Dekho, dekho, kaun aya

by Gibran Peshimam

Courtesy: The News

Once a darling of the establishment, always a darling of the establishment. They say a leopard never changes its spots.

It is with this statement on the latest setback to the political process that I begin, because what has happened in the last few days is an essential part of a greater cause against civilian supremacy, and more specifically a besieged PPP. I hesitate to use the word “conspiracy” because it tends to make logic sound fanciful and unfairly so.

As expected, it is now becoming increasingly apparent that the PPP’s bid to stay in power through Faustian deals is bearing fruit. Rotten fruit.

It all began after a series of radical policy decisions involving the armed forces backfired on the party, including the reining in of the country’s premier intelligence outfit to bring it under civilian control and the adventurous no-first-use statement on nuclear warfare with India.

Those moves were taken back.

Later, the PPP backed off on its stand on relations with the United States, which manifested itself in the form of the Kerry-Lugar Bill fiasco. The Balochistan Package also contained plenty of anathema, however restrained it may have been. The stationery of governance had barely been shifted out of the GHQ when the PPP stood at odds with the establishment. They were in trouble.

The judgment on the NRO brought the government to its knees, and left it susceptible. Upheaval was in the air, and December was being quoted as Caesars’ March for the PPP. Yet they managed to scrape through somehow.

That somehow, it seems, involved a pledge to stay away from radical policy decisions, particularly those involving the establishment and its interests. These were to be left to those who call the shots. Fearing upheaval, the PPP probably agreed.

In return, it would get a lease on life; a wink and nudge that the virtual state of emergency caused by the NRO verdict would go by without anything drastic happening. And it did unexpectedly.

The inclusion of the heaviest brass in a Pakistani delegation to the US

gives this view credence, as does the meeting that the army chief had with the bureaucracy en masse. The monopoly that the armed forces have had over negotiations regarding security and strategy-related issues during the current Pakistan-US talks (issues which are effectively the most burning of the

lot) has already created a buzz in the media.

The establishment has pulled off a shadow coup and a compromised PPP could do little to stop it. This would, in theory, suit the khakis just fine, given that their recently concluded nine-year stint in power and the

manpower diverted to military operations mean that they were reluctant to come back this soon in any case. Needless to say, this arrangement, if accurate,

is also a lot less outlandish than the quick-hit caretaker strategy that was being quoted late last year.

Even Washington, which was seemingly inclined initially to deal with a fledgling, and hence more flexible, civilian setup, has come to realise that it is the GHQ that is the real negotiating power. Of course, the rekindling of the relationship between the US and the armed forces was only helped by the sudden spate of arrests of high-profile Al Qaeda and Taliban figures

recently from Karachi. It is conspicuous that these arrests came out of the blue and neither local law-enforcers nor the ubiquitous media in Karachi

knew of the operations that led to them.

In any case, with the US having left them to their own devices and the khakis having a close eye on them, a cornered PPP was restricted to political matters in the country. The one card it did have was legislation. They have passed a few good laws recently, but their real trump card, their crown jewel, was to be the constitutional amendment package an effort that the

government had worked the hardest for. It was nurtured through the tough times; through temptations of expediency. One cannot fault them on this count.

It has been thorough and has taken on board all political forces across the country. The document produced by the committee handling the amendment

package has been consensus-based, which is an achievement given the fractured politics of this country.

There is little doubt that this would have been the biggest political achievement since the 1973 Constitution. A battered PPP, despite all its

missteps, would revive its political fortunes in one fell swoop despite all the pressure. A grand achievement it would be.

The PPP’s leadership had invested everything in this. They scrapped and scratched; traded and bartered. They auctioned everything to keep this pathopen. Months and months of hard work was hours away from realisation.

They had found a gap in the asphyxiating parameters set by the non-democratic forces. Or so they thought.

Enter Nawaz Sharif.

There is absolutely no other reason for the N to have done what they have.

The renaming of the NWFP that they have brought up at the eleventh hour is an issue that could have been resolved earlier. The reservation on the appointment of judges comes after their point of view on the issue had already been incorporated. It hurts them politically – and unnecessarily. Unless, of course, they have some guarantees of their own. They have been used in a

Hitchcock-style agonisingly late twist in the tale. It makes no sense otherwise.

It remains to be seen whether his ambush on the constitutional package will be irreparable; if this is indeed the final step of a complete siege. For the sake of political progress, of democracy, one hopes not. Surely the process has come too far to be stymied now.

They say a leopard never changes its spots. I agree.

Nor does a tiger change its stripes.

The writer is city editor, The News, Karachi. Email:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

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