A glance at the front page of any respectable newspaper these days is a recipe for depression. Here’s a quick dose.
“Help! The Punjabi army is killing Baloch women and children”, shriek Baloch sub-nationalists. “Rubbish”, retorts the army spokesman, “paramilitary forces are flushing out terrorists and miscreants who have been blasting gas and communication infrastructure and lobbing rockets at the paramilitary forces”. It is pointed out that “the miscreants” also tried to shoot down a helicopter carrying the Inspector-General of the Frontier Corps and aimed rockets at the public gathering addressed by President-General Pervez Musharraf, during his last visit to Kohlu in Marri tribal area in Balochistan. “What did they expect? That we’d shower them with flowers?” he asks in exasperation.
“Help! The Punjabi army is killing Pathan, Uzbek and Chechen Islamic warriors in the tribal areas of Waziristan.” “Rubbish”, retorts the army spokesman, “these are not Islamic warriors. They are common thugs, extortionists, terrorists and miscreants who have been ambushing convoys, kidnapping locals, stirring up cross border trouble, fomenting attacks on Pakistan’s Western allies and launching assassination attempts on President-General Pervez Musharraf”. “What did they expect? That we’d shower flowers on them?”
“Help! The Punjabi army wants to choke us with the Kalabagh Dam”, wail the Sindhis. “Help! The Punjabi army wants to drown us in the Kalabagh Dam”, flail the Pathans. “Rubbish”, retorts the army spokesman, “it’s now or never for the Kalabagh Dam. If we don’t build it, all of us – Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans and Baloch – will be squeezed for water and energy in time to come”.
“Help! The Punjabi army wants to deprive me of my rightful due as prime minister of Pakistan”, bemoans former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in exile. “Rubbish”, retorts the ubiquitous army spokesman, “she has been charged with corruption in Pakistan and in Switzerland. She will be arrested when she returns. What does she expect? That we’d garland her at Lahore airport as the long lost saviour of Pakistan?”
“Help! The Punjabi army has banished me from Pakistan”, cries former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in his gilded cage in Jeddah, “all I ever wanted was to be Amir ul Momineen”. “Rubbish”, retorts the army spokesman, “he tried to kill a planeload of passengers, including President-General Pervez Musharraf; he wanted to set up a personal dictatorship; he was corrupt as hell; he bargained to be exiled. What does he expect? That we’ll welcome him back with open arms and elevate him to the prime ministership again?”
If General Musharraf’s enemies are a troublesome and even treacherous lot, his friends are rotten too. The MMA was once amongst his few chosen business partners. It was facilitated with 60 seats in the national assembly, the slot of the honourable and loyal leader of the opposition, a ringside seat in the National Security Council, the nazimship of the city of Karachi and government in the NWFP. Now it is accusing him of being an “agent of America” and desperate to see his back. The MQM is another such fair weather friend. Once it was at the receiving end of the stick in Karachi from the Punjabi army. Now it is in bed with it. In three quick public manifestations of fickleness, it articulated the sentiment that the KBD should not be built without a national consensus; then it threatened to quit the alliance with Islamabad if the KBD were built without a consensus; now it has somersaulted and helped the Sindh government kill an opposition sponsored resolution in the Sindh provincial assembly against the KBD! The ruling PMLQ is also not without its cussed Forward Blocs and opportunist renegades. Worse, not a single member of its allies in Sindh or the NWFP, including the current Sindhi chief minister and the current Pathan interior minister, are ready to come out openly in support of the KBD. This is compounded by the fact that the provincial and federal government’s great media managers, who have showered unaccounted largesse on Sindhi newspaper owners in the past, have been unable to even convince them to carry pro-KBD ads in their newspapers.
Why must General Musharraf personally, and the Pakistan army institutionally, bear the burden of Pakistan which is a difficult country to govern even at the best of times? Because they have consciously edged out the big players and are clutching at the coattails of the also-rans. Why must General Musharraf open so many bitter fronts in the run up to general elections two years hence? Because he thinks the civilians are no good, they cannot be trusted to share power and manage the country effectively and judiciously, therefore now is as good a time as any for him to get on with it.
This is bad strategy. First it was a lack of democracy, now a deficit of federalism is threatening to undermine General Musharraf’s agenda. This is the wrong time to alienate the key civilian stakeholders. Instead, he should be thinking of giving them a share in the pie so that they can shoulder responsibility for the hard national decisions that lie ahead.