Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benazir Bhutto: Before her death - 18

Saved by a whisker By MZ

But for Nawaz Sharif, BB and the babas of the MMA between them could have turned the MPC into the greatest and most expensive non event in Pakistan’s political history. In the final hours the host papered over the fundamental differences between the PPP and the MMA on vital issues and pretended to present what Nawaz tried to make it sound like a consensus Declaration. But in actual fact the Declaration reads like a document of differences between the mainstream political parties making up the ARD and the religio-political alliance which goes by the nomenclature of MMA

BB wasn’t there in person. But nothing of the proceedings missed her sharp eyes and ears as she closely followed while sitting in France what was happening at the last week-end’s two-day Multi-Parties Conference (MPC) in London. Journalist-turned-politician, Sherry Rehamn, the PPP’s Information Secretary had kept in continuous touch with Benazir Bhutto through the chat mode of her lap top from the conference room as well as from the closed door drafting committee cubicle in the Orchard Suite of six-star Millennium Gloucester Hotel. And in between various members of the PPP contingent were seen consulting her over their mobiles as well, seeking perhaps specific instructions and answering searching questions.

And as it turned out, without being there in effect she was taking most of the participants except for the Maulanas on a ride. And it was, indeed, a roller coaster ride. It must have been too dizzying for the hosts, the Sharif brothers.

As the drafting committee comprising Imran Khan, Sherry Rehman, Ghafoor Haideri, Safdar Abbasi, Chaudhry Nisar Khan, Ahsan Iqbal, Asfandyar Wali Khan and Mahmood Khan Achekzai were taking too long in reaching a conseunsus, former super duper Interior Secretary of General Ziaul Haq and a close confidante of former President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the very redoubtable Roedad Khan, our own Ayaz Amir and another former civil servant and former Punjab minister in the first provincial government of Musharraf who is also a former Pipian, Shafqat Mehmood were pressed ostensibly into the job of making last minute apeals to an adament BB as they were invited to speak actually to relive the boredom of waiting. And the three did make scintilating speeches.Much better than those by the politicians. And the thrust of all of the three was that if we missed the opportunity today (Roedad) and came out with a ‘wishy-washy’ resolution (Ayaz) at this ‘defining moment’(Shafqat) instead of some concerete proposals for action with deadlines, the Conference would only alienate the people who are all but ready to do an Ayub on Musharraf. Poet Ahmed Faraz also pumped up the spirits with a couple of his stirring poems. But all this to no avail.

While the focus was on the PPP and rightly so because of it being the largest political party in the country and because also of the general impression that it was about to enter in to a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI who is already sharing power in the current set up and also occupies the slot of friendly opposition was in his own subtle manner and playing with the language was wrecking the MPC without appearing to be doing so. His left hand swipe at the Chief Justice in which he doubted the intention of Chaudhry Iftikhar for refusing to resign, his refusal to boycott the forthcoming elections under any circumstances and then his insistance that the resignation option should be used only as a last resort ( the last two positions almost similar to the PPP’s) went largely unnoticed because unlike the PPP delegation which was expressing its position in unambiguous terms, the Maulana had cleverly camouflaged the specifics in verbiage while presenting the position of his party on various vital issues leaving a wide margin to avoid being pin down on particulars.

Take for instance the Maulana’s remark that one needed also to find out why the CJ has refused to resign. Was it because the PCO judge had wanted to save his job or did he do it in the interest of independence of judiciary. The next day he came out with a clarification which was more an attempt to justify his right to doubt the intentions of the CJ. When I asked him how he could do that, he shot back in visible anger: Why can’t I doubt the intention of a person who had taken oath on the PCO. While saying so he had completely forgotten the role he and his party had played in getting the 17th amendment passed and agreeing in return for making him the leader of the opposition ( while the PPP had the numbers) to give Musharraf one year in uniform. When you give a military dictator the constitutional cover for one year how can you turn around and say that he should not get the same cover without your help the next time?

What Imran Khan and the two Sharif brothers have not yet asked themselves is: Why would the MMA help them to oust their benefactor who had given them one whole province and allowed them to share the government in another and who had marginalised the mainstream mass political parties like PPP and the PMLN to allow the real marginal parties like JI and JUI acquire such a huge politcal clout without having to do much? That is perhaps why the PPP is wary of the MMA and that is why perhaps it does not want to sit along with the MMA on any combined opposition platform to launch a movement against Musharraf. Perhaps they fear that the MMA would immediately hijack such a platform and then bargain with Musharraf for the slot of the Prime Ministership after the next election.

Up for another By Anjum Niaz

Observe a chastened Mushahid Hussain. After months of soulful silence following the CJ bungling by the ISI and military intelligence, he has gingerly bounced back. But his moral compass no longer points singularly towards the Army House. He has slipped into a second skin, immersing into his iPod and books that give him more satisfaction than propping PML-Q dummies or saving the sinking fortunes of Pervez Musharraf. And this is saying a lot for a man who began reaching for the sky a hefty 25 years ago stampeding his way into the corridors of power to pick up the crown that never did fit him.

