Back in July, we had written that “change may be brewing in Pakistani politics.” Over the last many months the themes of change and the indicators of change have been a frequent subject of discussion here. Our ATP Poll on the key events of 2006 seemed to validate the sense that 2007 may, in fact, be the year of change that many anticipate it to be; but possibly in ways that we do not anticipate.
We at ATP are a patient lot. We did not assume then, and do not assume now, that change awaits around the corner. In some ways, important change has already come. Slowly it has crept upon us and the political calculus in Pakistan today is markedly different from what it was a year ago.
The fiasco with Chief Justice Iftikhar’s removal, the flexing of the muscles by the religious extreme, the posturing by the politicos (including their relative silence at the beginning of the CJ debacle and now the macho statement from Chaudhry Shujaat) are all indicators that add to the indicators we had pointed out back in July. The result, of course, is a constant buildup of the popular fatigue and the democratic desire.
For weeks there has been (increasingly credible) chatter about a possible deal between Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on the one hand and the Musharraf regime on the other. What that would mean for Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz or the Qaaf-League that the Chaudhries put together remains an important unknown.
For days now there has also been (more intriguing but less credible) chatter about some impending change in Gen. Musharraf’s status; within and without the Army. With the military top brass meeting right now there are rumors of the possibility that he just might be persuaded to hand over the Chief of Army Staff position to someone else but remain as President, possibly with the return of BB.
All of this is in the realm of rumors and of the most speculative variety at that. I would not wish to dignify it to be anything more than just that. However, the rumors have now become intense enough and persistent enough that one should at least keep a keen and close eye on them.
The most important new piece in the puzzle may be the abolishment of the ‘Special Operations Division’ of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which was the lead player in pursuing the legal cases against Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Excerpts from The News story on this:
The federal government on Wednesday abolished the Special Operation Division (SOD), a subsidiary of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which was investigating matters related to illegal foreign assets and offshore bank accounts of politicians, including Benazir Bhutto. The federal government closed down the SOD office in Lahore, and the files of the cases of illegal wealth and foreign assets of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari were being shifted to Islamabad.
A senior officer of the management group, Hassan Waseem Afzal, who had been appointed as the head of this division, was investigating the cases of Benazir and other politicians. He had carried out investigations against Benazir and had been awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan. The division was established to probe into the illegal assets acquired by politicians in foreign countries and the ill-gotten money stashed in offshore accounts. Cases against several politicians, including Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, were being investigated by the Special Operation Division…
More telling than this report was a news report on GEO News where host Kamran Khan talks about this in terms of a major indicator of change. More importantly, listen carefully to the views of former information minister Shiekh Rashid on this video clip. He talks, quite candidly, about how some change is certainly coming, suggests that this is bigger than just a cooling down, and even seems to hint that this could change the political equation for everyone including Gen. Musharraf and Chaudhry Shujaat.
Of course, the current information, Senator Durrani, is saying that nobody should confuse “dheel (relief) with deal,” but then people have long since stopped taking him seriously.
So, is Benazir returning? Is Gen. Musharraf leaving?
Eventually, both things will happen one way or the other. At this point these are just rumors. But whether the rumors are correct or not, change is on its way and the essence of the game has already changed.