Saturday, November 10, 2007

Put Your Hand Up If You Think Yesterday's Events Weren't Completely Choreographed

That's funny, I see no hands.

For the uninitiated, let me sum up what happened yesterday. BB promised a rally of thousands of protesters; the police surrounded her house and barricaded her in; and at the end of it all, she went on state television to give a speech. State television! Even the Americans are saying stuff like "We hope we’re seeing a little bit of political theater here."

Now, I don't normally believe in conspiracy theories, mainly because I have an IQ in triple figures. But, honestly, this entire drama was staged. There's no doubt about it. None.

Anyway, I was thinking about what exactly it is BB is trying to do here. If we assume that BB is primarily consumed with attaining power - a safe assumption, I would say - and that there are broadly speaking two ways to go about attaining said power (cutting a deal with the military vs. joining hands with the opposition and then getting elected), then, at some point, is it not the case that the expected utility from joining the opposition is greater than the expected utility from cutting a deal? In other words, the more unpopular Musharraf gets, the less likelihood there is of BB either (a) attaining power or (b) wielding power. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that while cutting a deal with Musharraf even as late as September 2007 was in BB's instrumentalist interests, at what point does the balance shift to the contrary? What hypothetical set of events will it take to convince BB she is better off without Musharraf than with him?

I think the key to that question is her experience in her first two terms. BB - better than most people - knows you cannot govern Pakistan effectively without the military at least quasi-supportive of you. While dreams of a military-free utopia might be pervasive in the Pakistani political psyche at present, please allow me to disabuse those notions. It simply isn't going to happen - the military is too entrenched in the system, and you cannot ignore it or wish it away. With that in mind, it becomes imperative for any leader, even democratically elected ones with large mandates, to have support of the military. That is why I suspect BB is unwilling to let her alliance with Musharraf go at this point. It's almost as if she's decided: either I should be in power with the military (or a military man and his buddies) behind me, or I shouldn't be in power at all. Anything in between is completely pointless.

I close with an excerpt from an article by everyone's favorite BBC newscaster, Lyse Doucet.

Ms Bhutto is back from eight years in self-imposed exile, having done a deal with Gen Musharraf to come home. Some hope she will fight and win another election.

I reminded her of a press conference in 1988 after her first election victory.

Back then, there was also the issue of how she would be able to work with a military which has always distrusted her Pakistan People's Party.

I still remember raising my hand at that press conference and asking about reports she would be meeting army brass who brought an end to martial law after the mysterious death of the former leader of the country, Gen Zia ul-Haq.

"Who had requested the meeting," I asked then. "You or the army?"

In other words, who was really in charge?

She did not really answer my question in 1988.

So I asked it again, in a different way this week, just before we started recording the interview - remarking on how it now seemed she was still in the same place, trying to find a way to work with the military.

Her reply was a startled angry look. I realised I had struck a sensitive nerve.


NB said...

like you said, BB will negotiate with the Army, and while Mush is heading it up, that means that shell be negotiating with him.

The point at which she changes tack is the point at which she anticipates that mush about to lose support within the army due to his unpopularity and consequent lack of utility. Shed then underscore that unpopularity and lack of utility by protesting, tip the scales and negotiate with his successor. But really, I dont see that happening coz mush has covered himself well within the Army it appears

While im obviously unsure about any of this this is my speculative opinion:

This whole drama is not about
A) whether theres a transition to democracy or not
B) whehter she comes in or not

In my opinion shes coming in, and its not a transtion to democracy, its a transitiion from Mush-Chaudhrys to Kiyani-Bhutto.

As you alluded, the drama is about the manner in which she comes in. On the back of protests, or as a complicit Pak-Military/American backed facade.

To an extent its in mushes interest that she appears genuine, but while she is allowed to appear genuine, shes wont be allowed to appear too powerfull, so no big rallies. The power balance within the inevitable future Government between kiyani and BB is possibly whats being determined here.

NB said...

Also, Id say its quite possible that Mush took out the CJ not primarily to extend his tenure, but because he/the army felt the CJ had to go at some point, and better Mush do it than Kiyani (for then Kiyani the appointed successor in the army, upon which so much hinges, would go down in flames with the CJ at whichever point he was ejected). That would likley undermine the next government, and maybe leave BB with a new question marked COAS. Mush was on his way out anyway, so perhaps he felt that the task was better dealt with by him than his successor.