By Shaheen Sehbai
KARACHI: The sudden prospect of Asif Ali Zardari sitting on the most powerful and sensitive political hot seat in the country has shaken everybody. There is a greater sense of uncertainty in the political class as well as the civil and military establishment, although the presidential election should have removed the clouds of doubt hanging over the political scene.
Yet no one has any clue how to handle this situation as Mr Zardari has an absolute right to contest for and claim that hot seat, his controversial past and spotted career notwithstanding. But stepping back a little and trying to get an overview of the situation, two facts should become crystal clear about who is responsible for this mess and who is being asked to clean it.
No one can deny that Gen Pervez Musharrafâ€™s nearly nine years rule, or misrule, landed the country in the political turmoil that we are facing. During this period political parties and leaders were hounded, persecuted, terrorised, exiled, abused and deprived of their genuine rights. Musharraf played havoc with the system, it is obvious.
Political parties and leaders were on the run in exile, never being allowed to settle down, organise or prepare for taking over the state responsibilities. As an individual Mr Zardari was the last person expected to climb the political ladder so fast that within eight months of Benazirâ€™s assassination, he is now poised to be the countryâ€™s head of state, master of the nuclear button and supreme commander of the armed forces of Pakistan.
In short, the leaders and parties are not prepared, or capable, of handling this mess. It would, in fact, be unfair and totally unjustified to expect them to clear the nine-year year old backlog, in less than nine months. Basically, though, the responsibility of correcting the situation is on the elected representatives who should chalk out a plan, call an all-party conference, invite the Army leadership to reach a consensus or whatever, but they seem either not interested or not too involved in petty politicking.
So then who should do it? After the politicians, in all fairness, it is the prime responsibility of the Pakistan Army, which under Gen Musharraf created this situation and which should now undo the wrongs that Musharraf perpetrated for years. When Musharraf decided to quit as Army chief, he did not, and could not, absolve the rest of the Army generals from the blame they must share.
Just by walking away under the pretext of â€œneutralityâ€ and protecting their ex-commander by giving him a Guard of Honour, as if he was leaving after performing tremendous feats for Pakistan, the generals who collaborated with Musharraf cannot get away from their national duty and responsibility to undo the wrongs.
But Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has walked away from everything and the poor politicians, led by Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, have been left with the dirty task of sweeping the stables and washing the left over dirty linen.
It would have been fair for the Army after Musharraf had quit to undo his decisions, all taken to prolong his own power, so that the politicians had a clean slate to start their innings. That did not happen and now we are left with the prospect of a massively intricate political situation, with no one having a clue how to untangle it.
Still it would be a right thing if the Army decided to correct the situation even now, unless they do not want to take the heat to a point in a few months when the generals will be sucked in, walking in like saviours to save the situation, like it has been happening in the past.
Honesty and sincerity demands that the present Army generals put in their bit to help correct the distortions left over by Musharraf. They are the ones with guns to implement decisions. This time their efforts would be in the interest of Pakistan, as against using that power to perpetrate the interests of one man, one general or one junta.
Risking the charge that will instantly be thrown at me that I am inviting the Army to intervene again, like the PFUJ secretary-general Mazhar Abbas did rather unjustifiably after my last article, I am prepared to offer the following sequence of steps that the Army must take before the politicians are handed over the full reins of the country, the presidency and the Prime Minister house included:
1) Since Gen Musharraf had imposed an emergency on Nov 3, as COAS, to suspend the Constitution, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani should find a way to undo all that was wrongfully done. It is his responsibility.
2) Kayani should use his influence to restore the judges to the Nov 2 position, because Musharraf threw them out fearing a judgment against him and as the politicians would never be able to reach a consensus in view of their own insecurities and vulnerabilities. It is also a known fact that Gen Kayani did not appear in the Supreme Court to give testimony against the deposed chief justice when the Supreme Court was hearing the case before July 20, 2007. It has been reported, and not denied, that Kayani was against the sacking of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry when he was ISI director-general.
3) He should get the NRO repealed to revert the white-washing of thousands of alleged criminals, mostly those who had struck deals with Musharraf, or whose support Musharraf needed to prolong his rule. These people should be made to face normal process of law and clear themselves, as Asif Ali Zardari had done in almost all of his cases. I still cannot figure out why he had to get himself tainted with the NRO when he had been cleared by the courts any way.
4) Kayani should cancel all the secret deals that Musharraf had made with politicians or foreign powers as these deals are not binding international agreements signed between governments. Gen Kayani or his Army is not supposed to be bound by them.
5) He should persuade others to set up a National Accountability Commission, with men of undisputed credibility, strength of character and certified competence so that all the corruption cases, past, present and future, are sent to it and anyone cleared by it is genuinely considered an honest and clean person. At present the NRO has cast more doubts on its beneficiaries than helping clear their image.
6) While all the politicians, bureaucrats and others are made to appear before this commission, Gen Musharraf must also be brought before it and made to face the charges, instead of providing him a blanket amnesty.
7) When Army power can be used to thrust a one man rule and perpetuate his interests, why canâ€™t Army power be used to undo the wrongs for which the entire institution of the army is facing the blame and Kayani has been forced to push it into the background.
Let the power of the guns and barrels be used, for a change, in the interest of the nation and the people. It is obvious that the politicians cannot clean the dirt as they are neither visionaries, nor that tall, nor experienced, nor prepared nor motivated to look beyond their noses. But the unfortunate thing is that this is the crop of politicians we have and this is what we have to work with. Neutrality is a very pious concept but after throwing all the mud and muck in the political pond, standing on the side as neutral observers would only be a poetic injustice to the nation.