Sunday, December 30, 2007

Blind Faith

Byline by M J Akbar: Blind Faith

If you want to understand Pakistan today, try and imagine this scenario in India. It is 1984, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale escapes during Operation Bluestar and disappears into an inaccessible range of the Himachal Himalayas. The Indian armed forces cannot find him; although Delhi will never admit it, Bluestar is a failure. The militants, operating under the command of General Shabeg, regroup, their loyalty to the ideological leadership of Bhindranwale reinforced by success in battle. Anger against Bluestar arouses the Sikh peasantry to the kind of fury and passion it displayed during Banda Bahadur’s war against the Mughals. The young take up militancy in self-generating numbers, making casualties irrelevant to the insurgency. Bhindranwale remains in regular touch with the insurgents, who now have safe sanctuary in certain gurudwaras, since the Indian government is hesitant to invade sacred space after the counter-productive calamity of Bluestar.

Simultaneously, inspired by Punjab, a violent jihad explodes in Kashmir, far more intense than the conflict that lacerated the valley in the Nineties. The Kashmiri jihad finds its own leader, and works in coordination with Bhindranwale. India’s military and paramilitary forces are so deeply engaged in the battles of Punjab and Kashmir that they have to thin out their presence along the China and Bangladesh borders, opening up options for those in the neighbourhood who are hostile to India’s unity.

By 1996, the Indian armed forces are battle-weary at the base and defiant at the top. They have grown tired of civilian politicians and parties that do not understand the meaning of "a free hand". When a fractious coalition patches together a government in Delhi, the Prime Minister is unable to provide any direction at all. He spends more time plotting to survive than planning to save India’s integrity. Kashmir’s jihadis taunt Delhi daily, and take a heavy toll on the armed forces. By this time, the South also has become vulnerable, with the LTTE finding friends on the mainland and terrorism becoming a constant threat in Tamil Nadu. Assam is ablaze. There is a coup in the name of national unity. The general who becomes India’s dictator is widely welcomed by the nation.

By 2000, however, the Army dictators have proved no better than the old politicians, and in the process destroyed the credibility of the democratic institutions by swearing in stooge politicians into their government, which naturally is headed by a toothless "Prime Minister". In fact, the government has lost control everywhere outside Srinagar, Ludhiana, Jullundur and Chandigarh. 9/11 saves the Indian dictators because they rush help to the America-led Nato invasion of Afghanistan, and follow it up with division-strength support to the American invasion of Iraq.

America guarantees the security of the China border. Pakistan is not a serious threat except for its encouragement of the surrogate war, and Bangladesh too weak to challenge India militarily.

By 2005, prices have steepled, the economy has tanked, the nation is in disarray; defence swallows up the budget. If the insurgency has not succeeded it is only because of the will of the Indian people, the sacrifices of the soldiers and an extraordinary geopolitical advantage: India has space. The Army can rely on supply lines and fresh recruitment; it can fight behind the Beas when necessary and at the Jhelum when it wants to. But the dictators have become deeply unpopular, and cannot hold back demonstrations that become more massive by the day. There is domestic censorship, but the world press cannot be prevented from reporting the turbulence. The generals are forced to call for elections. They are scheduled for the first week of January 2008.

The politicians return, some from jail, some from exile, some from hibernation, for the bitter campaign of December 2007. The insurgents choose their targets…

I could go on.

But let us pause to remember the martyrs who did not let India succumb to anarchy. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi must head the list, but there are thousands of officers, jawans, policemen and civilians on that roll call of honour. There are leaders who are now forgotten: Sant Longowal and Beant Singh, the chief minister of Punjab for instance. There are leaders who are still with us: Who can afford to forget the fight that Farooq Abdullah put up against three years of unprecedented militancy in Kashmir?

The forces at play in Pakistan are, of course different, but the end result is a gathering anarchy. Pakistan is teeming with ideologues, banded under dozens of banners, each with its private army, who are determined to turn it into a theocratic state. Parallel forces operate within an informal alliance, their agenda overlapping; jihadis against the West, principally America; an Osama bin Laden still alive and officially untraceable, but in command of his armed sectarians; Taliban warriors who control regions on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. Add to this a polity wrecked by inept civilian politicians and an obstinate military high command, and you have a cauldron brewed by the witches of misfortune.

