Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Temptation to Resist | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It is all a matter of replacing a few hundred boxes with a few hundred others to win the jackpot.

The temptation is too great. It might even prove irresistible.

People have been doing it in many countries- all the time. Will retired General Pervez Musharraf, now Pakistan’s civilian president, close his ears to the sirens inviting him to “arrange” the results of the next general election on 18 February?

The normal Third World way of doing things would be to switch ballot boxes to produce a majority for one’s own friends. The Kenyan government has just done it in a typically brazen manner.

It is not difficult to see why President Musharraf might find it hard to resist the temptation of committing electoral fraud.

Last year he had to declare a state of emergency, purge the Supreme Court of unfriendly judges and bulldoze his way to re-re-election by a legislature filled with his supporters.

With the election of a new legislature, composed of a national parliament and four provincial ones, the decent thing he would have to do would be to resign and seek re-election. But, if not filled with friends, the new legislature might wish to shop around for a new president. After all, the Pakistani political elite, now likely to make a full comeback, never regarded Musharraf as one of its own.

It is normal that Musharraf might not wish to take the gamble. As a paratrooper he has always depended on short and sharp operations designed to take him out of a tight corner. A nice little scheme of fixing the election results, something in which the Pakistani bureaucracy excels, would represent precisely such an operation.

As things stand, Musharraf could pull off the trick without much difficulty.

The Pakistani political elite is still too divided and confused about its strategy to put up much of a resistance.

The military, under General Ashfaq Kayani, appear determined to stay out of messy politics- at least for the time being.

The United States, under a lame-duck administration, would have to go along with whatever Musharraf does until after the November American presidential and Congressional elections.

Nevertheless, Musharraf should resist the temptation. Fixing the results of this election might save the Musharraf presidency for a while but could wreck Pakistan.

Let’s face the facts. While the global media is fixated about events in South Waziristan, which accounts for less than one half of one per cent of Pakistan’s national territory, little attention is paid to the bigger picture.

That bigger picture reveals alarming fissiparous trends in all the four provinces which together former the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

In Baluchistan, the largest in terms of territory but the smallest in terms of the number of inhabitants, the recent “targeted killing” of Akbar Bugti, a local tribal chief and veteran rebel, has triggered a blood feud that may not soon be forgotten.

Some parts of the vast province, which Pakistan hopes to transform into a corridor between Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, are now no-go areas for Pakistani army and bureaucracy. The idea of an independent Greater Baluchistan, which would incorporate Iran’s 2.2 million Baluch plus a further 1.2 million who live in Afghanistan seems to have become more popular than ever.

I am amazed that even some of the most reasonable and moderate figures of the Baluch now talk of secession.

The neighbouring province of Sindh is also witnessing the rise of secessionist groups. Using the assassination of former Premier Benazir Bhutto, who hailed from a feudal Sindhi family, as an excuse, these secessionists claim that their province has received a rough deal from the Pakistani state all along.

Within Sindh, Karachi, a mammoth urban sprawl of some 20 million people, is the theatre of a civil war within a civil war. There, the immigrant Muslim communities who came from the rest of the Indian subcontinent are trying to affirm themselves against both the Sindhis and the Pakistani state in general.

The Northwest Frontier province, where ethnic Pushtuns form a majority, has always been receptive to a secessionist discourse. In recent years it has also become the focus of Jihadi activities in Pakistan.

The Pushtun- Jihadi alliance dreams of conquering the Pushtun parts of Afghanistan to create a Greater Pushtunistan that would then serve as a springboard for further global conquests in the name of Taliban-style religion.

All that leaves Punjab, the province that accounts for more than 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population of 170 million.

The Punjabis of Pakistan look across the border to the half of the historic Punjab that remained part of India and see a different picture. They see democracy at work, with governments changing through elections rather than coups d’etat and insurgency. They see India enjoying economic growth rates topping 10 per cent per annum while Pakistan barely manages half of that. India can see itself as a winner while Pakistan remains gripped by the fear if always remaining a loser in history.

All this does not mean that Pakistan is doomed.

In fact, I have always maintained that a sense of Pakistani-ness has taken shape over the past five decades and that, though an artificial state, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is genuinely loved by a majority of its citizens.

What Pakistan needs, has always needed, is a system in which the public space reflects the rich diversity of the nation.

The label “Islamic Republic” cannot hide the fact that Pakistan is home to a wide range of Islamic “ways”, not to mention some 22 million Christians and over six million Hindus.

Such a system cannot work without free and fair elections.

For election is a substitute for civil war. Where there are no elections, or election results are fixed, the only way to express diversity and pursue divergent goals is civil war.

Musharraf is not the typical military dictator as Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia ul-Haq were. He was placed at the head of state after a coup d’etat organised by others had already succeeded. Unlike his military predecessors, he has not engaged in self-enrichment or despicable behaviour. He has tried, not always successfully, to preserve at least a veneer of legality and constitutionality.

However, it is only now that Musharraf is being put to the supreme test of his character.

Few military leaders have sacrificed their careers to the greater cause of genuine pluralism. In recent years, one can recall the names of Sawar al-Dhahab in the Sudan, Denis Sasso N’Guesso in Congo-Brazzaville, Kenan Evren in Turkey, and Liamine Zeroual in Algeria.

The latest opinion polls show that in the coming Pakistani election, Musharraf’s political allies cannot win more than 20 per cent of the votes.

Will he allow the elections to reflect the true sentiments of the Pakistanis, even though these might go against his political positions? Or, short of trying to change a people who might not agree with him, will he try to write the script in his favour?

We shall soon know the answers.