His bosses, counting from Murtaza Pooya, owner of the defunct daily The Muslim, the Sharif brothers; General Musharraf and Chaudhry Shujaat valued his dynamism and political horse sense. They relished his mother wit but never adopted him as their own the way Ayub Khan ‘adopted’ Z. A. Bhutto as his ‘son’. Always a foster child, Mushahid served his masters well only to be discarded later.

Pooya made the 20-something his editor and sacked him later; the Sharif family ditched him by hopping on to a Saudi-bound plane on December 10, 2000, leaving the incarcerated Mushahid to fend for himself; and now the blundering Gen Musharraf wants Mushahid out of the PML- Q secretary-generalship.

Shujaat Hussain is left holding the baby. The elder statesman and the younger maven enjoy a joyous rapport. Actually the word is ‘frequency’ that Chaudhry Shujaat repeats when asked about the relationship. Mushahid’s only constituency is the Chaudhry (currently battling to keep Benazir out). He often drops in at the senator’s home in Islamabad, sits down to a hearty meal of saag roti and Punjabi delicacies served by the family housekeeper who fusses over him continuously replenishing his plate with hot chappatis made out of whole-wheat flour.

For a catnap and moment of Zen, the Chaudhry retires to Mushahid’s bedroom, feeling fully at home, Dushka Saiyid, the lady of the house being away at Cambridge where she holds the Allama Iqbal chair.

Phone calls from the prime minister or the chief minister Sindh are taken by the two in casual stride. Away from the madding crowd of PML rowdies and crawling intelligence spooks, both the men plot their next move, coolly and collectedly.

Meanwhile, the trailer of the blockbuster ‘Who will call the shots?’ is on from Washington to Islamabad. For running commentary contact Mushahid Hussain. He makes the clips look promising, offering excitement-filled viewing of people in power and their desperate bid to hang on at all costs. As America pushes Benazir Bhutto to centre-stage for becoming the comeback kid, notice her protests get louder and her demands bolder. The nightmare of her knocking at the gates of Islamabad and seizing power on the shoulders of her electorate is making the PML-Q unquiet.

It’s a hand-holding moment for the party chief and his secretary-general. Today, both men need each other as never before (CM Punjab Pervaiz Elahi being out of the equation). They either sink or swim together. They have already received a blunt “message” from the lady to move over. Shujaat and Mushahid are in a huddle fearing a timeout from their protector-in-chief Gen Musharraf and his military intelligence.

Even messenger Tariq Aziz, who until recently was partial to the Chaudhries because he too belongs to Gujrat, appears in a hurry to bring Ms Bhutto back. Love me, love my PML-Q, until now Gen Musharraf’s signature tune has gone silent. Benazir has spurned the offer to form a troika -- Musharraf, Benazir and Shujaat – and rule over us for the next five years as president, prime minister and kingmaker respectively.

Ladies and gentlemen, the witches’ brew gets dense: the PML-Q has retaliated by swiftly moving to expose Benazir Bhutto’s doublespeak. They planted a Trojan Horse at the multi-party conference (APC) held in London last week. Big, bulky and bearded Maulana Fazlur Rehman was selected to stir up trouble for Amin Fahim who was Benazir Bhutto’s proxy at the meeting. Everyone knows about the Musharraf-Benazir deal. Putting the PPP into the pressure cooker, the Maulana’s assignment from PML-Q was to get the PPP on a 24-hour notice to agree to resign en bloc if Musharraf seeks re-election from present assemblies (to call Benazir’s bluff). Poor Amin Fahim was seen fanning his face and Sherry Rehman sheepishly chewing gum with eyes downcast when the final resolution was read out badly mauled by Nawaz Sharif’s sodden delivery in English. Seen grinning was the MMA Maulana Fazlur Rehman, thoroughly enjoying having shoehorned PPP into signing the APC Declaration.

Fazlur Rehman, has played a drop shot for which he will be richly rewarded on his return. Will the PML-Q win the grand slam or will the PPP walk off with the shield that comes complete with the power kit containing an owner’s manual on how to rule? How to compose a cabinet of ‘yes men’? Whose house to bug? Who to get the agencies to harass? The list of ‘how to’ and ‘who to’ is endless and requires a new column to story. Maybe some other time we can go over this exercise, a story that we’ve heard too many times before.

What does America say? You know what? On July 4, the new lady ambassador locked up in her fortress at the Diplomatic Enclave celebrated US Independence Day as fireworks electrified the sky just a mile away (as the crow flies) over Lal Masjid. What she whispered to her two guests – Chaudhry Shujaat and Mushahid Hussain was for their ears only.

Courtesy: Dawn Magazine 15 July 2007

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