Method in madness

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Realigning political forces
 Pakistan’s politics seems to have permanently changed into an unending Pink Panther adventure in which a crisis goes into the background only when it is overshadowed by yet another with even greater proportions, ignited by the ones supposed to resolve it; the self-righteous and over-intelligent Inspectors Clouseau or politicians of our system, if you may like to call some of them.
This was the sense of many a Pakistani who were first shocked by the great Altaf Bhai when he abused the whole of Pakistan Army (targeting the new ISI chief particularly) in unprecedentedly open and unexplainably harsh words during a video-linked public rally on September 27 last.  Then it was the turn of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to throw equally inexplicable and surprising allegation and challenge in the way of Altaf Uncle in the most unambiguous terms so far. Can there be any link between the two? This is the question that instantly comes to the mind of every interested individual. But, if there is any link, what it could be?
To start with, situation at the moment is; Altaf Hussain has abused the Army in unequivocal terms (idiots, cheaters, liars and what not) – clearer and incomparably disgraceful than what Geo had done some time ago – and has, in a subtle way, challenged it to brace for a bitter fight if it wished so. On the other hand, Bilawal has done the same thing (forget about London Police, I will make life a living hell for you), thus throwing down the gauntlet to Altaf Uncle to brace for a bitter fight if he wished so. So, there seems to be a triangle in the making; MQM challenging the army, PPP challenging the MQM. But then, what can be the motive for both the parties to take such extreme positions, without any obvious reason or reasons at the moment? Can it be just a coincidence? Is the statement of Altaf Hussain a manifestation of the frustration which the Muhajir party is voicing since its inception? Was it one of the trademark outbursts of a man who usually says things like that when he is under the influence? Or there is some other hidden reason which has compelled this man to play the most dangerous hand of his life against the most powerful and unforgiving institution of the country?
Likewise, there were many ups and downs between the MQM and PPP during the past six years or so, but the PPP didn’t even once directly take such an aggressive stand and always stuck to its policy of reconciliation. So, why it is that while nothing so unusual has taken place now, the PPP has challenged the person and authority of the charismatic Muhajir leader in the harshest and contemptible words and tone during recent years (except for an attack by Zulfikar Mirza – which was depicted as indirect any way)? Was it a slip of the tongue of a young and immature Bachcha Blawal? But then tongues seldom slip so wildly when a written policy statement is ‘read out’ by such a high level leader – and which MQM has rightly pointed out to in its initial reaction. So, if that wasn’t an off-the–cuff remark, what made the PPP adopt such an untypical stance and what can it possibly achieve or want to achieve by adopting it?
First things first, MQM or Altaf Hussain don’t seem to have lost their mind all of a sudden and just started abusing the army for no reasons at all. Keeping aside all other reasons at the moment it seems the MQM has got a clue from somewhere that the military has made up its mind to start up cleaning much of the old political garbage it has accumulated over the years, along with other symbols of the ‘old system’ against which Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have mobilized public opinion country-wide. The easiest ways to achieve this objective seem to be; a) conducting a fair operation by the law enforcing agencies in Karachi, and b) using the ‘cards’ some army-related agencies are widely believed to possess. These are said to be the two culprits who are generally being believed responsible for murdering Dr Imran Farooq in London in September 2010. According to reports in the media they were arrested upon their arrival in the country by some civilian outfits under the command of Rahman Malik, the then Interior Minister, but later taken into unofficial and unrecorded custody by some unnamed agency under military control.
The harshness and the apparent irreversible and undeniable open contempt of the army smack of this bitter reality; Altaf Bhai would take the risk of political extinction only if he was certain that waiting for the other eventuality can result in his physical elimination. This frustration and fear has apparently led him to bet for the biggest stakes yet. But will the army call his bluff or will it go on back foot? Is it really an option for the army to go on back foot now when it has been abused like never before; or the man who has done it will have to be sorted out, no matter what are its political and economic costs? Moving forward on this assumption and judging through historical evidence, Altaf Hussain has landed himself in a no-win situation; he has increased the risks manifold; army in this country is not used to, and cannot, live with someone who has ever tarnished its image or badly bruised its collective ego; it simply cannot sleep with the enemy.
But is the cumulative tilt of circumstances in favour or against the military? Well, the answer to this question is a mixed bag. There are both positive and negative factors present simultaneously. On the one hand, many fronts are open for the army at the same time. Fronts open at the moment are; operation against Taliban, skirmishes with Indian forces along the line of control, situation in Afghanistan and the drawdown of US-led international forces from there by the end of this year, and last, but not the least, the country’s larger internal political situation in which army is perceived to be involved – or may get directly sucked in sooner rather than later. Any minor miscalculation on any of the fronts can possibly result in major setbacks either on that particular front, on some other or on all the fronts. On the other hand, some opportunities exist side by side with these negative or potentially dangerous indicators. For example, the Afghan situation can help the military achieve political stability of its liking in a more smooth fashion. Likewise, internal political situation at the moment is tilted in its favour. There is a general discontent with democracy. Though camouflaged so successfully as failure of the corrupt politicians and the old, inefficient and incompetent ‘system’, this has so far helped only Pakistan Army to solidify its position and reclaim its lost political territory. The army is also out on an indirect charm offensive; successes in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Youth Package for tribal areas, flood relief operations, effective response to LoC violations, and neutral role during the current political crisis, etc.