Benazir Bhutto lost her life in a nation that has lost its moorings and is in danger of being marooned.

This phase of its history began with the judicial assassination of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, now known to the people as the "Shaheed Baba". It will not end with the death of the "Shaheed Beti".

General Zia ul Haq, motivated by personal insecurity, was the first dictator to use death as an instrument of state policy. He was not the first general to stage a coup. But Ayub Khan ran a soft regime. Yahya Khan did not hang Sheikh Mujibur Rahman even though the charge was treason.
After Zia, the path to power became paved with peril and stained with death. The Afghan war changed the local dynamic. The gun was no longer in the custody of the state. It was handed, with the collusion of America, to non-state actors. They have not returned the gun. It has gradually become part of the culture of politics. Benazir Bhutto did not create the Taliban, but she gave it a nation and an unstoppable momentum by launching it in Afghanistan. The bullets, or those shards from bombs that killed her, have debilitated her country and broken yet another hope in a nation desperately in need of some.

Benazir’s friends will remember her with affection; her followers with pride; both will live with tears. Others will ponder over the cruelty of the angel of death, who is meant to take away exhausted lives but seems to hover mercilessly over those who have returned from despair. Benazir had matured enough, according to those close to her, to dull the edge of error. Rajiv Gandhi was plucked away at the very moment when he might have blossomed again. Serfs of this merciless angel arrive from anonymity to shift the course of history.

Blame is not a game, and yet it must be played out if only to seek some semblance of an answer, the only nutrient that can revive the fading embers of hope. Pakistan needs the courage of introspection. It did not introspect when an unknown assassin ended the life of its first Prime Minister, in Rawalpindi as well, Liaquat Ali Khan. It cannot afford complacency. Pakistan must look beyond the names of individuals to eliminate the forces that diet on havoc. Will it do so?

India is in comparative calm, but surrounded by nations at war with themselves. The calm is comparative, for Naxalites are asking for change from within the heart of India.

There is one immediate lesson ahead of many larger ones that will emerge with thought, analysis and an honest look at the mirror. It is simply this: Terrorism is an unmitigated evil. Long before terrorism can wound an enemy, it destroys its masters. If the governing elites of South Asia do not understand this stark, simple fact, they will gouge out their own eyes. Blind elites cannot see either a horizon or a mirror. Who can the blind lead, except the blind?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Big Chiefs

Byline by M J Akbar : Big Chiefs

The results of the Gujarat elections appear on 23 December, and politics resumes in Delhi on the 24th. Judging by the tension on the faces of politicians, no one really believes either the polls or the exit polls. Even the bookies, who were certain the BJP would get a majority, began to cover their bets just before results were due. The miracle of a genuine election is the secrecy of public opinion. A friend who met Narendra Modi after the last ballot had been cast found him a bit withdrawn, a little less than his ebullient sarcastic self. If Modi cannot be sure of what is lying in those electronic machines, you can bet that no one else is certain.

Two points need to be flagged, before we are all exposed as wearing blinkers instead of spectacles. The Congress has everything to gain, and little to lose in Gujarat. Results are measured in the balance of expectations. No one expects the Congress to win, so if it does pull off a surprise the political momentum will shift in its favour. It is difficult to say how long this momentum will last. In 2004, the BJP had convinced itself that three sweeping victories in the states would add up to a majority at the Centre. It is still kicking itself for that mistake.

The BJP has everything to lose in Gujarat, and not much to gain. In cold terms, another BJP victory will be a fairly impressive achievement. We think of incumbency only in terms of Narendra Modi, but the Congress has been out of power in Gujarat for 17 years. Modi replaced a BJP chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, only because the incumbency factor was beginning to wear out the party already. But since hyper-expectations have been established around Modi, a defeat will destabilise the BJP while a victory will be forgotten, or attributed to poison-politics.

