Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why It's Time For Two Political Stalwarts To Say "Thanks For The Memories"

It's a little sad, when you think about it. For both Pervez Musharraf and Hillary Clinton, 2008 was going to be a good year. Back at the beginning of last year, they were both riding high. Musharraf was as popular as ever, with Pakistan's continued economic growth making natural allies of the Army, the business and industrial community, and the urban middle-class, a deadly combination for national elections. Clinton, meanwhile, foresaw a relatively open path to the Democratic nomination, with no fellow candidate displaying the combination of smarts, skill, and political machinery it takes to win elections.

Then 2007 happened. Mush picked a fight with the judiciary and the media; and out of nowhere, a black, urban liberal rose to prominence. In the last six months alone, Mush gave up his uniform - an anchor of political power - and has had his cronies and backers roundly defeated in relatively free and fair elections. Clinton has seen Barack Obama become the front-runner for the nomination, to the point where people who worked in her husband's administration are issuing thinly veiled calls for her to stand down in the name of party unity. This year was supposed to promise much, but here, in the spring of 2008, both Musharraf's and Clinton's fates seem to be sealed.

Just one problem: they don't seem to know it yet.

Why else would they be hanging around? Just yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Gilani (God, that feel weird to type) released the judges whom Musharraf had put under house arrest. Even if they don't all end up back on the bench - and here's hoping Iftikhar Chaudhry in particular does not make it - Musharraf's decision-making powers will be severely reduced. His team's role in events, particularly in the realm of the economy and security affairs - the issues on which he hung his regime's hat on for eight years - are, for better or worse, no longer necessary. The Karachi stock exchange rose to another record high yesterday, making it clear that the business community values stability over all else. And Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have both made it clear that Musharraf's policy of aggressive action against militants will no longer continue. Whichever way you cut it, it's patently obvious to all that Musharraf has no real future other than a purely ceremonial one - and even that might be asking too much if the judges are restored.

Despite this set of realities staring him in the face, Musharraf continues to hang around. He now sounds conciliatory notes remarkably more frequently than he ever did -funny how that whole "necessity, mother, invention" stuff really works. He now says that he has no problems working with the new government and will extend to it his full support. Unfortunately, they don't seem particularly interested in his full support. The jettisoning of Amin Fahim as a Prime Ministerial candidate was in large part due to the perception of his close working relationship with Musharraf (never mind that the relationship existed only because BB and Asif Zardari wanted it to). Pakistan's political class appears ready to move on without Musharraf. If he can't see the writing on the wall, someone should get him a pair of glasses to make it clearer: it's time to go, bro. It's time to go.

And what about everyone's second-favorite Clinton? By all accounts - including those of people within her campaign - Clinton has almost no chance of winning the nomination. And yet she soldiers on, in the hope that Obama will implode, which is possible but unlikely. She continues to lie openly about her time as First Lady - no, she did not help bring peace to Northern Island, and no, she did not visit Bosnia under sniper fire - in an effort to play up her "experience" card, which day by day resembles more a joker than an ace. At some point, admirable resilience crosses over into deplorable intransigence. Hillary Clinton has crossed that line.

And for what? Does the Democratic Party really need weeks and months of infighting? Do they really need John McCain to look like a pretty picture - okay, a picture - standing alone while the Democrats take potshots at each other every day? Is this really healthy? In his latest column, David Brooks compared the campaign to Verdun. And while it is unlikely the Democratic nomination struggle will lead to 900,000 casualties and chemical warfare, his point is well taken. The longer it goes on, the uglier and bloodier it will get, benefiting no one. Except the Republicans, of course.

The fact that neither Musharraf nor Clinton can see what is so obvious to everyone else is both predictable - because no powerful person ever wishes to say "thanks, I'm done" - and sad. It's sad because, like television shows, the end of a political career is a coda to more than just the person's time in the limelight. It serves as a signal to all those whose lives have been touched by the particular actor that, for better or worse, another era is underway. When Lara retired or Friends ended, it didn't just mean that the West Indies would get a lot worse and that TV would get a lot better. It meant that that time in my life - the Lara and Friends' age - was over, along with all the memories attached. It is similar with political leaders. Musharraf and Clinton represent a particular epoch in their respective countries, and indeed the world. When they go, it will mean that a particular chapter in history has closed. But close it they must, before any more damage is done to themselves and the people they wish to serve.


Asad said...

first of all, well written.

secondly, i hope your history of being wrong hasn't effectively doomed obama's aspirations.

third, it's worth noting that whilst fahim's relationship w/ musharraf was encouraged by BB, i believe the contentious points were that (a). the relationship was unacceptable to the rest of coalition, especially since (b). he took it too far, specifically through his repeated contacts with musharraf following BB's assassination. which didn't sit well (to put it mildly) even within his own party.

finally, please elaborate on your reasons for hoping chaudhary isn't reinstated (as opposed to being reinstated and relinquishing his seat as CJP). if you already have, just link us to the post.


Ahsan said...


even after BB's assassination, AF kept his relationship going with Mush in large part (but not entirely) because the Asif Zardaris of the world wanted their feet in two camps at once. once AZ decided which camp he would be in - a decision taken *well* after the elections - AF was toast, through no real fault of his own. the guy paid his dues for years and years and was then stabbed in the back by his own party. such is life in pakistani politics.

as for chaudhry, i think i have mentioned that he is incapable of being a neutral arbiter of legal-constitutional matters as they related to the political process, which is sort of a chief justice's job. in my opinion he should never have been back on the bench after march of last year. i devoted some space to it in this post:


NB said...

Good stuff. While I agree and would not like Iftikhar to return, I think its pretty inevitable that he will make a second comeback.

I would also imagine that the PPP would be unwise to allow him back. It could piss off the army, and it adds a powerful player to the coalition.

This CJ could and (probably will) suo moto anything he feels like, so hes pretty much going to be a senior member of the executive.

Asad said...

zardari's qualms, and by and large those of the entire PPP, stemmed from the meetings AF had with Musharraf outside of the party's knowledge. such meetings occurred very shortly after BB's unfortunate demise. in at least one of those cases he made no mention of said meeting until directly confronted.

even if his contacts was initiated at the behest of BB/AZ, the more covert meetings not only fell outside of acceptable party discipline, but in doing so seemed highly suspicious.

i don't think he was stabbed in the back, so much as he shot himself in the foot. this would be the nature of politics, period.

valid point where chaudhary is concerned. of course it's wishful thinking, but ideally your suggestion is how things should unfold, as in he has the opportunity for reinstatement, but doesn't accept it due to compromised neutrality.