Pakistan is a nation in need of healing. The last one year has highlighted the many fissures that have festered below the surface for years. Unity of command, so effective in running a disciplined force like a military unit, has ended up dividing the Pakistani nation.
The first opinion poll, conducted by Gallup, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto showed that nearly half of the sample suspected government agencies (23 per cent) and government allied politicians (25 per cent) of killing Bhutto.
The response to such widespread mistrust of the government is not dismissive statements by the country’s rulers. A serious effort is now needed to bridge the gap between Pakistan’s state and society.
General (retired) Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly shown that he lacks the ability to heal. He could end the controversy about Bhutto’s death by accepting an international inquiry. But Musharraf thinks like an administrator and insists that since he, as boss, knows there is nothing wrong therefore there is no need for a wider investigation.
At a time when the new army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, is trying to restore harmony between the army and the people it is imperative that the perception of the military favouring or opposing any political faction or leader is completely erased.
The Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), in its recent report, has termed the pre-poll electoral process in Pakistan highly unfair, giving it a score of 26 on a scale of 100 in respect of overall fairness of the pre-poll environment spanning over 12 months.
The judiciary is not free to pronounce on the fairness or otherwise of the election. When Musharraf alone is the decider of what the people want, how will the people ever be able to tell him that they no longer want him?
The thoughtful US politician, Senator Joseph Lieberman, understood the problem with the election process in one visit to Pakistan, something Musharraf is unable to do after running the country for eight years.
Lieberman said, “Opposition parties have little trust the polls will be fair… If there are some bases after the elections for concluding that they were not fair and credible, the consequences, I fear here in Pakistan, will be more division and not the unity that the country needs at this critical moment in its history, facing a serious external threat, now increasing, from Al Qaida.”
A politician would know when some of his staff and officials have become a liability for him. But Musharraf insists on retaining intelligence operatives who are widely despised by the opposition and who are only exacerbating hatred against the government. The political role of intelligence services must end immediately. Pakistan is not a company to be managed. It is a nation that must be brought together.
The need of the hour is a “grand national compromise” that brings to an end the vilification and demonisation of some politicians, restores the military’s prestige and ends its political role, limits the intelligence agencies to external security functions and results in a government that unites the Pakistani nation against terrorism and disintegration.
Musharraf can become part of the Grand National Compromise, salvage some respect, and voluntarily give up on issues relating to a free and fair election. Or he could remain the major wound that must be dealt with before the healing of Pakistan can begin.
The article was published in Gulf Newson January 16, 2008