The Political Smokescreen

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Pakistan’s inept and self-serving politicians are trying to up the ante in the federal political scene, ostensibly to make the people forget and ignore what happened on May 02

On May 02, 2011, the PPP-led federal government swore in two federal ministers, four state ministers and four other members from the PML-Q, the erstwhile murderers of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP chairperson who was assassinated in a terror attack on December 27, 2009. The President of Pakistan and widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, administered the oath.

His expressions upon signing the appointment letters were a treat if watched carefully; the President muttered under his breath as he approved the PML-Q legislators as government ministers. PM Gilani, the chief executive of the Pakistan government, sat quietly like the ornamental piece he usually is when his colleague and fellow Co-Chairman is present. And while President Zardari is not shy to repeat the notion that his party and family has suffered from terrorism, it seems highly unlikely that he himself knows what terrorism in Pakistan really is, courtesy the security protocol and box cordon he enjoys as President of Pakistan. Perhaps even the soul of Benazir Bhutto has stopped asking for justice and for the capture and trial of her killers, after it has become apparent that nobody in Pakistan is safe, that any foreign power can come in, strike, and leave as it pleases, and that Pakistan is a country which showers praise and blessings on killers instead of demonizing them and reiterating the call of justice – Mumtaz Qadri is a perfect example.

Pakistan’s ‘free’ media quickly jumped on the story a month before it actually happened – main news channels covered the PPP-PML-Q negotiations on a daily basis, and presented conjecture over the give-and-take of ministries, portfolios and powers. The biggest party to suffer from this alliance, the PML-N, also appeared rudderless because its Quaid, Nawaz Sharif, was recovering after a near-death surgical experience in the UK. Of course, Chaudhry Nisar, the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, continued his tirade against the ‘bandar-baant’ (literally meaning ‘distributing to monkeys’) of ministries and portfolios. His party members said that Zulfikar Bhutto and Zahoor Elahi – political enemies in their day – would be turning in their graves if they could see what their scions and successors are doing. Interestingly, Ch Nisar forgot all about ‘what the ISI was doing’ – as he was repeatedly ranting about it in the last few days of April – after May 02, when the whole world started asking that question – albeit under the ambit of a wholly different issue. But the PML-N is overly glad that if it had to face backlash from the Raymond Davis affair, it can heap blame on the PPP for the Abbottabad operation. Of course, it might have an axe to grind as well – reports suggest that Osama bin Laden was a financier of Nawaz Sharif’s 1997 electoral campaign, in which he incidentally won more than two-thirds of the National Assembly seats and acquired the ability to change the country’s constitution at will.

Pakistan’s political parties – and the inept and self-interested politicians who fill their ranks – are only concerned about their own lives and person. After a dastardly and secret attack on the country’s sovereignty, political parties and politicians continued to play according to a script where their own political games can progress, while the sanctity and respect of the nation went to the dogs.

The PPP defended the Armed Forces and the nation not in its capacity as a political party, but as a begrudging responsibility that it carries as the federal government. Gibran Peshimam accurately states that “it was painful watching our prime minister fumble through a policy statement following the killing of the world’s most wanted man on Pakistani soil”. The PML-Q remained quiet – it became part of the government after Operation Geronimo had already finished – and busied itself with accumulated power and commencing the exercise thereof. The PML-N asked for accountability and transparency in the Armed Forces’ operations, and wants ‘heads to roll’ – its ultimate design is to cash in on the government’s failure over the entire OBL fiasco, according to Irfan Ghauri. Maybe Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother and Chief Minister of Punjab province, would do better if he increased the salaries of Pakistan’s young doctors – maybe then, Nawaz Sharif won’t have to go abroad for treatment.

The crucial question is why the Armed Forces – the Army, the ISI, the Air Force – were silent for a prolonged period after President Obama’s announcement. The answer is simple; they (wrongly) expected the civilian government – which claims that it is politically powerful and exercising oversight over the Armed Forces – to back them up and to defend the country against propaganda attacks and psychological warfare that would commence afterwards. However, Pakistan’s political parties themselves are experts in conducting psychological warfare against their own people – and the media is sometimes a willing participant in this pursuit. The Foreign Office of Pakistan, usually considered an ISI mouthpiece by the ‘liberal’ media, also tried to defend the Army, but made some statements that were later proven wrong (but still not retracted) like the issue of radar coverage, where the PAF denied that radars were jammed or switched off when US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace. On that day, Salman Bashir inadvertently allowed the media and security analysts to bash the FO as well as Pakistan, the Army, the Armed Forces in general, and the people of the country in general. Well, at least the FO tried to clear the air.

PM Gilani proceeded on a trip to France immediately after the dust settled from the Osama assassination – logic dictates that the PM should have cancelled all foreign trips after this shock. But it appears that nobody, not even the Prime Minister, would give up an opportunity to spend a few days outside the terror-infested, electricity-hungry, inflation-ridden country of Pakistan. Agreeing with this logic, President Zardari himself left for Kuwait on an official two-day visit.

Pretty soon, the MQM also joined the federal cabinet (again) after leaving it for the third time in this parliamentary tenure. The MQM’s national political policy seems to be similar to the social life of a ‘simple girl’ – immediately desisting, disengaging, and then running away whenever anyone gets ‘too close for comfort’. The PPP and the MQM need each other to run Sindh successfully and bring peace to Karachi. However, the MQM has a very acrimonious relationship with the ANP in Sindh – the ANP and PPP are also allies in the center, because the ANP carries the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The PPP’s ineptitude at politics becomes more evident when the practices of its partners fulfill the following paradigm; that the friend of my friend is my enemy (even though both belong to the same country).

