Like many of my friends I rejoiced when Yousuf Raza Gilani anounced, as his first act as Prime Minister, releasing the deposed judiciary from house arrests. I was happier when, biggest improbability happened and a coalition government of two arch political enemies Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League (N) took oath of office in my home province Punjab.
On 09 September last year I was trying to bury my earlier prejudices watching Asif Ali Zardari take oath of office as president. I belong to a generation of Pakistanis that grew up hearing stories (some proven true in overseas courts of law, and some possibly untrue) of corruption by Asif Ali Zardari and his elevation on corruption index from Mr. Ten Percent in PPP's first term in office to Mr. Cent Percent in its second term. I for one honestly tried to put all of my earlier feelings and prejudices about him aside in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's untimely death and saw him portraying himself as a mature political leader of national stature the day he shouted "Pakistan Khappay" (Sindhi word literally meaning "Pakistan needed") in response to anti Pakistan slogans at Benazir's funeral, and later entering into discussions for political reconciliation and working with long term political foes to form governments of national unity all across the country. His past "sins" were being forgotten and forgiven by most and his popularity at an all time high across the political scene.
I am a strong believer that the worst democracy is preferable over the best dictatorship. Given due time, democratic and civilian institutions can develop and mature, and most problems that are endemic in Pakistan's political infrastructure can disappear - if we just don't let another power hungry military dictator come forth again.
There has been a reasonably large number of Pakistani friends who kept reminding hopeless romantics like me that a leopard doesn't change its spots. Zaradari's innate nature will soon come out to haunt the nation fairly soon. If I am to draw any conclusions from news from Pakistan over the last few weeks it is strikingly obvious that those who doubted his intentions, his credentials as a democrat and his mental health to be a national leader were apparently right. Any positive illusions I and millions of common Pakistanis had about his leadership are fast dissipating.
Zadari lays claim to being the heir to Bhuttoism which was an ideology and a symbol of empowerment for the dispossessed. Since coming to power he has systematically disenfranchised those among party and political leadership who beleived in the Bhutto legacy. Personal loyalty has and is being rewarded over competence - see no further than the Federal Minister of Interior and the newly installed Chairman of Senate.
In less then a year creator of slogans like "Pakistan Khappay" is now known more for his statements like "agreements... are not holy like the holy Quran and the Hadith and can be modified if circumstances change". Hearing this many Baloch tribal elders would have turned in their grave - Zardari being from a Baloch tribe.
Compared to political and governance situation under Musharraf in 2007 we appear to have come full circle with only the face changing at the top of the government:
- One of the main reasons for civic society standing up against Musharraf was his unashamed contempt for independent judiciary and sacking of 60 judges inclusing the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan. Zardari is following in his footsteps by refusing to bring back the independent judges (one of the election promises by Benazir Bhutto) sacked by Musharraf and recruiting to the judiciary equally unashamedly a cohort of his cronies.
- Law and order situation is as bad, if not worse than it was in 2007. Terrorists have proven that they can strike any where in Pakistan, with complete success and then walk away without taking a single hit.
- Curbs on an independent media are as stringent as they were in Musharraf's times. Once again Pakistani independent television network GEO is banned to transmit in Pakistan as a punishment for airing anti-government views.
- Crackdown on political opposition is as harsh as ever with the only difference that Nawaz Sharif has not been sent in exile to Saudi Arabia.
A positive development yesterday was resignation of the Federal Information Minister Sherry Rehman protesting the curbs on independent media. Dissent within the People's Party on inept governance is a good sign.
A vast majority of people of Pakistan (172 million of us) know with absolute clarity where the priorities of the government should be: (1) providing security to common people by combating politically and militarily, if the needed, the menace of terrorism emanating from Afghan borders; (2) working on bringing economic stability to an almost bankrupt economy, and; (3) political stability and strengthening of state institutions like judiciary.
People's party rode to electoral victory in the last elections on a wave of political sympathy emanating from death of Benazir Bhutto. It cannot afford another botched term in office because it does not have leadership of Benzair's stature whose sacrifice will bring it back to power again.