But where does PPP fit in even if this situation is accepted as true? Why would PPP take on MQM for the sake of the army whose perceived intervention in the current imbroglio has been stalled mainly by the efforts and support of this party? Have the army and the PPP reached some prior understanding to go after the MQM and hunt it together?
No such thing seems to exist at the moment and this solely appears to be an effort from the PPP to come near the army. And if things moved in the right direction (from PPP’s point of view, of course), then some good results can be expected to come out of it. PPP has made a very calculated move, the continuation of which will largely depend on developments and responses from the relevant quarters in the days to come. It seems the party has chosen this path after some very matter-of-fact calculations like the following:
Below the surface, people of Karachi are fed up with the MQM and a seemingly courageous stand against it at this stage can bring many political benefits; 2) PTI has already started making a dent in its political dominance of the city, so it’s better to claim its share of the pie; 3) if the assumption is true that the army has made up its mind to do away with the MQM in its current shape, then it’s better to stand by it and help it decapitate the party; and 4) it will go down well within the PPP’s traditional vote bank among the Sindhi population.
Apart from Karachi and Sindh, the calculations of PPP are based on its assessment of the larger domestic political situation and the expected response of the army to Altaf Hussain’s recent diatribes against it. PPP seems to believe that the army has run out of options regarding the current domestic political crisis. In this situation a political party of its stature can help not only in easing out the army’s difficulties but also offer it with the much needed ‘third option’ for future that is badly lacking at the moment. A little push from the powers that be can very easily identify MQM with the old, rotten political system that is being held responsible for the exploitation of the masses; in fact MQM is the only group that is in power without any meaningful disruption for the past about 30 years – be it in cahoots with military regimes or quasi-political dispensations.
PPP is a dying political force at the moment which is apologizing and appealing its workers not to leave it. Some of its body has already been consumed by the PML (N) while PTI is on the rampage to claim much of the PML (N) and PPP’s remaining chunks. In such a situation PPP badly needs some recuperation which in the given situation can be provided only by the army. Keeping this in view, the party has not only taken on an ‘enemy’ of the army which has just subjected it to the worst kind of verbal abuse, but has also started taking a position regarding India which is more to the liking of the military establishment. Its approach towards the Musharraf issue and civil-military relations is known to all and sundry. There is no love lost between the army and the PML (N); and this is not a secret. The army cannot trust Imran Khan because of his naivety and the unpredictability factor associated with him. So, a third option in the shape of PPP can be mutually beneficial. Or so does the PPP think.
But whether the PPP is right in its calculations that the army has run out of options at the moment and that the party will be acceptable to army as a future political partner is yet to be seen. What the army will finally decide about the fate of MQM and its erring leader is also not clear at the moment; opening Karachi front at this stage is not a joke because it can bring in many unintentional negative consequences. And though the current movement of PTI and PAT has discredited the political class to a historically unprecedented level, it has also made ‘rigging’ ‘manipulation’ and ‘corruption’ some of the most abhorred concepts in the current political dictionary of the country. In this situation, it will be too early to say if army will be able to manipulate the outcome of the coming elections according to its liking.
But then there certainly are many other ways in which it can indirectly help a political party in assuaging popular resentment against it and changing its public image; thus helping it reclaim some of its lost political space. Asif Ali Zardari has already been dubbed in the media as father of reconciliation and, by some others quarters, as a ‘statesman’. Much can be built on it, provided a chance is given to the idea and PPP is opted as a potential political alley. Right now, let’s wait and see what the constitutional, legal and political response of the MQM is to the namaloom afraad statement of Bilawal which it had promised to share with the people after the Eid holidays.

5 COMMENTS

    • @YLCALUSA, I think what is senseless is your comment. Can you tell what in this story prompts you to make racial comments? And also if this story does not make sense to you, would you mind coming up with a story of your own that WOULD make sense…

    • Thank you for your futile input YLCALUSA. The irony however, lies in your pitiful statement. I am not sure how you connote 'extreme' but from your comment here, it seems like you're the only one on this page with 'extreme views'. Think about it.

      P.S If you only comment on such articles for the heck of it or for entertainment purposes, then go ahead but at least have some substance to talk about. Otherwise, if you're here to educate or inform yourself, you'll need to leave the little bubble you live in and open up your mind to more positive and reasonable thoughts.

      Good day

  1. The article is very well-written, given the amount of information and co-relative explanations. It indeed helped me connect a few dots and look at the bigger picture.
    Please post more related articles to keep us up to date.

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