Monday, September 25, 2006

The coup-er becomes the coup-ee (but not really)

I read this story with considerable interest. The political situation is on such a knife-edge in Pakistan that a blackout (which is a truly a mundane event back home) led people to believe that there may have been a coup. There are a couple of issues here that I think bear mentioning.

One, my track record on predictions notwithstanding, a coup against Musharraf is highly unlikely. Opposition to him is concentrated in the lower/officer ranks of the army and, as I read here and here, he got rid of senior army personnel who don't share his vision for Pakistan very quickly after September 11, 2001. Is everyone in the military happy with Musharraf? No, of course not. But I think the top leadership supports him, and that's what matters, at least if we're talking about a coup. I think he's much more likely to be assassinated than toppled in a coup, if only because an assassination won't need the support of the top brass of the military.

Two, I really think Musharraf needs to understand that a continuation of the status quo after 2007 would be unsustainable at best and completely, utterly disastrous at worst. When I say continuation of the status quo, I mean him retaining both the presidency and his uniform, parliament dominated by a rag-tag collection of political opportunists who don't share the president's vision (i.e. the Chaudhrys and the rest of the Q-League), and a marginalisation of the two biggest parties in Pakistan, the PPP and the PML-N. There are simply too many people unhappy right now. Let's list them, shall we? The aforementioned PPP and PML-N (because they want to play a role in the system rather than exist outside it), the religous parties (because they don't want to fight terrorism and are unhappy with Musharraf's alliance with the U.S.), the NGO/liberal crowd (because of the religion column issue, the Mukhtaran Mai issue and the Hudood issue), the middle class (because of rampant inflation), the Hamid Gul/Mirza Aslam Beg/ISI crowd (because of the alliance with the U.S. and the attempted rapprochement with India), the Baluchis (too obvious), the Sindhis (Kalabagh), the Pathans (a little bit Kalabagh and a little bit Waziristan) and, of course, local publishers (because Musharraf chose Simon and Schuster Ltd for In the Line of Fire, hitting a bookstore near you soon). Meanwhile, the only people who are happy are the property and business owning elite and, uh, that's it.

What can be done? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's almost too simple, which is of course why it'll never happen. You ready? Ok, here goes: reach out to the PPP. Offer Benazir the Shaukat Aziz role in the short term, with a promise that soon enough (perhaps 3 years, i.e. 2010) you'll step aside and she can become President, in an election she will surely win. Give up the uniform and leave the army in the hands of someone you trust. Tell the Mindless Medieval Assholes to go fuck themselves and to fight an election on just their deeds not words, of which there are very few (billboard destroying aside). And get on the phone to Saudi Arabia, and tell Nawaz bhai he can come back.

This makes sense on so many different levels it boggles the mind. Musharraf's true ideological ally is the PPP. Of this there can be no doubt. He wouldn't have to waste precious time and energy debating no brainers like marathons, religion columns and Hudood laws. The PPP also happens to be the one true national party Pakistan has. So it would help on the inter-provincial harmony front. And it would be massive for the stability of the political system, Mush and BB sharing power; Nawaz in the opposition, just like it was meant to be. I really can't imagine three people who need to have a ménage à trois more than these three. If I was a Pakistani mother, I'd say "Aww, they're so perfect for each other."

Like I said, it'll never happen though, because I don't think Musharraf's ego (or BB's, to be fair) is small enough for this type of power-sharing agreement. There have been rumblings, however, that something might be up vis-a-vis Musharraf's people and BB's. I guess one can always hope.

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