The second point is about result comparisons. The normal tendency, in all statistical analyses, is to compare present Assembly results with those of five years ago, in the last Assembly polls. What is missed is the general election results of 2004. The Congress won in 91 Assembly segments in the 2004 polls. In other words, it won a slim majority in Gujarat, which has 180 seats. For Modi to win, he would have to reverse a natural slide that became all too evident in 2004. The Congress, on the other hand, needs to retain its 2004 tally to emerge as an undisputed champion. Modi has to win back lost seats. Modi’s task is harder.

Those who think that the Gujarat election results will determine the date of the next general elections miss the point. The government is not being brought down by the BJP. The government is in danger because its support from the Left has wobbled. The Congress and the Left are not in conflict over Modi. Their dispute is over the nuclear deal and the strategic relationship with the United States. When the applause dies down after the Gujarat electoral curtain goes up, the debate on the future of the UPA government will return to the deal. The Gujarat elections gave the Congress a little pause for breath, but that is over.

Within the next fortnight or month, the Congress will have to indicate clearly whether it is going ahead with the nuclear deal or not. That is the decision that will determine the date of the next general elections. If the Congress does well in Gujarat, it might be encouraged to test the national waters, but it will be the wrong reason for a decision that must be based on other considerations. The more important question is: if the Congress cannot win, will it regroup within the status quo, or will it still chase the nuclear deal? Certainly the party needs a bit of time now to throw out sops to its core supporters. We are bound to hear talk of a development plan for minorities, for instance; and if there is opportunity for a budget to be placed before Parliament, we can be certain that it will reek of generosity rather than economic reform. This is politics as usual. But there is also a view that too much has been invested in the nuclear deal to let it stagnate in the corner, neither fish nor fowl. This view believes that the Congress can mobilise a vote on electricity, and turn the nuclear deal into a national mantra for an energy-starved country.

There is very little that is general in a general election now. The results in Delhi are becoming a reflection of the popularity of state governments, driven by regional issues. As the federal instincts of India sharpen, the country is being run by chief ministers rather than a Prime Minister. It is their performance that holds the key to which alliance will get how many seats. The BJP’s last hope in 2004 disappeared when the Congress won as many as 12 seats in Gujarat. It is the chief ministers who will deliver the next Prime Minister. They are the Big Chiefs of Indian politics.

A seasonal tailpiece: Since British columnists (unlike Americans or Indians) love sending up VIPs, readers and themselves, one is never too certain whether what they say is a fact, an assertion or a tease. Rod Liddle wrote in the 16 December issue of the Sunday Times of London that he had met a certain Syaikh (sic; normal people would spell this Shaikh) Muhammad bin Shalih al-Uthaymeen, who had been advising British Muslims that to say "Merry Christmas" was forbidden. Assuming that the name is correct and the item is authentic, I have news for this Syaikh.

Islam and Christianity, both Abrahamic faiths, have of course many differences, but there is one important element of doctrine in common. Islam too believes in the virgin birth. Islam does not accept that Jesus died on the cross, and obviously cannot accept Jesus as the last prophet; but the Quran says repeatedly that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. The Quran mentions Mary (Maryam) more times than the New Testament: 34 to 19. There are references to Jesus (Isa) in 93 verses spread across 15 suras (chapters). Verse 91 of sura 21 is one of the references to the virgin birth: "And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples". Verse 45 of sura 3 says: "Behold! The angels said, ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus. The son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter, and of the company of those nearest to Allah’."

The question arose: if Jesus was not born of a man (he is constantly called son of Mary) then it gave credence to the Christian belief that he was son of God. The Quran gave him the status of Adam, who was born of neither man nor woman and was yet not considered divine.
Muslims may not accept the Biblical version of the death of Jesus, but his birth is an essential component of Islamic history. So forget about that silly Syaikh with a silly spelling - and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rise, 2008

Byline by M.J. Akbar: Rise, 2008

Is this the ultimate opinion poll? In early December a press release issued in Islamabad cited an opinion poll conducted by a Boston-based organisation called, slightly obviously, International Public Opinion Polls (IPOP: was the acronym significant?). The respondents in Pakistan, it said, had been interviewed by phone or Internet, and concluded that a very satisfying 74% thought that President Pervez Musharraf’s popularity had risen ever since his tailor had the good sense to change his dress code to civvies. To complement such good news, 55% of the respondents thought that the general elections in Pakistan should be held in early January as announced by the government, without any delay.

