Less thank a week ago I had written that "Uncertainty Rules Pakistan." Since then the uncertainty has compounded.
I write this just a few hours before the 13th National Assembly meets in Islamabad and nearly a month since the general elections, and there is still no clear sense on who the next Prime Minister will be. In fact, it is not even clear who the Speaker of the National Assembly might be (the Speaker is generally elected before the Prime Minister and one would have assumed that at least this would not be a subject of speculation at this point).
Gen. Musharraf continues to fumble as seems to constantly loose support on all fronts. His public support is abysmal, his personal safety so fragile that he is rarely seen in public, his control over the political reigns seems strong but the economy is in a free fall and bombings so rampant that his government seems to have no control whatsoever over public safety. Without his uniform he seems to be less and less able to influence, let alone command, his military colleagues. And the patronage he once received from George Bush in USA has also reduced to a trickle as President Bush is himself nearly as lame a duck as Gen. Musharraf and none of his (Bush’s) likely successors has a single good think to say about Gen. Musharraf.
Meanwhile, the judges issue and the lawyer’s demands – the single most poignant political issue in the country – remains unresolved and without any signs of how it might be resolved.
Most disturbing of all is the spate of violence that continues. Karachi and Lahore and Islamabad but were the latest victims in the spiral of violence and mayhem that has left a country demoralized, dejected, and depressed. Bungling US missile strikes inside Pakistan only serve to fuel the rise of new crops of Taliban and others prone to violent means. Too many Pakistanis in too many places seem to be dying without reason. And this does not make for good politics.
In short, Gen. Musharraf has clearly become less popular and more detrimental than anything to the national interest, but the stock of the political parties has also dwindled and once again they are seen as bumbling, self-serving and in disarray. Meanwhile, the forces of violence and extremism continue to rise.
Parliament will meet today not in a celebratory mood but under the heavy clouds of uncertainty, confusion and – frankly – national anger. The prognosis cannot be pleasant and optimism is not a word one can honestly use. But hope we must. Indeed, we must hope against hope. Because once hope is lost, nothing else remains.
Those who will take their oath today are not heroes, but they do have heroic responsibilities before them. No one seems sure whether they will, but they could rise to the occasion. They have it in their power to defy the odds. To deny that which is being feared of them. To rise beyond anyone’s dreams. To do that which no one believes that they will, but which they could. Indeed, they must. To bring back real and meaningful democracy to Pakistan.
Just a few days ago I was speaking on the role of Constitutions in post-conflict societies at the Harvard Law School, I am under no illusion whatsoever that the mere meeting of a parliament means the return of democracy. Democracy demands much more from a nation, from all of us. But this I know. The meeting of the parliament bodes well for democracy. If nothing else, it is a step in the right direction. And for that reason alone, I am happy that the National Assembly is ready to meet. I hope things go well. I will not be holding by breath in celebration or in anticipation, but I will be uttering a silent prayer. A silent prayer for Pakistan. A silent prayer that those who are taking their oaths today will live by them and do justice and honor to the oath they take.