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Number of posts : 59
Age : 68
Registration date : 2007-12-16

PostSubject: PRINCIPLES NOT PARTIES   Thu Dec 20, 2007 9:56 am

Time to Move Forward and Support Principles not Parties
By Dr Masooda Bano

So now the PML-N too is out of the ranks of the real opposition. Whether pushed into this decision due to the PPP’s refusal to boycott the elections or due to external pressure, the decision is a short-sighted one. The credibility that Nawaz Sharif was developing as a genuine opposition leader due to his steady critique of Musharraf regime has been sacrificed. There is no doubt about that. The argument that the PPP’s participation in the polls pushed the PML-N into it does not work for the party if it wants to have a reformist agenda. The fact is that unlike the claims of the PPP and now the PML-N the cost of boycott would not have been much. The reasons for their choices rest somewhere else.

Let us remind ourselves of the justification presented for the two scenarios: one, where the oppositions boycotts the elections; the other where it takes part in them. The strength of the former was that it would deprive Musharraf of any remaining legitimacy in the west and combined with political struggles on the streets, can bring the final end to his game. Most importantly, the strategy had the core issue of the reinstatement of the judges right on top of the agenda. Since there are hardly any merits to the other approach, they were presented to be more as compulsion because otherwise the PML-Q will take all the seats.

The intellectual bankruptcy of the latter argument is so obvious that it is difficult to see how the PPP could take this position without it being part of a bigger plot designed by the western governments for Pakistan. For, imagine, if the PPP had gone along with the APDM and boycotted the elections, could the parliament produced out of elections contested mainly by the PML-Q and others like Fazlur Rehman had survived the public outcry? And sustained outcry would have eventually forced an end to Musharraf regime. After all, the very fact that the space has been created for Benazir and Nawaz Sharif to come back to Pakistan rests on the success of the lawyers’ movement. They have been the biggest beneficiaries of it and yet they are also the ones who have given the biggest blow to it. Despite having hired US lobbying firms to build her case and constantly making efforts to establish links with the US government, Benazir Bhutto was having little success in getting the doors opened to her in the west till the lawyers’ movement. This is evident from her failure to get appointment with senior government officials within the US administration during 2001-2006 despite making many attempts at it. The reason for that is also evident. The fact is that Benazir Bhutto has had the same problem in the west as within Pakistan. Initially, having the sympathy of the western public for being a female prime minister of a Muslim country, Benazir’s performance in her last two governments led to a completely tarnished image in the west.

One knows this from first-hand experience in Oxford itself. In informal discussions with senior academics and fellows at Oxford, one repeatedly fails to convince them that Musharraf should go. Why? The answer is simple and can be summed up very nicely by the response of one senior academic: “I will be very happy to see Musharraf go but the problem is I see your former prime ministers as no better.” I have been repeatedly asked by people in Oxford when discussing Pakistan with that puzzled look: “But how can people want her back?” As for Nawaz Sharif they hardly remember him but from a vague newly acquired recognition as the ex-prime minister who was deported soon after he landed in the country. Thus, the perception that Benazir is the darling of the west is a misnomer. On their own merit, neither of the two politicians would have had the west back them. It is only after the lawyers’ movement showed no signs of succumbing to pressure that the western governments were forced to explore other strategies to support Musharraf’s survival. The same academics who in the past were only partially convinced of my arguments that Musharraf must quit were now very clear that no regime using such force against civilians especially lawyers can be supported. Thus, the pressure on the Bush and Brown administrations to get Musharraf out of the uniform because irrespective of the fact that these administrations impose military generals on us, the fact is that in their own countries they have to be accountable to their public. And they know their public won’t support regimes which are making blatant use of force.

This shift in the mood of the western public is all a brilliant evidence of success of the lawyers’ sacrifices. The current legitimacy being provided to Musharraf by taking part in the elections and putting the judges’ issues on the backburner is evidence of the bankruptcy of the current political elite. The latter, for its part, has over time become so corrupt that it does not have the spine to stand up and provide leadership to fight the army and limit outside interference even when the public is ready for change. I have to concede today that as a constant critic of Musharraf’s regime, I today have to say that my opponents were correct: that these politicians themselves are the biggest cause of military rule in Pakistan; the army is not to be blamed. Enough of hopes from the likes of Raza Rabbani and Faratullah Babar (from Benazir one never had any), they have all shown themselves to be the same.

The focus of the current struggle has to shift towards these politicians now. The lawyers’ movement that built the very space that allowed these politicians to come back has to now build the strategy to get them out. Students, activists and journalists have to start working on a mass grassroots movement. The elections will be over by mid-January but the real work of mobilisation will begin after that. It has to be a long-term commitment but we must have it if Pakistan is to survive. And the good news is that we have a good leader in the making: cynics can keep writing off Imran Khan, but another fact based on my fieldwork within various parts of the country and discussions with Pakistani students at Oxford is that he increasingly represents the hope of young Pakistanis. Cheers to him for standing firm on the boycott. He provides a brilliant platform to rally around.

The writer is undertaking post-doctoral research at Oxford University.
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