All would have been well, except for those pesky fact-checkers who never seem to understand a good thing when they see it, or have any appreciation of the huge burden of national interest that weighs so heavily on the soul of self-appointed dictators. A little bit of checking discovered that there was no such organisation based in Boston, and that the zip code on the address was false. We all know that some of Mr Musharraf’s family live in Boston, but they are not involved in polls in any way.

In the middle of December, an American institution that works for the Republican Party did conduct a poll and discovered that there was only 23% support for President Musharraf, 25% for Nawaz Sharif, and 30% for Benazir Bhutto. Some establishment type in Islamabad taunted these figures. It couldn’t be because someone actually believes that three fourths of Pakistan is anxious to keep Musharraf in power; it must be that old sin of loyalty above the demands of truth. Actually, the President should take comfort in the second set of figures rather than delude himself by staring at the first lot. With 23% of the vote, he becomes a genuine King’s party, and will decide who, between Bhutto and Sharif, will form the government in partnership with him. That is not bad for a chap who can’t take no for an answer.

There is a strange quality to opinion polls on the subcontinent; they matter far more to those in power than to those who elect individuals to power. Opinions are not shaped by opinion polls. They are merely the comfort food of politicians. The voter is never gulled by declared trends. If anything, a frontrunner may be hurt by too repeated an insistence on projected victory because it might leave his supporters complacent and his adversaries energised.

The opinion polls that have emerged after the first round of polling in Gujarat are not as parentless as the IPOP offering in Islamabad, but there is a hint of illusion or bias in what they suggest. The vote difference is too small, making the variables that much more important: a tweak here and a massage there can take figures in any direction you want. It is far more fruitful to watch the face in the crowd. Check out which leader draws the glow on the faces of the audience, and whose meeting raised perfunctory applause and slogans, and you might be closer to the truth. Numbers at a meeting actually indicate very little, but involuntary reactions are more revealing. And of course, there is always the standby reliability of the bookie. The bookie is important because, unlike the journalist, he puts his money where his mouth is. Opinion polls of course are a joy unto themselves: they have fun at your expense, literally.

An election season seems to have begun, and will get into full gear after the results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are known two days before Christmas. Two weeks after Gujarat, the political agenda will have changed so sharply, Gujarat might well have never existed. The time balance on the nuclear deal will be exhausted. Dr Manmohan Singh will have to take a decision on whether he wants the deal or whether he wants his government.

Events that have taken place in the silence of the shadows will determine the results of elections next summer. At the very top of the list will be the price rise of food.

Statistics do not lie outright; they merely tease and mislead. When a government issues a statement that the price rise has only been five per cent, the number says nothing of political importance, although it has great validity as a figure of economic importance. The prices of manufactured goods, for instance, purchased by the middle or upper middle class, might be flat, while the price of food, the prime necessity of the poor, taking away a substantial part of his income, might rise by 10% on an average, and register a 15% rise in essential items. Food prices have been going up consistently in India for the last four years, for a variety of reasons, including tectonic shifts in delivery patterns and a slow but determined shift in the nature of trade. There are variables in availability, as new forms of capitalisation take food out of circulation and into preservative environments. No single change is happening on a dramatic scale, but too many small changes are taking place simultaneously.

Perhaps the most significant change is in the nature of consumption, as rising prosperity among certain sections of India (particularly in the South) changes dietary habits as well as scales up levels of consumption. The demand for wheat in South India is an instance. This may not be because South Indians have suddenly fallen in love with the chapatti and the paratha, but the explosion in the number of bakeries in small towns will provide the answer. Breakfast is becoming a more sophisticated meal. Simultaneously, poverty and indebtedness are driving the marginal farmer to suicide; the price of disparity, or the distance between aspiration and availability, will have to be paid by those in authority.

