That four-letter word again!


Hope is all we have


So, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement have decided to go out. Not surprising. Finding strange bedfellows is common to misery, politics and poverty. The real question is: what do they want to achieve through this?

The rhetoric is simple and clear. Pakistan needs a combined opposition that can – you guessed it – play its role. And no, neither entity wants to destabilise the government. That’s wonderful news too. Maybe they are going out because they like each other, not because they dislike the Pakistan Peoples Party. Not many buyers for this line, though.

Analysts have already begun writing about the possibility of early elections. Apparently, the only party that wants the Senate elections in March is the PPP. It’s a minor leap from there to predictions that an attempt would now be made to deprive the government of its majority, and bingo!

The MQM has floated the idea to Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s flock without which the government can’t survive. Sotto voce, people say that parting may be in the offing. How so? Well, the faujis want it. And why would they want it? This government is dysfunctional and they need one that works. Right! And is there a guarantee that the next would not be equally dysfunctional, if not more? They want a set-up that can revive the economy, take care of the energy problem, deliver good governance. Fair enough; after all I have always wanted to see pigs fly. If they don’t, that’s a separate issue and I can’t be faulted for my wishes. (NB: and no, I can’t be faulted for how I wish either, thank you.)

So, unless the next dispensation carries Moses’ staff, the many problems that beset us are unlikely to just go away.

But wait, what about the faujis? They are under pressure from the PML(N); the PPP, for whatever its performance be worth, has stood by them. They have the space to operate in the areas of institutional interest; the economy surely needs to look up but it is where it is for a number of reasons and changing faces won’t make those reasons go away. In fact, while the army now realises the importance of the economy, it still refuses to appreciate that full recovery might be hampered by the very policies in which it grounds its strategic worldview.

Then again, new elections mean an interim government; preparation for a huge exercise; its attendant security concerns; the problem of overstretch for the security forces, from the police to rangers and FC to the army. At a time when security forces are already fatigued, it is difficult to see how the faujis would be interested in backing a move that creates more uncertainty without any guarantees that a change would necessarily improve the overall situation.

And what about legal-technical and logistical issues? If the PPP government falls, there will have to be an interim set-up, a constitutional requirement. The caretaker government will have to hold elections within 90 days, another constitutional requirement. How does that work given that we have the problem of bogus voters lists, with some 37 million fake votes or so, which the Election Commission and NADRA are looking into on the directive of the Supreme Court?

Rectifying the lists and adding the right people is no easy exercise. NADRA says it will take at least eight months for the process to complete – i.e., if everything stays on course. Just the completion of these lists will carry us into March 2012, if there is no delay, which is very likely. Until such time the law requires that a voter must produce his ID card, there can be no voting on the basis of old lists.

Running simultaneously with this is the census. The housing survey was completed by April this year and we are told the census will take place in September. But that is optimistic. The possibility is that it will go beyond October and even that is hopeful. There is a proposal that at some point these two exercises should complement each other. That means the Election Commission doing a physical verification, going house-to-house.

Once this is done, the EC will, in all probability, delimit existing constituencies, carving out or creating new ones. A politically and legally fraught exercise that is, especially in cities like Karachi and Lahore, but also elsewhere. We can be sure that there will be much political wrangling on this issue.

Given all these constraints it does not seem that elections could be held before March 2012. But the chatterati dismiss these concerns as irrelevant to the game-plan. According to them, now that it has been decided that this government must go, the rules of the game can be changed – i.e., the interim set-up will get an extension and the faujis will get the essential things done by it, the ‘essential’ being cleansing the system and making it more efficient.

At one level, that makes sense. But many questions remain unanswered. Why would the SC play ball and grant an extension to the interim set-up. While it may be right that the Court would be happy to rub the PPP nose in the dust, equally important for it would be the consideration that the army would again emerge as the primary player. Could the SC live with that, especially after its own resolutions?

Nor does this solve the issue of how a change would necessarily mean the country will start functioning better. Or why the army would move from the known to the unknown, especially when, for all its negatives, the government provides a degree of stability in at least one area: politics. It also gives the army a carte blanche in the areas of concern for it.

Rationally, it does not make sense for the army to create uncertainty on another front when it already has a surfeit of it elsewhere. But then sometimes the urge to reform overrides rationality and lessons from history. That is when one relies on the hope that all actors would act rationally. Ah! That four-letter word again!


The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.