All roads lead to the Presidency. A lone, cold war-rior, it seems, is still in charge of post cold war Pakistan. No one knows how to make him budge. The current prime minister, a former prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the army chief are all at sea. Even the old route to Islamabad via Washington has been temporarily shut down for repairs. What an extraordinary situation!
Ms Bhutto was the first to cross swords with Mr Khan. To her everlasting grief, she was scuttled comprehensively in 1990. Banished to the bleak marshes of the special courts, she has cried herself hoarse at the great injustice done to the cause of democracy in the last three years.
Mr. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi was next to walk the plank. After delivering on Mr Khan’s interim agenda in 1990, he was hopeful that the old man would reward him with the PM’s slot. But Mr Khan had other ideas. So Mr Jatoi swallowed hard, switched tacks and began to angle for the top job in Sindh. But, no sir, Mr Khan had his heart set on the wicked Jam Sadiq Ali. Even so, Mr Jatoi waited patiently for the Jam to kick the bucket before staking his claims on Sindh again. Why ever not, purred Mr Khan obligingly, even as he determined to make Mr Muzaffar Hussain Shah the very apple of his eye. Mr Jatoi could hardly demur when the COAS, on behalf of the President, asked him to kindly take a back seat again. So Mr Jatoi waited until Ms Bhutto was ready to launch an assault on Islamabad. Then he convinced her to spare Mr Khan and focus her wrath on Mr Sharif. The idea was to soften up Mr Khan so that he might be amenable to parting ways with Mr Sharif and recognising Mr Jatoi’s sterling qualities as a consensus candidate in a “national” government of unity. Alas. Mr Khan’s unrepentant attitude was all too evident from his speech on December 22nd to a joint house of parliament.
Then there’s Gen Asif Nawaz, a soldier to boot, who is indebted to Mr Khan for choosing him over the Prime Minister’s candidate, Gen Hameed Gul. If Mr Sharif hadn’t ruffled the General’s feathers quite unnecessarily, Pakistanis might never have had occasion to speculate about the change of the COAS netting a political scalp or two in the days to come. But the good General can hardly match wits with the foxy Mr Khan. Nor can he afford to ignore what Mr Nicholas Platt, the former US Ambassador to Pakistan, never tired of saying. “I came to Pakistan because I did such a damn good job of nipping the army in the Philippines”, or words to that effect. No, the “red light” hasn’t even blinked for GHQ since 1990 when the former COAS, Gen Aslam Beg, triggered the alarm bells in Washington.
Finally, there’s the prodigal son, Mian Nawaz Sharif. Prodded by Mr Platt, Mr Sharif was secretly fishing for a rapprochement with Benazir Bhutto not so long ago. Not out of any sense of fair-play, decency or democracy but only because Mr Sharif would dearly love to break the umbilical cord with his Pathan Godfather and install a pliant Ghaus Ali Shah in the Presidency. It makes eminent sense. With a Sindhi on the Hill, many Punjabis would think twice before voting for another Sindhi as prime minister of Pakistan in 1995. But Mr Khan was quick to smell a rat. So he has dangled his sword over a misguided son and won’t let him go astray.
Mr Khan is keen on another term. He also believes what’s good for him is good for the country. That’s not true. While Mr Khan is exhorting the government and opposition to respect the rules of democracy, he is making doubly sure that no meaningful dialogue is possible between the two sides. While he raves about the constitution, he mocks it at every step. See, for example, how brazenly he has dumped the obnoxious ordinances at Mr Sharif’s doorstep even as he praises the IJI government for its excellent performance and chides the opposition for protesting on the streets.
Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan is a stumbling block for democracy in Pakistan. Mr Sharif won’t cooperate with Ms Bhutto to get rid of him because he fears she might be the sole, long term beneficiary of such a strategy. Ms Bhutto can’t get rid of Mr Sharif as long as Mr Khan is around. The army can’t get rid of either as long as Mr Platt’s words continue to echo in the corridors of GHQ. At any rate, it is dubious whether democracy can be saved from itself by a military regime.
Yet, it is equally dubious whether such a conundrum can be allowed to cripple the country. Ms Bhutto’s options are running out. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if, at some stage in the not too distant future, by taking one step forward, she risks throwing democracy two steps backwards. Mr Platt’s parting advice notwithstanding, Pir Pagara may yet be vindicated for predicting an extraordinary situation.