This is compounded by changes in the international pattern of consumption. An average Chinese person ate 20 kg of beef per year in 1985; today that figure is over 50 kg. The hasty and misguided shift to farming for ethanol-based fuel is creating quiet havoc in the farming sector. At another level, the West continues to subsidise its farmers so that the market forces it advocates for others do not affect its own core constituencies. Three fourths of the world still lives in rural areas — outside the comfort zone of secure subsidies. A billion urban consumers worldwide live around what might be called the urban-anger line. World food prices have jumped a massive 75% since 2005. The knee-jerk reaction might be to blame the jump in oil prices, but this is only one of many factors, and not necessarily the most important one.

To cut a long story short and place it back in perspective, 2008 will see a sharp rise in food prices in India. This is not just an economic statement. This is a political fact in an election year. Any delay in the election date cannot help a government in such an environment. The trigger for an election might be the nuclear deal, but the direction of the bullet will be determined by the price rise. This is one of those bullets which could do a 180 degree turn and travel back towards the gun.

Wealth creation is not synonymous with poverty elimination. A country needs the first, but elections are won by the second.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

War Games

Byline by M J Akbar: War Games

The November campaign might be for Gujarat, but its politics is about the next general elections. The very uncertainty about the date of a general election makes the politics that much more intense. Since no one knows when it might happen, for both individuals and circumstances could galvanise events, you have to be prepared for as early as April and as late as autumn next year.

The end of the last session of Parliament proved, in front of a nationwide television audience, that the government was in a minority on the one policy initiative that has defined its term in office, the nuclear deal with the United States. Even middle-of-the-road parties, like the resurgent BSP, had moved towards the opposition phalanx by the end of the debate.

This leaves Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with just two options. He can either run a minority government, or he can go to the people. The second is obviously more honourable. A government is born by the arithmetic of a plurality in the Lok Sabha, but it survives on a diet of credibility. Without credibility, a government becomes sick, just as an industry becomes sick without capital or revenue. You can continue operations, but only by accumulating losses. In politics, those losses mean fewer seats in the next Parliament.

There is, theoretically, a third option; walking away from the nuclear deal. But that too would mean a decisive dent in credibility. You cannot lead people to the pot of gold at the edge of a rainbow, and then proclaim retreat because you want a few more months in an arid status quo. It would be a very self-indulgent political leader who thought he could get away with such a ploy.

Dr Manmohan Singh is a mild man; that does not necessarily make him a weak Prime Minister. If I judge him correctly, he would prefer to take the high road towards an election, rather than the smudgy path of debilitating compromise. Obviously, this decision is not his alone. But, as an economist, he will have other, and equally powerful, arguments on his side.

The most persuasive, surely, will be next year’s price rise. The government has postponed an increase in oil prices for political reasons, but it cannot postpone the inevitable. The relevant Group of Ministers (headed, but naturally, by Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who seems to get all the work and little of the reward) has no choice but to recommend a hike. The inflationary spike that has been the story of the last two years will convert into a sharp spiral. There is already a subterranean sliver of discontent among the have-nots. Rising prices are the catalyst that could turn them hostile. Any delay in elections would only serve to reduce Congress seats, not increase them. It is a bad bargain to sell the future for a few months of the present.

Why cannot elections wait till the scheduled spring of 2009? The political agenda has messed up the dates on the electoral calendar: that’s why. For starters, after the confrontation between allies on the nuclear deal, the limp would be too long. Instead of just one foot being a drag, the government might get static, with both feet injured. A general election in 2009 would also be held according to the redrawn boundaries and new-reserved constituencies for Dalits to account for demographic changes. Many dozens of MPs would have to fight elections in constituencies they would hardly recognise. There is strong pressure on all parties to hold elections before the end of 2008, when old constituencies remain intact. There is also the whiff of a controversy that could explode into a fireball. There are protests in Bihar that Muslim voters have been artificially merged into reserved constituencies, making them ineligible to vote for Muslim candidates. Which government in its senses would risk wading through such a boiling cauldron?

Every country has an army, but most countries, fortunately, do not go to war at the drop of an intelligence analysis. What do the big brass of defence services do during the long fallow periods between conflicts? They indulge in war games, simulating reality on the planning board and keeping the boys busy in exercises that come as close to a projected battle situation.

