On reflection, Mr P V Narasimha Rao should be regretting the message of congratulations he sent to Mr Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s reinstatement as Pakistan’s prime minister by that country’s supreme court in an unprecedented display of ‘independence’. Mr Sharif survives in office but precariously.
The prime minister’s own initial instinct was sound. Only a day earlier he had refused to comment on the Pakistan supreme court’s judgment and said that it was necessary to await developments. Apparently his advisers prevailed upon him to make a gesture of goodwill to Mr Sharif. Clearly, the message was sent on the assessment that the power struggle in Pakistan was all but over and that Mr. Sharif had all but triumphed over president Ishaq Khan. This assessment was at the very least premature, if not a grave miscalculation.
Within days, president Khan hit back and got the legislatures in Punjab and the NWFP dissolved. Since the other two governments in Sind and Baluchistan were already under his control, he is by no means down and out.
That apart, there has been a lot of talk in India of the triumph of the concept of the rule of law at long last in Pakistan and the need for us to welcome the supreme court’s judgment on that count. This shows how little we understand Pakistan and how much we judge developments there on the basis of our own experience and by our own yardsticks.
Two points may be made in this regard. First, no one, to my knowledge, has provided a satisfactory explanation why the same supreme court which upheld the Benazir Bhutto government’s dismissal by the same president under the same eighth amendment in 1990 returned a very different verdict this time. In plain terms, we do not know what kind of forces were at play behind the scene and how ‘independent’ the supreme court in fact has been.
Secondly, and more fundamentally, Pakistan is not just a part of India which broke away. Its political culture is very different from ours and Islam accounts only partly for the difference. To simplify a complex issue, Pakistan is rooted in and lives by raw power. This is true of all its constituents whatever the other differences among them.
To illustrate, it may be said that while the lawyer in black coat and bow tie with his endless legalistic hair-spilling, often with little regard for truth as he knows it, symbolizes the disorder that passes for democracy in our country, the landlord (once warlord) with well-oiled mustaches and an army of cringing servants as ready to kill as to crawl on his orders embodies an essential aspect of Pakistan’s political culture.
In such a culture, there is little room for the give and take of democratic politics; all compromises are temporary; the fight has to carried to the finish. Not only must president Khan and prime minister Sharif battle it out to the bitter end, so must Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Sharif. Neither of the latter too can afford to reach a durable compromise.
Indeed, even before the talks between the two sides have begun, Mr Sharif has willfully or otherwise, laid a trap Ms Bhutto cannot wish to walk into. By calling for impeachment of president Khan, the Sharif government is in effect challenging her either to make common cause with it or face the annoyance of the intelligentsia. This cannot but anger Ms Bhutto.
Otherwise too, their positions are irreconcilable. While Mr Sharif cannot possibly agree to a fresh poll under the auspices of a neutral administration at least so long as the eighth amendment has not been deleted from the constitution and president Khan has not been removed from office, Ms Bhutto cannot accept anything less.
Meanwhile, as this piece is being written, corps commanders may be meeting in Rawalpindi to discuss the political situation. As far is known, this is the first such conference since April 18 when president Khan dismissed the Sharif government and dissolved the national assembly.
The indications are that the commanders will call for a ‘grand national reconciliation’, if only to avoid being sucked into the political turmoil.
Such a reconciliation is difficult even to formulate and can virtually be ruled out. Thus, the prospect is one of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres till November, when president Khan’s term runs out. These are, however, surface developments which help cover up a deep crisis confronting Pakistan. In a previous article in this space (May 11), I wrote that it looked as if Pakistan may have reached the ‘end of the road’. On reflection, I feel that it might have been more appropriate to speak of the possibility of an implosion.
To recognise this possibility, we should go back to 1965 when for a variety of reasons, including decline in his own credibility and pressure from the late Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, president Ayub Khan launched Pakistan on an adventurist-expansionist course leading to war with our country. We know the result – an implosion leading to the country’s break-up in 1971, humiliation of the army command and the rise to power of Mr Bhutto, one of the worst demagogues in modern Asian history.
President Zia-ul-Haq launched Pakistan on an adventurist-expansionist course on an even bigger scale. He seized the opportunity offered by the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and America’s determination to turn Afghanistan into Moscow’s Vietnam. He began to dream of extending Pakistan’s de facto borders right to the Oxus, destabilizing India through assistance to Sikh youths willing to listen to his siren call and take to arms and then seizing Kashmir. It is obvious that the plan has come unstuck. Afghanistan is in for armed conflict for years ahead; the jihad against ‘godless’ communists has led to the rise of massive trade in arms and narcotics and, consequently, of a powerful mafia beyond Islamabad’s control; with at least one million AK-47s in private hands, Pakistan has ceased to be a civil society.
Equally significantly for Pakistan, India has successfully restored near normalcy and order in its Punjab and, despite confusion at the highest level in New Delhi, it shows no sign of letting Pakistan seize Kashmir.
Comparison with Russia may still be somewhat wide off the mark. Punjab is not yet quite the victim of Islamic ideology that Russia was of the Communist ideology. But with his programme of Islamisation, President Zia has imprisoned the Punjabi personality and divested the army of its modernization role, which could, to an extent, legitimize its rule under Field Marshal Ayub Khan.
Pakistan’s counterpart of the Soviet Communist Party is the predominantly Punjabi bureaucracy-army combine. When it comes to the crunch, the army would almost certainly act to prevent disintegration. But it may not be in a position to prevent prolonged political confusion and worse.
The Observer of Business and Politics, 8 June 1993