Politics Returns to Pakistan: Where From Here?

Posted on August 3, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, ATP Poll, Politics
67 Comments
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Adil Najam

The good news is that politics – in the good sense of the term – is back in Pakistan. The bad news is that it is not clear where it is going.

Today we heard the news of the Supreme Court asserting its independence again by ordering the release of Javed Hashmi. I also want to share the results of our most recent ATP Poll – on the ‘new BB-Musharraf deal.’ I put it in inverted commas because there is much more speculation about this than fact.

ATP Poll on Benazir Bhutto - Pervez Musharraf Deal

But, before that, the news of the day. Which is that the Supreme Court has passed an order directing the concerned authorities to immediate issue the order for release of the incarcerated Muslim League-N Acting President, Javed Hashmi.

According to BBC News:

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has granted bail to opposition leader Javed Hashmi, who was jailed for inciting mutiny in the army, forgery and defamation. The former acting president of a Pakistan Muslim League faction was sentenced to 23 years in jail in 2004. Mr Hashmi was effectively serving at most seven years in jail as he was handed seven different prison terms running concurrently.

He was arrested in 2003 over a letter critical of President Pervez Musharraf. Mr Hashmi’s appeal against his sentence is yet to be taken up for hearing by the high court in Lahore. But the country’s Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry, acting on a separate review petition, granted Mr Hashmi bail saying that he had already served his sentence. “If periodic remissions are counted, he has already served his entire sentence,” Chief Justice Chaudhry said, while granting bail to Mr Hashmi. “Even if remissions are not allowed to him, he has nearly served the sentence, counting the length of his imprisonment before and during the trial,” he added.

… Javed Hashmi was arrested after circulating a letter bearing a military letterhead which was purportedly written by disgruntled officers. It called for an inquiry into alleged corruption in the army’s senior ranks and demanded a judicial investigation into a Pakistani military operation in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1999. The authorities claimed the letter, which was also highly critical of Gen Musharraf and his alliance with the United States, was a forgery. Mr Hashmi’s allies said they believed the letter was genuine and that the charges of forgery were politically motivated. He was convicted at a trial behind closed doors in the city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. Mr Hashmi’s trial was widely criticised as “politically motivated” by observers and opposition groups. The US and other foreign governments had expressed concerns over lack of transparency in the trial.

Is this a sign – one hopes – of a revitalized and energized Supreme Court after its reinstatement of the Chief Justice? We certainly hope so. Or is this a sign that the Musharraf government is reaching out not only to the PPP but also to the PML-N? That will also be a good thing. Or is the meaning of this something very different altogether?

Whatever its meaning, this, I think, is one more data point in the growing trend of ‘politics’ – in the good sense – having returned to Pakistan. The results of our most recent ATP Poll seems to suggest that same. But it also shows that there are more questions in Pakistan politics today, than answers.

Our recent Poll was a repeat of an earlier poll we had conducted back in April when rumors of such a deal had first surfaced. We asked the same question and gave the same options as before. That is: “What would a Benazir-Musharraf Deal Mean for Pakistan?” Of course, much had happened between April and July – including the Lawyers movement and the Lal Masjid operation – so we wanted to see how opinion of ATP readers had changed. Here is what we found:

First, the majority opinion remains that the deal will make things WORSE in Pakistan. Importantly, the percentage of people thinking so has increased – from 43 percent of the polled in April to 59 percent now.

Second, the percentage of people thinking that it will make things BETTER has also increased – from 16 percent to 21 percent. But this opinion remains a clear minority.

Finally, the paradox above is explained by the fact that the number of people who think it will make NO DIFFERENCE have gone down dramatically – from 41 percent to 18 percent. From the numbers it seems that the people who think it will make a difference has gone up drastically but most of them think it will make things only worse.

Like any web-based poll, this is only indicative of the type of people who visit our page and is NOT a scientific poll by any stretch. Some 654 people had voted in the April Poll and 1023 people voted in our July Poll. (I suspect, however, that the real number in teh second poll might have been less since some people were able to vote more than once because we moved computer servers during this period and because the poll was hosted outside ATP; however, I believe the results would have still been the same and were stable at these percentages nearly from the start).

The deal is seen to be more important now partly because it is seen to be more real. The real interesting question now is what explains this change and what does it mean. What do you think about this?

To me, this only reconfirms something that I had written in an article for The Friday Times last week on the All-Parties Conference (APC):

The good news is that politics – in the good sense of the word – is back in Pakistan. There is a palpable sense that people are tired of military rule. But what we are seeing is much more than boredom with authoritarianism. There is a clear realization that political problems need political solutions. That politics may not always be the most efficient way of doing things, but it is the most legitimate. That institutions do mater. That the great issues of state and policy cannot be resolved through simple managerialism. That nations need leaders, not Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).

The bad news is that the one group that seems even more unprepared for this sea change in public sentiment than Gen. Musharraf and the ruling PML-Q, are the opposition political parties. The recently concluded All Parties Conference (APC) demonstrated exactly how. On display in London was the same petty bickering, hollow sloganeering, lust for personal power, and the disconnect from the real problems of Pakistanis today that has so often turned so many Pakistanis away from these same political parties. It could be argued that the APC was the only good news that Gen. Musharraf has had in a very long time. It reminded Pakistanis of the poverty of political alternatives to military rule.

This is a great shame. The people of Pakistan seem quite ready – even eager – for a return to politics — and to meaningful democracy. If the APC is any indicator then it is not at all clear whether our politicians are.

… You have to stand up and say what you stand for. These are momentous times and the people of Pakistan want to be have a say in the nation’s future. This is not simply a question of who the next leader should be; it is a question of what the various leaders stand for. At the end of the day it does not matter if all the opposition parties are united. Why should they be? After all, they are competitors. But it does matter that the people of Pakistan know what the various political parties stand for and who they stand with. The APC failed for many reasons, at least one of them was that it was very evident who the parties stand against, but it was not at all clear what they stood for.

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67 responses to “Politics Returns to Pakistan: Where From Here?”

  1. HarOON says:

    This was an interesting poll. I wonder what would be the result today if same question was asked?

  2. Masood Afridi says:

    Dear Prof. Najam your article in The News today is exactly right. When everyone is doing partisan analysis it is good to read at least someone who is worried about what is happening to ordinary Pakistanis by all this. I loved your description of these people as “clowns, jugglers and dancing monkeys”. I wonder who the “dancing monkey” in all of this is?

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