Politics in a democracy is not all that different, except that there is far more warfare. Elections come once in four or five years; the time in between is consumed by planning for their outcome. Government decisions are tailored not just for the public good but also for the political fit: the voting constituency must be served before the electorate is addressed. Even as words fill the air, substantive issues are being given a wet run in Gujarat before they face the final test in a general election. The big three are economic policy, as seen through the looking glass of the price rise and social justice; the nuclear deal; and the Muslim vote.

For the Congress, the Muslim vote is crucial. In 2004, Narendra Modi stampeded the Muslims into the Congress box. The BJP won Gujarat and lost the country. This time, the problem is more nuanced. Modi might be the same person, but the situation is different.

George Bush is now in the picture, thanks to the nuclear deal and the strategic alliance. The Congress dream is to ensure that the spectre of a revived Modi outweighs Muslim anger against Bush. But is the Modi shadow large enough to envelop Bush as well as hide the sprinkle of questions that dot three and a half years in office? You cannot blame Modi for doing nothing about the Srikrishna report. Or for doing nothing about the recommendations of the Rajinder Sachar committee. Or for the indifference with which a sub-plan for Muslims in the 11th national plan was arbitrarily rejected. And you cannot quite blame Modi for the fact that the Congress has found a new ally in Gujarat, Gordhan Zadaphia. Who is Mr Zadaphia? He is the man who was home minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots and as culpable as anyone else. We know that democracy has a few reserved seats for cynicism. But surely there is some bottom line.

We will also get an idea in Gujarat whether there is enough sympathy for the nuclear deal among the urban middle class. The deal is also linked to economic reform and growth, objectives dear to the heart of urban Gujarat. Dr Manmohan Singh’s tour programme was drawn up with this in mind. There is, probably, no state more pro-American than Gujarat. This should be a factor in any potential Congress revival. Modi is by nature, and inclination, a polarising figure with a sharp communal bias: to accuse him of communalism is only to reassure those who are faithful to him. But even those who oppose him bitterly, for rational or personal reasons — he has, for instance, thwarted a number of careers in his own party — need issues on which to campaign for a future better than he can provide.

Gujarat is a key indicator, because the two national parties are also the only regional players. The results will test the resilience of both. The Congress has the advantage, because the odds are against it, and defeat will not be too demoralising. The real test will be for the BJP, if its expectations go haywire.

But both Congress and BJP should wait for the results before they send out ‘Happy New Year’ cards.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Musharraf's Tailor

Byline by M.J. Akbar : Musharraf’s Tailor

Surely the most creative, lucrative and sensitive job in Pakistan is held by Pervez Musharraf’s tailor. Think at the number of objectives he has to meet: the internal and external security of his nation; the legitimacy of his country’s political system; the wooing of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif; and the awesome American strategic goal of short-term security and long-term stability that hinges on the cut of cloth. After all this, he still has to ensure that the President looks good. Not easy.

The tailor has had some practice. This is not the first time that President Musharraf has chosen civvies for public display. He put them on during his brief interventions into pseudo-politics even when in uniform, as when he chose to address a public rally in order to indicate the love and warmth that the Pakistani people had for him. He appeared then in a shalwar-kameez. His style was different from the precedent set by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who gave his party, the Pakistan People’s Party, a virtual uniform distinguished by a braid in the collar of the jacket. The other difference was that Pervez Musharraf did not look all that relaxed as he waved his arms in acknowledgement of the people’s cheers. Maybe the cheerleaders had exacted too heavy a price.

Thomas Carlyle, the 18th century British philosopher, argued that clothes make the man. He was discussing more than one nuance of this proposition, including the measure of appearance and folds of reality. He had the advantage of thinking within the confines of an ordered system.
Musharraf’s tailor may have changed his boss’ clothes. But has he changed his boss’ mind, or indeed his boss’ constituency?

Musharraf has imposed martial law, declared an Emergency, sacked 12 judges of the Supreme Court, imprisoned the non-compliant, and struck deals with America and Saudi Arabia in order to remain in power. Why should we imagine that he would suddenly surrender power just because he has surrendered his uniform?

