Before earthquake had jolted Pakistan the civil society and media was busy in consoling with rape victims who had joined the ranks of Mukhtaran Mai. Mullahs were actively defending Osama and condemning the government for allegedly following the footsteps of the anti-Islam power, the USA. Opposition was planning to wage a protest campaign to get restored 1973 Constitution, as it existed before Musharraf’s takeover. Will politics return to its normal course, is anybody’s guess – tremor has changed ground realities in Pakistan.
Thousands were rendered by the power earthquake on 8/10. Millions have no roofs as the winter sets in. The warning by geologists about the disaster had fallen on deaf ears. From political parties to the civil society, none took the matter seriously. Government that had set a target to make Pakistan the fastest growing economy in Asian region, a hub of regional trade, were caught off guard by the natural calamity that UN chief has termed greater than Tsunami.
Pakistan Muslim League, the ruling party of the country, wanted to hold an All Parties Conference to chalk out a viable strategy to tackle the post-quake situation but the idea has been dropped as the opposition insists on the return of its leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, first. Strangely enough this scheme had originated in the mind of an MMA leader.
The state witnessed only a lull on its political front after earthquake jolted its northern parts. The big tremor has not apparently changed realities in Pakistan. Politics still remains divorced form society for the very fact that parties represent the aspirations of only its meager portion. A few hundred families living far above the poverty line are not dependent on the teeming millions for the comforts of life they happen to enjoy. So there is nothing common in the objectives of political parties and the masses they naively claim to represent.
The political parties of the country represent only clans and tribes who want appropriate place in the ruling camp. The maximum they want is not less than having empires; democracy is not a means proper to serve their interests. Why a feudal will want to see a commoner to take seat very next to him? How a spiritual leader can afford his followers to demand equal treatment in the society? Can a Khan see his tribesman as prosperous as him? Mullah is too a part of conspiracy the powers-that-be hatched against the people of this region centuries before.
There exists a fair chance that a protest movement will be lunched against the government as scheduled before Ramadhan. It will confront the charge of mishandling the crisis fuelled by Indian tectonic plate in addition to the scores of others that existed before October 8. The opposition will never allow General Musharraf to continue with the war on terror; they will demand army’s return to barracks. Who will rule the 150 million people and why, are the questions that will definitely remain unanswered by the protesting souls.
When General Musharraf took over, he was seen as a liberator by the political parties who were blaming Nawaz regime for misusing his heavy mandate. Pakistan Peoples Party’s life-long chairperson was on self-exile while her spouse was in jail on the charges of corruption. The religious right was eager to have change in the system that had little space for it that time.
Men-in-street also attached a hope with General Musharraf who promised them to put economy on stable course; he had the idea of giving true democracy to the silent majority. Two years after he took over, the American friends also burdened him with the agenda of clearing the mess created through jihad against the Soviet Union. Right before earthquake, Kalabagh Dam had also become his top priority; he also wanted to make LoC irrelevant.
General Musharraf says he has made best efforts to put national affairs on the straight course. He also admits that there remains a lot to be done beyond having functional Parliament and improved macro-economic indicators. So he wants to continue with his position in the best national interest. His political fellows, belonging to all segments of society, are welcoming him while he confronts no serious challenge from his opponents.
The real problem for Musharraf is not that his enemies will outnumber his friends. Rather, he has a limited space to accommodate people who want to join his camp. As the outsiders keep on pushing in, there are also rifts among the insiders. Striking balance among the contending forces of the society has become his real job that he is doing the best in the given circumstances. In the nutshell, the status quo remains intact while the ‘silent majority’ does not lose hope.
In the past the earthquakes and foreign invasions used to be a source of political change but this reality has proved irrelevant in the case of Pure Land. Here revolution has only meant change of guards. There are strong chances that Pakistanis will continue with a sham democracy and ambitious general – the both.
On the other hand, change in also creeping into the body politic. General Musharraf says he does not believe in LoC; PML is welcoming the issuance of visa to Nawaz Sharif on humanitarian grounds; and, Qazi Hussain Ahmad is supporting the idea of getting Kashmir demilitarized. The militants of the past are actively engaged in relief work (though no body knows whether they have dropped the idea of capturing the Red Fort). Add to it, the activism of the electronic media who has got too nationalistic – it is praising the heroic role of the people in providing relief and comfort to quake victims.
We confront now a country where change and continuity exist side by side. Though one can’t be sure of telling exactly which side is taking more weight but it is true that commoners chose the best in chaotic times. They don’t necessarily believing in the destiny of pundits. Unusual circumstances my force people to choose their own.