Sunday, November 22, 2009 (The News)
There is reconciliation in the air -- and not of the NRO sort. Nawaz has heroically thrown himself between the conspirators and the president. The prime minister announced that the president is ready and willing to give up Article 58(2)(b). The Q League is meeting the MQM; Shahbaz is meeting the MQM. The chief ministers are all visiting the Quaid's Mazar together; the provinces are on the same page regarding the contentious distribution of finances. Even the PPP's CEC is considering reviving Aitzaz's membership.
Has the political leadership matured from the politics of vendetta and opportunity? And pigs can fly. It is surprising what self-concern can make politicians do. You see, the threat is not only to the PPP and its chief; the threat is to the system.
That is not to say that the "Zardari-goes, democracy-goes" paradigm is tenable ideologically, but it certainly is practically.
Consider the rumours of the apparently pressing desire to remove Zardari, who is himself digging his heels in, figuratively, as in his "there is nothing wrong" statements, as well as literally, as in literally not leaving his presidential bunker. He's not leaving voluntarily anytime soon.
The PPP is in no mood to remove him -- and even if they are, they certainly do not have the spine or the will to do it. So if we accept the premise that the president is unacceptable, and must go for the perennial powers to be happy, how will he be removed?
The answer is simple: a coup d'état. Sound implausible? It is. But not out of the question.
There are some misconceptions that involve the possibility of such a drastic step. There will be no bloodletting and rioting by the masses demanding a return of the PPP or the system itself. The inefficacy of the government, its near-comical lack of authority and the resurfacing of corruption-related horror stories (these are not just made up, they have also been mentioned in international bodies' reports) mean that democracy, or at least the current set up, has managed to blow its lot at an incredibly fast rate.
Juxtapose this with the flourishing image of the military, that steadfast torch-bearer of the subz hilal parcham, thanks to operations in Swat and South Waziristan, and you no longer have a situation wherein the "Army is too vilified" or "it is too soon for them." You see, this is not the 90s. This is an age where the armed forces are fighting a war that is winning them many laurels -- enough for them to be welcomed back.
It will not take them another decade to win back their credibility, or for the politicians to lose theirs. That is apparent. That murmurs of how things were better under Musharraf is not just a whimsical comment anymore. It is the product of heavy disillusionment with the performance of the PPP-led government.
The banter of increasing foreign interference, where fanciful stories of Blackwater and the United States' plans to secure our nukes are winning a disconcertingly large audience; the reality of increasing violence across the country, where attacks are daily and the lives lost are many. Schools had been closed, and we are living in a state of emergency.
All of this has created a siege-like mindset in Pakistan -- which is ideal for those unhappy with the president to step in and not have as much as a whimper from the masses. All that has to be done is to co-opt the usual unscrupulous lot of politicians and smaller regional parties to ensure that everyone is satisfied. The nationalist parties in Sindh will take care of any expected Sindh-backlash -- whatever that may be.
Taking it from there, if there is a coup, it certainly cannot be a long one. While they may be welcomed, the military really does have its hands full with the current security situation. A swift strike then?
Here's the kicker. When we say that this is "not the 90s" we also do not have the luxury of having a bunch of elections one after another like we did from 1988 to 1997. The current security situation will not allow elections in a vast majority of the country.
No President Kayani; no elections: what does that leave us with? A caretaker government. One that will be in place for an extended period of time, a la Bangladesh, until elections can be held in a secure environment. Don't see such an environment in the near future?
That's the point.
So when Nawaz has heads turning by saying he will "not allow" the minus-one formula, he is not saying it because he respects that the president was elected democratically, or because he wants to defend democracy. It does not mean that he and his party have become more mature and patient when they meet the MQM. When the president says he is willing to give up 58(2)(b), it does not mean that he has grown a conscience overnight.
It is a sign. It means that they see it coming; they see the machinations unfolding. And they know that in a caretaker set up, they will have no future. More time in political oblivion -- this time perhaps without an escape, complete with furniture and cooks, to the holy land.
When Shahbaz Sharif says that the derailment of democracy will have serious repercussions, he is right. However, the repercussions will not exactly be for the public.
The N would only be too happy to see the back of Zardari -- legally or otherwise -- if it meant that they would come to the fore again. But they're resisting. And that is a telling sign of the times.
Upheaval is upon us. And the very people that are coming to the "rescue" now are the ones who brought it to this.
However, if it is self-concern that does the trick, then so be it. The political parties must stick together, as they are trying to do now, to survive. How long they can keep it up, that is the question.
Or is it too late?
The writer is city editor, The News, Karachi. Email: gibran. firstname.lastname@example.org