That surely is a key question as Pakistan moves to the next act of a drawn-out tragi-comedy. An election will be held in January. A Prime Minister will be sworn in. Who will be in power? The old President or the new Prime Minister?

So far, there has been no confusion under dictators. All Prime Ministers appointed by Musharraf knew their place, somewhere in the middle of the food chain, after the Corps Commanders and preferred political heavyweights who had backed the President. Shaukat Aziz is not disappointed that his sell-by date has arrived. The job was a lottery, and like all windfalls it had a finite existence. He did what he could, to the best of his ability, and did not confuse his years in office with the sanction of popular support. He was a top bureaucrat in the banking industry; he became a top bureaucrat in the political industry. Good luck, and goodbye.

The queue of potential Prime Ministers for January 2008 is full of professional politicians who demand obedience rather than give it. Pakistan had enough problems with a single source of authority, an Army dictator who ruled by decree. How will it manage with a dual source of authority?

Whoever thought up this duality (one hears that the idea belongs to Washington) either had a facile brain, or had never visited Pakistan, or had just run out of ideas and could not think of anything else. The American plan aims, as we have noted, to achieve short-term security by pleasing both God and mammon, by partitioning governance into military and civilian departments in which the armed forces will continue to confront those who challenge America in Afghanistan, or indeed America in America, while the civilians get on with the business of economic growth, prosperity-management, foreign policy and doubtless madrasa-eradication. This can be dressed up as a democracy, and voila! All problems are hereby declared over!
Pakistan has had to pay a heavy price for the delusion of its dictators. To this we must now add the self-delusion of its advisers.

A conventional democracy draws very clear lines between a President and a Prime Minister; one of the two designations is assigned the power, and the second plays a secondary, complementary role. In France the President is the chief executive, and the Prime Minister is a subsidiary executive. In India, the Prime Minister is the undisputed authority. The Indian President is a creature of the government as much as the Constitution, whose every public pronouncement is vetted and cleared by the Cabinet. His — or, today, her — only moment of supreme authority is in the exercise of a Constitutional duty, in the selection and swearing-in of a Prime Minister and his/her government. The moment the government is sworn in, the President becomes, in effect, a Constitutional prisoner of his own government, a situation that lasts only as long as the government has a parliamentary majority or its term is over. The President is a Constitutional bridgehead.

Did President Musharraf become President in order to become a cipher? Anyone who thinks the answer is yes needs a long private chat with, possibly, Musharraf’s tailor.
A variation of the Turkey model, in which the armed forces placed themselves within the executive system as guarantors of the nation’s secularism, is being attempted. In Pakistan’s case, the armed forces are the guarantors of security. But there is no doubt about which finger is on the trigger. It is not a civilian finger.

I have no doubt that the January elections in Pakistan will be free and fair, since those who rig the elections have already been elected. The people are being asked to choose only one centre of power in a bipolar system.

This leaves us with some serious questions about both foreign and internal policy. Who deals with India in the diarchy that is envisaged for Pakistan from January 2008? Who deals with Afghanistan? Who makes the trips to the White House? Will every discussion have to be repeated to two centres of powers, and each agreement sold twice?

Internal questions can be even trickier. A Parliament elected the President. Can the next, elected, Parliament remove the President from office? The President of India can be impeached under Article 61, if two thirds of either House of Parliament prefer a charge, and then after investigation and a process of trial hold him or her guilty by a two-thirds margin. Is the President of Pakistan above any system of accountability, free to do anything he wishes? Will the President of Pakistan declare another Emergency, abolish Parliament, pack off judges of the Supreme Court if he feels threatened? This year’s repackaging of the Supreme Court was a pre-emptive strike, not a post facto decision. Is there any reason why it could not happen again?
You cannot get long-term stability if there are too many questions and not enough answers. There is a basic geological fault in the system if the directly elected portion of the diarchy is the weaker of the two poles in a bipolar polity.

When asked, recently, when he would step down, President Pervez Musharraf answered, "When there is no turmoil in Pakistan".

By that yardstick he could still be Pakistan’s President in 3007, if the Almighty gives him a long-enough life. And there could be more work for the tailor