In all this tumult, the PTI is continuing its mass contact and social mobilization campaign; its drive against drone strikes and in pursuit of stopping NATO passage through Pakistan was only bolstered when the Osama operation happened, and Imran Khan has been quick to demand the President and Prime Minister’s resignation over the matter. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the former Foreign Minister, senior party member of the PPP, and custodian of the shrines of Bahauddin Zikriya and Shah-Rukne-Alam, also demanded that the President and Prime Minister resign because they were unable to protect the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan – which they were sworn to by sacred oath. But the Pakistani media and its pundits are quick to discredit both these politicians, and lump them together as pawns of the ISI. How Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the PPP, Imran Khan of the PTI, and the ISI of the Pakistan Army, can be connected together in a single sentence (let alone under a single political banner) is a subject of inquiry that would baffle many political scientists, but the Pakistani media (with its vested interests) and the Pakistani people (with their love for conspiracies) believe it as matter of fact, and readily gulp down such “truths” on mere face value as and when the media feeds it to them. Nobody sees how a Sufi saint from Multan and a cricketing hero from Mianwali could agree on this point – maybe everyone forgets that both of these individuals are Pakistani, in a country where many citizens are Pakistani just in name; just for the sake of an identity. Maybe if Pakistan had more Pakistanis than N-leaguers and jiyalas, the country would not have been in such a state. Putting party and politics before country has become standard operating procedure for these politicians who lie, cheat and steal to get to the top. They lie to the people’s face, via the media, and claim to be sensitive to their problems when they are not even aware what their constituents’ problems are. Shahbaz Sharif represents the constituency of Bhakkar in the Punjab Assembly, yet has only visited ‘his constituency’ only 4 times since he got elected. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is going to inherit his grandfather’s electoral constituencies in Larkana, when he has barely spent more than 4-5 years of his entire life in Pakistan. So much for good governance and the rule of the people.

The religious parties in Pakistan redoubled their mass contact efforts against the US, and invested more vigor in their extremist campaign of turning Pakistan into a ‘devout and pious Islamic state’ where men will be defined by beards and women by the burka. Again, this is mere politicking – the religious parties know that if they stop haranguing the federal government and reminding the people about America, they will have no cards to play in the bluff game that is Pakistani politics. However, the shrewd Mubasher Lucman was successful in revealing the true face of these ‘America-hating’ religious parties: he showed that higher-level functionaries of these so-called anti-American religious parties were receiving funds from US donors (probably a state institution like USAID) to start up a children’s channel in Pakistan. Of course, when money comes in, religion can be bought and sold too. When the religious leaders of Pakistan have no qualms about declaring one person a Muslim and another an infidel (on the basis of questionable factors, if there are any factors to consider) it becomes more plausible to understand how illiteracy and absence of social safety nets pushes uneducated Muslim families closer to their imam’s and ulema’s, who can proceed to extort and manipulate them in the name of Allah, train their children to kill people and blow themselves up, and be free from prosecution and blame because they are ‘men of the beard’ (like priests are ‘men of the cloth’).

The fact remains that the people of Pakistan will suffer because of Osama’s death: while the government and Armed Forces remain insulated, it is the Pakistani people who will be called terrorists and extremists by the international community. The Pakistani people will be blamed for harbouring terrorists, and the Pakistani people will also continue to be killed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and Al Qaeda for the ‘betrayal’ of Osama bin Laden.

Ammar Aziz is absolutely right when he says that “this assassination of Osama bin Laden is meaningless unless each one of us kills the Osama within. Otherwise they will keep killing you, me and all of us.” The same security paradigm is true for an effective political ethos; we as Pakistanis must stop blaming an ineffective government and stop depending on it; Pakistanis must resolve to take their problems head on, and resolve them collectively, otherwise other people (Pakistanis and foreigners) will continue to take advantage of the country’s problems and its people’s anger against the status quo.

Right now, the biggest existential threat that Pakistan faces does not come from within; it comes from itself.

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  • Almas Nighat

    We need a rocklike solidarity among ourselves to face the current situation. But the provincial politician Nawaz Sharif, with a laughably bloated pretence of a national icon, second only to the Quaid-e-Azam if not his equal, is out to torpedo that unity the legislators displayed so admirably in the parliament just for his own grouses, grudges and designs? Has he forgotten that the military he now disparages is actually his creator? He took his political birth in its hatcheries. And it is the ISI whose man he originally was. He played its pawn in the IJI contrivance, whose principal character he was. Doesn’t he remember Mehrangate, the abominable scam of taking money from the agency, long pending in the apex court? And has he forgotten that his opponents still claim his heavy mandate in second stint in power was the handiwork of “ghosts”?
    And how comes his younger sibling Shahbaz Sharif didn’t attend the parliament’s joint session on his bidding? He was “invited” to no family wedding or celebration. It was an “official call” to him as a public functionary to attend an important meeting on an important issue of the public, whose taxpayer pays up for his upkeep and even his security. So Shahbaz must explain to the citizens why didn’t he turn up in the session on the command of his elder brother who doesn’t pay tax even equal to a superannuating office assistant despite being a billionaire.
    And this clone baby of garrison hatcheries, erstwhile man of agencies and the invader of the Supreme Court and the conqueror of the superior judiciary himself must know he stinks, his politics stinks, his pretences stink and his posturing stinks. And the stench is too pungent for the citizens to stand him.


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