.
He tried to cover government's mala fide determination to keep her out by taking refuge under the concocted Swiss case and fabricated proceedings in Pakistan. And surely he was at his sheepish best when he claimed that Ms Bhutto, with whom the government was trying for "reconciliation" with a beggars bowl, had no role in politics.
His emphasis that such reconciliation would be stand out as an event of far-reaching consequences in sub-continent's politics is definitely not an under-statement.
Many describe Sheikh Rashid's assertions of a "deal" as figment of his imagination running wild especially when Ms Bhutto would not be allowed to even participate in the 2007 elections. Much as Musharraf would not like to see Mian Nawaz Sharif back in Pakistan "since he had chosen himself to go abroad" as Sheikh Rashid put it, his statement: "But I can't say anything about Shahbaz Sharif or his contacts with President Pervez Musharraf," is aimed at creating suspicions between the two brothers.
Analysts see that military rulers pursued to keep the political leaders and the people divided. Not that Senator Asif Ali Zardari has not blossomed into a bold and courageous leader due to his long sufferings and incarceration, Sheikh Rashid's acknowledgement that he has matured and has become very balanced in his approach in politics and that "if he chooses the right path, it will be appreciated" need to be read between the lines as well. Every move seems to be part of the psy-wars that the military and their agents have been playing in Pakistan to cast doubts about political leaders and to divide the people.
That being that, I now refer to his other "pearls of wisdom".
I could not make out, whether deliberately or inadvertently, he definitely made mince meat of Musharraf's slogan of enlightened moderation to carry his American bosses for a joy ride. Sheikh Rashid put it straight that Musharraf was not secular. He would not separate politics from Islam and that he believed in Islamic ideology, whatever it means. He also claimed that the King's party, PML-Q, was opposed to secularism.
Musharraf may have liberal habits in his personal life but otherwise he is much of Wahabi that his mentor General Zia was.
Despite lot of foul mouthing in public about each other, Musharraf's PML-Q and MMA share the same dreams. The PML-Q and MMA joined to defeat a bill seeking to tighten the law against honor-killings. The ruling party and MMA opposed MNA Kashmala Tariq's private bill supported by the PPP and other liberals in the National Assembly. Both PML-Q and MMA described the bill as a move against Islamic teachings and the Hudood Ordinance enforced by late Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.
Sheikh Rashid could not say much in defence of the allegations of high corruption by the sacked Sindh Minister Imtiaz Sheikh nor could he avoid Imtiaz's 22 counter-charges of corruption, murders and accusations of running of the private jails against CM Arbab Rahim.
Sheikh Rashid must be given credit for a clear indictment of the government and the acknowledgement of the fact that the country has been rendered into the grips of land mafia, builders mafia, textile mafia, sugar-producers mafia etc., etc.
He could not, however, say that the military itself is the biggest and most powerful land grabbers' mafia. He could neither throw light as to how hurriedly the generals are busy usurping land whether it belongs to the government all over the country by setting up Defence Housing societies nor by evicting at gun-point the poor dairy farmers of Renala Kurd.
As if the Sheikh's confession that the country was in the grip of various mafias was not enough, the British High Commissioner called a spade a spade. While announcing a 210 million pounds worth of program to help achieve the goal of poverty reduction in Pakistan, the diplomat Mark Lyall Grant was critical of the military's involvement in business ventures, saying it was one of the biggest obstacles to development and poverty reduction in Pakistan.
He said that in the past 28 years, the military had increased its corporate interests manifold, which was not good if Pakistan wished to meet the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating poverty, providing primary education to children, reducing infant mortality, improving reproductive health, combating AIDS and other serious diseases, protecting environment and building a global partnership. To emphasize his point, the High Commissioner said: "We are committed to boosting democracy at all levels in Pakistan. In the UK, we have moved the government away from business, which is why we are opposed to Pakistan's military being involved in it."
High Commissioner Mark Lyall was summoned by the Pakistan Foreign Office and was handed over a demarche for his reported criticism of the military's growing business interests.
Anyway people of Pakistan owe a "big thank you" to the British High Commissioner for having put the record straight.
Sheikh Rashid also shattered yet another myth, of economic progress under Musharraf by adding that he agreed that the "fruits of this progress have not filtered down to the masses" and they are groaning under back breaking prices.
He, however, avoided mentioning about the record number of suicides committed during the Musharraf regime for want of employment. He also did not mention the economic facts that denude Musharraf government of all its tall claims of progress and prosperity. I am sure he knows but does not say that the country is suffering unprecedented unemployment around 23 per cent, that average household income is Rs5000 and that people are suffering from record price hike: (petrol is now Rs45 per liter, milk Rs25 per liter and a single roti Rs5), rate of inflation is going (around 13 per cent at the time of writing this article), that the prices of petroleum products are raised upwards every 15 days, that only 22 per cent of Pakistani households own their house, that literacy rate is about 22 per cent to 26 per cent and to top it all, Pakistan is behind Nepal and Bangladesh in Human Development Index.
He cannot deny that poverty in Pakistan is increasing with every passing day, the mega projects, dams, waterways, motorways, housing for poor etc etc exist only in the media, advertisements, supplements. And the artificially propped up stock market can crash without any notice or on a rumor of one single high profile assassination. That is the way houses built with cards collapse.
The writer is a former Pakistan High Commissioner to UK
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