By Usman Khalid, Director RIFA
The Economist of London has predicted on the basis of polls that Mian Nawaz Sharif, Leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N), would be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. I agree with that analysis. Having just returned from a six week long stay in Pakistan, I would like to say, why? The TUQ (Tahir ul Qadri) ‘sit in’ took place a couple of hundred yards from my house in Islamabad. I would also like to share with readers what it meant – something that the local and the international media missed.
Everybody in Pakistan believes that election results depend largely on the way the ‘entrenched’ electable turn. The entire strategy of Imran Khan, leader of TIP, is based on that and the ‘youth vote’. President Asif Zardari – a consummate politician – has made a plan to win in 2013 Elections on the basis of sure winners – issues as well as politicians. But I believe that Imran as well as Asif Zardari are mistaken. The people are no longer driven by ‘kinship’ with candidates; they are mainly driven by their concern for national security – internal as well as external. The nation of Pakistan is more patriotic, more united and more certain of what is good for the country is also good for them. A significant minority does take part in political meets and sectarian processions but often because of the attraction of a free meal and a chance take home chair or two. Every one was surprised at the discipline shown by TUQ followers in Islamabad. The same discipline had been shown only in the meetings of MQM and JUD, or processions by Shia organizations and Defense of Pakistan Council. Discipline is a value ingrained during upbringing or training. It is easily inculcated when the leaders demand and reward discipline.
Dr TUQ organizes his followers in communes of sorts where members help each other ‘through thick and thin’. This is the same phenomenon that binds ‘generous’ local leaders with their ilk. The MQM is one political party that organized its constituency in the cities as ‘communes’ and the core of its leadership is Shia. That an important Shia leaders – Agha Murtaza Ali Poya – was always present by the side of Dr TUQ informed the country of the emergence of a new alliance – one between Shia and moderate Sunnis. It is a benign alliance the objective of which is ‘security’ in the face of rise of extremist led by the Takfiri cult. If the USA, Canada or other Western countries supported Dr TUQ it is a change in policy that is entirely welcome. Until the Iranian Revolution led my Imam Khomeni, the Shia were the allies of the USA and Israel. But everything changed after that revolution. Now Iran is the leading champion of Palestinian liberation. Shia led Hezbollah of Lebanon is the only force that ever defeated Israel in battle. The erstwhile friends have been bitter enemies since the Revolution. The joint ‘sit in’ may well turn out to be return to days when Iran and the USA were friends and allies. This is not unexpected; this is practical politics. The Al-Qaeda and other Takfiri groups have had Saudi support which has sustained US ambivalence that is largely responsible for the rise of anti-US cults. After all, the Takfiri led by al-Qaeda have taken no notice of the change and persist in massacre of Shia in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Is it not time, they were sent a message?
There us yet no sign of a shift in the policy of Taliban towards the USA. But the ‘sit in’ in Islamabad could well mark a watershed in politics of Pakistan. The MQM realized that its policy of defiance of the Executive and Judicial authority of the state that underpinned its absolute power in Karachi and other cities of Sindh until recently has become counter-productive; more Shia are being killed than members of other communities. The support provided by the MQM to Dr TUQ from within the Government was crucial to reaching a deal.. Imran Khan, as usual, said he welcomed the support by TUQ to what was the stand of TIP all along PML(N) responded by assembling an alliance of all opposition parties. Imran Khan was conspicuously isolated and sidelined. But there is another game in town being played by the very same players. The name of the game is public support as against the TUQ game which was about US support. The USA has realized that any role it gives to India in Afghanistan would end in the USA being completely ousted from Central Asia. Pakistan holds the key to peace in Afghanistan and the region.
Patriotism, which had been out of fashion in Islamabad, is the focal point of ‘people’s power’. The people see the MQM and ANP as India sponsored parties. The PPP, which was the nemesis of both under Benazir rule, is now the most allied ally of President Zardari. The constituency of the PPP does not approve of that. He has exacerbated the situation by playing the ethnic card – naming the Frontier Province as KPK, giving in to MQM demand on local government, trying to sow discord in the Punjab loading the dice in favor of Seraiki speaking in South Punjab. But this is not working. The people see President Zardari as the ally of India sponsored parties and now giving entry to TUQ into his coalition. But there is another side to Dr TUQ. Under the cover of presenting a moderate and peaceful image of Islam, he has declared Jihad in Kashmir to be un-Islamic. All those impressed with the exemplary discipline of the ‘sit in’ in Islamabad, took notice of his stand on Kashmir. The patriotic majority which, contrary to popular belief, in not a majority only in the Punjab but in all the provinces of Pakistan, will vote for Nawaz Sharif and the parties allied to him. That is the basis of my forecast that PML(N) would win Elections 2013.
The last time PML(N) won a big majority – more than 2/3rd of all seats in the National Assembly – was in 1996. Within a short period of time he had made so many mistakes that the people heaved a sigh of relief when his government was overthrown by General Musharraf in 1999. Electoral victory of the present opposition is in sight but end to misrule in Pakistan is not. Mian Nawaz Sharif has announced no new policies; added no new talent to his team; and he persists in calling his economic and security policies that resulted in the humiliation at Kargil and brought Pakistan’s economy to the brink of collapse as ‘success’. I remember having conveyed a message from eminent Lawyer – Lord Gifford – to Benazir Bhutto after her government has been dismissed in 1991. The message was: “You will come back to power again, but you should know what to do when you do”. No body ha asked me to give advice to Mian Nawaz Sharif. But if I was asked I would give the same advice that Lord Gifford gave to Benazir Bhutto. Mian Sahib is surrounded by the very same losers who helped him lose twice after the people gave him their trust and reposed confidence in him.