The murky abyss of Pakistani politics has been especially murky over recent months, and true to form it just keeps getting murkier. The one thing that is absolute when dealing with the dregs that run my country is this: nothing is ever as it seems. Nowhere is that more true than in the current scenario involving President Musharraf’s likely impeachment by the ruling coalition.
“It has become imperative to move for impeachment,” barked Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Zardari, at a press conference in Islamabad last week. Sitting beside the new head of the Pakistan People’s party was Nawaz Sharif, twice formerly prime minister of Pakistan. Zardari snarled every time Musharraf’s name came up, seething with political rage and righteousness, while Sharif did his best to keep up with the pace of things. He nodded sombrely and harrumphed every once in a while. The two men are acting for democracy, you see. And impeaching dictators is a good thing for democracies, you know.
But Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari are unelected. They’re not just unrepresentative in that they don’t hold seats in the parliament – they have absolutely no mandate in Pakistan. They head the two largest, and most corrupt, parties in the state but hold no public office. Pots and kettles.
The rest of the coterie that wields power behind this administration, the attorney general and the interior minister for instance, also happen to be unelected. They serve, and I use the term ever so lightly, by appointment only. Some 170 million Pakistanis have lived under military rule of law for nine years. Musharraf stepping down from his army post has not changed that. Neither did the recent selections. Sorry, I meant elections, obviously.
The current administration – a party coalition comprising two formerly mortal enemies, the PPP and the PML – has enjoyed five months in office. And what has this thriving democratic union accomplished? It passed the National Reconciliation Ordinance, an odious piece of legislation that wipes out 15 years’ worth of corruption cases against politicians, suspiciously covering 11 years of PPP and PML rule. Bankers and bureaucrats were also given the all-clear. Worse still, the ordinance contains a clause that makes it virtually impossible for future charges to be filed against sitting parliamentarians.
But they must have done more than that, surely? Well, all that really changed is that food inflation has accelerated, oil subsidies have been cut, gas prices have doubled, and those pesky militants in the Swat district the tribal regions have turned up the fighting. Several days before the decision to impeach Musharraf hurtled through the airwaves, a small story came in from the tribal areas: the militants are close, the story said, they’ve vowed to target the government, even to the point of attacking state schools. This is a civil war, the story said.
So what does the government do when its country appears to be tearing apart at the seams? Go on the attack. Impeach the tyrant. “The period of oppression is over for ever,” declared the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, at an event marking 61 years of Pakistani independence yesterday. “Dictatorship has become a story of the past.” Deny everything. Nothing is wrong, democracy is good and we hate dictators. Well done.
Pakistan is a sovereign country. We are a proud, resourceful, independent nation. We have options. Zardari is not an option. Sharif is not an option. The army is not our one and only option. The mullahs have not become an option yet. There are close to 200 million of us: I’m sure we can think of something better.
FATIMA BHUTTO is a poet and a columnist for the News in Pakistan