Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benazir Bhutto: Before her death - 19

Mian brothers’ naivete and BB’s blunders


IT was an unprecedented gathering. I am still not sure how many had travelled all the way from Pakistan to London to attend Nawaz Sharif’s MPC. But the number should surely be more than 100. And it must have cost the organizers (PML-N?) a fortune. The Orchard Suite at the five-star Millennium Gloucester Hotel does not come cheap. And then there was arrangement for lunch on the two days for all the participants and some more. And of course, a number of the visitors were provided free board and lodge.

So, if the organisers had wanted to come up with some earth-shaking action plan at this ‘defining’ moment (that is what most speakers claimed it was) one should not grudge them their wishes. And what came out of the two-day deliberations sounded more like a watered down version of the high expectations of many. Some who never were comfortable with Mian brothers’ growing bonds with the PPP were seen to be on the warpath. They saw the consensus declaration as a PPP victory of some sort.

Their disappointment was further compounded by the fact that the bloodbath at Lal Masjid had stolen the thunder out of the MPC. The people most disillusioned were Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Imran Khan and some Urdu and English language columnists who had been building up a big hype over several weeks about the conference. The Mian brothers perhaps felt not only were they losing a lot of money and efforts but were also about to be written off from the political scene once the MPC was over. They were, therefore, in the right frame of mind to the suggestions of ‘now or never’. So, the mini-MPC and the birth of APDM.

Could it be that the PPP-PML-N honeymoon is finally over? And the nation perhaps is about to witness another unlikely honeymoon. This time between PML-N and JUI-F.

It is another matter that Maulana Fazlur Rehman was not at all comfortable with the nomenclature of the grand alliance. He wanted to name it with something which would rhyme with the MMA. It was only when Nawaz Sharif put his foot down rather forcefully that the Maulana relented.

That the Maulana had come to the conference to play the role of the spoiler was missed by many, even though nobody liked what he had said about the Chief Justice on the very first day. He did not win the hearts and minds of the nationalists from Balochistan when he said the blowing up of pipelines and power poles in the province where Maulana’s JUI-F is part of the coalition government should also be condemned in the declaration. Even on the issue of resignations from the parliament, his position was not very much different from that of the PPP, but by playing with the language on which he has almost full control he made it sound as if while the PPP was not willing to resign under any circumstances, the JUI-F would use it as the last resort. And the Maulana recorded another victory at the cost of consensus when while announcing the results of the mini-summit, Mr Sharif made it clear that he wanted the restoration of the 1973 constitution as it stood on October 12, 1999, which in effect meant that the clauses which the PPP had wanted untouched like the voters’ age, joint electorate and women’s and minority seats and agreed to in the consensus declaration would also have to go. It was Chaudhry Nisar who had whispered to Mr Sharif to mention the decision to the effect. But why do you have to bend backward so much to appease the Maulana, Khan Saheb?

Interestingly, and perhaps advisedly, the participants of the MPC refused to be diverted by the bloody happenings at the Lal Masjid. Even on the day the APDM was formed, the participants kept their eyes focussed on the real issues. Of course, on both occasions, especially on Wednesday when mopping up operations were going on in Islamabad, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Maulana Fazlur Rehman did express their deep sympathies with the families of those whose members were killed in the operation and condemned the government for storming the Masjid and Madressah without ensuring that there would be minimum loss of life. The Maulana went out of his way to criticise Benazir Bhutto for supporting the action. In fact, he said he came to attend the mini-summit only when Nawaz Sharif had assured him that the PPP had been stopped from attending the conference. But later PML-N sources said that everyone in their camp was taken by surprise when the PPP delegation arrived and participated in the deliberations until the final decisions were taken. “We could not have asked them to leave once they had arrived, “confided the PML-N source.

Sources close to the PPP said that the party leadership was of the opinion that the unity of the APDM would not last for more than a few weeks. “They are also convinced that the Maulana would make it impossible for the alliance to hold the very first public meeting planned to be held in Quetta on August 9,” the sources added.

“There would finally be a mullah-military link-up once again serving their deep-rooted mutual political interests with the Mian brothers left holding the empty sack,” a PPP stalwart refusing to be identified added again perhaps trying to justify in his own mind the party’s decision not to go along with other opposition parties.

“With the Mian brothers out of the country, Raja Zafarul Haq the chairman of the action committee of the new alliance being hardly a politician of any substance, the APDM would be hijacked by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Imran Khan. They would not even allow Asfandyar who opposes the MMA in NWFP and Acheckzai who is on the other side of the fence in Balochistan anywhere near the alliance. And as far as the PONM is concerned, they would simply disappear in the thick cloud of confusion that the MMA would create to suffocate them,” came the lengthy retort from the gentleman when asked to explain how the PPP workers would feel when a movement is launched against the military dictator without their flags leading it.

