Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Bread and Circuses...

Peace deal notwithstanding, militants in Swat have taken over another town. This comes as Indian intelligence analysts announce that Pakistan has pulled soldiers away from the border in Kashmir to deal with the militants. This article in the Guardian captures the extent of the militants ascendancy in Swat.

Incidentally, while the military has shut down all local private TV channels (the few exceptions include the the Dalda cooking channel and three music video channels -give us bread and circuses!) and have banned radio stations from making news broadcasts, it goes without saying the the militant Maulana Fazlullah's Jihadi radio station in Swat is still on air, along with a host of other Jihadist stations. I recall reading somewhere that there were up to 300 illegal short range radios transmitters in operation. I will try and find the link to that info. Meanwhile, this interesting article from last year gives an insight into how the illegal stations operate.

Benazir's conspicuous liberty while other opposition party members were being arrested in droves has led many to believe that the much ballyhooed 'deal' between BB and Musharaf may still be revived. One possibility was that the PML-Q, who were never terribly happy about dealing with Bhutto in the first place, had convinced Musharaf that he could settle the terms of the deal from a position of strength after imposing the Emergency. It was noticeable that , by her own admission, Benazir had been informed by the government about the imposition of the Emergency beforehand. Furthermore, while other parties called for protests etc., she merely made a lightweight pronouncement that Musharaf should keep his promise to resign from his military post and hold elections on time. No mention of the emergency. That other loyal partner of the military mascarading as an opponent of the regime, Maullanah Fazlur Rahman of the Jammat-e-Ulema-e Islami (JUI (F)) has announced that there is no harm in contesting elections under the PCO (where, for example, it is illegal to criticise the government or any of its members or policies, which would make campaigning an exercise in futility)!

But there seems to be some evidence that things are not all going according to plan. Speaking after the emergency was imposed, the Prime Minister announced that elections could be delayed for up to a year. This sparked off a furor abroad and the initial lukewarm announcements from the U.S. about 'reviewing our aid' to Pakistan were replaced with tougher statements. The E.U. similarly announced tougher measures and yesterday the Secretary General of the UN and the Pakistani ambassador got into a public spat about the emergency. This has led to some furious backpedaling in Islamabad with repeated assurances that elections will be held on time and that Musharaf will quit his post as army chief. Today Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain announced that the emergency would be over in three weeks.

Perhaps goaded on by her erstwhile backers in the west, seeing which way the wind is turning and perhaps realizing that her fuzzy stance on the emergency was at odds with her self-declared image of the "saviour of democracy", Benazir Bhutto has finally made a stronger statement of opposition to the emergency and the government's action against the judges. There seems to be an ongoing spat between the government and the PPP about whether a previously announced election rally scheduled to take place in Rawalpindi will go ahead or not.

While some western media outlets will no doubt present Bhutto as leading the fight to restore democracy in Pakistan, have a look at this article from the pro-PPP Pakistani Daily Times. This is the writer's description of the the PPP leadership flying to Islamabad to NOT have talks with the government (according to BB!)

During the course of the flight I spoke to all the PPP leaders travelling with her and the body language was relaxed and laughter was in the air. Something told me that there might be a chance of dialogue soon with the president.

The journalist went on to ask BB if she was going to become a care-taker prime minister, which she denied. This seems to be obvious, since the spectacle of running for Prime Minister while being the caretaker PM would be a rather odd one. Some people however are speculating that if Musharaf decides to dump the PML-Q once and for all, Amin Faheem, who was the titular head of the PPP when BB was abroad may be a good candidate for the slot. Some analysts are asserting that the emergency may have actually backfired and weakened Musharaf's hand vis a vis the 'deal' with BB.

In the last article I linked to, there is the interesting suggestion that Musharaf may well have achieved some of his limited goals if he had followed the constitutional route and used the support of BB and Maulana Fazlur Rahman to pass legislation in the assemblies curbing the power of the Judges and giving certain emergency powers to the government. The contours of the next government seem to have become pretty well defined by now. Here is my prediction: PPP, JUL(F), MQM alliance with the PML(Q) playing a larger or smaller role depending on how much of the pie they can secure for themselves.

It certainly doesn't leave much hope for any kind of significant positive changes in the country. Its the same old, same old... sigh...

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