But then, they must already be a highly disappointed lot listening to their leader announcing over the national and international channels and in press interviews that she has been negotiating for a deal to share power with the military dictator.

It was nothing less than hilarious to hear Benazir say to the CNN interviewer on Monday night that she wanted Musharraf, who according to her is known the world over, to bring money for Pakistan. Does she plan to give him the job of finance minister in her cabinet? Or perhaps knowing very well that foreign donors because of the (as yet unproven, though) allegations of corruption against her would not trust her with their aid, she would need Musharraf’s credibility to help her out. Rumours, however, have it that when after the interview one of her close confidantes pointed out the faux pas, she is said to have (wonder of wonders) admitted: “Yes, that was a blunder.”

July 13, 2007 Friday Jamadi-us-Sani 27, 1428

Rising extremism threatens state’s existence: Benazir By M. Ziauddin

LONDON, July 12: PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto said on Thursday she was now more worried about country’s future than about democracy because, according to her, the rising extremism in Pakistan was threatening the very existence of the state.

Addressing a press conference, she held the extended military rule responsible for the emergence of what she called this dangerous situation and hoped that the army would go back to barracks soon, fair and free elections would be held and there would be a smooth transition to civilian rule.

“Just imagine what would happen if these extremist elements were to take over a number of mosques in the country and challenge the writ of the government. How is the army going to cope with this situation?” she asked.

She said the army was already over extended and called for immediate end to its operation in Balochistan.

She did not rule out the possibility of the PPP joining the new alliance-- All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) --as and when it felt the time had come to do so.

She said though she was opposed even to the holding of the MPC at this juncture, still she agreed with most of the resolutions passed at the two-day conference.

“We, however, have reservations on some portions of it.”

Despite a barrage of questions which were aimed at forcing her to say something unsavoury against Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Ms Bhutto refused to oblige.

It was clear from the way she talked about even the MMA that she was trying to refute an impression gaining strength since the formation of the APDM that the PPP was out on a solo flight and was also seeking an accommodation with the military-led government.

She said the PPP was opposed to a uniformed president and also to the idea of Gen Musharraf getting re-elected from the present assemblies. She said the time for resigning from the assemblies was when the Election Commission would announce the schedule of the re-election of the president from the present assemblies.

However, she added, she did not expect the EC to call for such an illegal and immoral election. She also said that the best time to form a grand alliance of all political parties was when the government would finally rig the polls to try to steal the forthcoming general elections.

“We can spread out through the length and breadth of the country and build up enough pressure on the government to relent through a unified agitation.”

She claimed that the ARD was intact and that most of its members had not joined the APDM. She also claimed that there was no difference between the objectives of the ARD and the APDM.

She refused to question the intention of Nawaz Sharif in going ahead with the formation of the APDM minus the PPP.

She said she was in a long-drawn dialogue with the military regime but so far there had been no deal.

“I am not having secret talks. I am telling the whole world what I am doing. We have not reached a deal because we have made it clear that no deal which undermined the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan was acceptable to the party,” she said.“We want fair and free elections, but if about 30 per cent of voters are missing from the electoral lists and 26 per cent are fake and duplicate names you cannot expect the elections to be fair,” she added.

She also objected to the creation of a large number of unnecessary polling stations and alleged that someone closely related to Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi was doctoring the electoral lists sitting in a safe house in Islamabad.

She said the party had written to the EC seeking an explanation, but so far it had not responded.

“When we asked for the electronic lists of voters, we were told the EC was not obliged under the Constitution to do so. We received the same answer when we asked them to put the voters’ names on the web page,” she added.

Explaining the PPP’s position vis-à-vis the MMA, she said that in the first place the two parties were ideologically poles apart and, secondly if one went by how the religious alliance earlier ditched the opposition parties and joined hands with the ruling party to get the 17th Amendment passed which allowed Gen Musharraf the needed constitutional cover to continue to rule in uniform.

“They are now sharing power with the government. So we think they cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hound. They should first resign and then we might re-consider our decision not to join the APDM.

“This is how we feel, but may be the MMA would not repeat what it did in 2002 and instead this time it would join the forces of democracy, so we are prepared to give them the benefit of doubt, but still it is not the time for us to go and sit with them in a grand alliance,” she contended.

She condoled the deaths of so many people in the Lal Masjid commando operation and also prayed for the army personnel who lost their lives while fighting the extremists.

She demanded an inquiry either by the Supreme Court or by a parliamentary committee to find out how so many militants gathered at the site with so many weapons right under the nose of the intelligence agencies.

She also wanted to know who allowed the two cleric brothers to occupy illegally the government land and asked: “Who had helped the late Ghazi to be released when he was earlier arrested for harbouring terrorists and having in his possession illegal arms?”

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