Machiavelli Turning in His Grave

By Dr
Haider Mehdi


With the general elections in Pakistan only a
day away, we, this nation of 180 million people, need to ask some very basic
questions and, at the same time, reflect, analyze and understand the
significance of our political response (meaning voting behaviour) on May 11.
Following are some of these important questions:
… Why is there a mysterious silence by the PPP
leadership on the eve of the May 11 elections?
… The COAS, General Ashfaq
Parvez Kayani, strongly and enthusiastically supported the conducting of the
polls and the advancement of the democratic process in the
country in
his speech at the GHQ. Why did he do so at this particular time? What

motivated the General to deliver such a strong political statement?
… Would
the PML-N leadership accept the incumbent President for another five-year term
as the Head of State (that is, if the PML-N wins the election and is in the
position to form the government at the centre)? Why has it promised the nation a
bullet train from one end of the country to the other?
… Why is it
likely that PTI, a newly emerging force on Pakistan's political horizon, might
have a landslide victory on May 11? Would the PTI leadership accept the
incumbent President for another term of office, should PTI win? If not, why
Machiavelli, the early 16th century Florentine political guru known for
his methods of political expediency, craftiness and duplicity, must be turning
in his grave, amazed and utterly surprised at the extent of the PPP
Co-Chairman's artfulness in handling "the defense of the realm" with such a
remarkable and sleazy approach to possibly carve a political future for himself
as President for the next five years.
The President's plan for this
‘imagined’ eventuality goes as follows - the PPP leadership understands that it
has nothing to offer the Pakistani electorate based on its performance in the
last five years. Then why should they indulge in massive political campaigning -
it might turn out to be counterproductive.
A blogger has brilliantly summed
up Zardari's political strategy as follows: "President Zardari has been emerging
as one of the strongest powerbrokers in the 2013 elections in Pakistan. He has
remained successful to keep himself aloof from the ongoing tussle between Nawaz
Sharif and Imran Khan, which is now in the critical stage and which is closing
the doors for any alliance between Khan and Sharif for the formation of
government in the center. Thus, whoever takes most of the seats will solely rely
on PPP, which is supposed to get a maximum number of 50 or more seats in the
center and a considerable majority in Sindh. The PPP's bargaining chip in the
post-election scenario would possibly be unconditional support to any major
party in the center in exchange for accepting Zardari for another five years as
the President of Pakistan."
End of story. Triumph over Pakistan's politics
of democracy by skilful exploitation of its parliamentary political system and
the constitutional flaws within it. The incumbent President envisions his
comeback as the constitutional Head of State. He set the stage for the support
of his incumbency in the Senate years ago.
Having said that, the vital
question is: Eventually, "Oonth kis karvat baithe ga?" (let's see how the wind
blows). Are all of the intermediate political forces going to work in absolute
harmony with Zardari's plan? I dare not think so.
Let us move forward to
question 2: In the aftermath of Musharraf's debacle, General Kayani has
honestly, tirelessly and diligently worked hard during the last five years to
restore the armed forces' image and prestige as a vital national institution.
His address at the GHQ was an exemplary speech in public diplomacy, responding
to the call of the nation and supporting the forces of political change to
ensure that the general elections are held at all cost. Good move. Commendable
act in the national interest. Congratulations, COAS!
But the vital question,
in this context, is: Will the traditional political actors and the status quo
oriented forces engage with the military establishment in a meaningful,
constructive and productive manner? Will they offer the military leadership
enough leverage for the armed forces to continue to carry on with their
exclusive constitutional role in the future? That will have to be seen. The fact
of the matter is that Pakistan is on extremely shaky ground at the present.

Let us move to question 3: The PML-N quaid is on record to have said that it
would be acceptable for him to take the oath of office as PM, if elected, from
the incumbent President. That, indeed, in itself explains the party leadership's
future political discourse and its strategic vision for the nation. They have
termed it "the politics of reconciliation." However, seen from another
perspective, it is clearly a "muk muka" strategy for mutual interests; is it
The PML-N leadership's promise of a bullet train from Khyber to Karachi
is, once again, an echo of a traditional mindset, which believes that the people
of Pakistan will respond positively to the symbols of grandiose projects. It
seems that it is unaware that such slogans might be considered by people at
large as the setting of flawed national priorities. China, the world's second
most powerful nation, built a bullet train only last year - nearly seven decades
after independence. But first came the people's mass mobilization - nearly full
employment and literacy, huge improvements in health and educational facilities,
new universities and vocational training sectors, scientific and technological
innovation, massive industrialization, and global eminence in trade, diplomacy
and commercial enterprises. Are Pakistani citizens, already deprived and
suffering from inadequacies of all kinds, so ignorant and unaware of their
fundamental requirements that they would prefer grandiose projects over their
primary needs? I believe that this doctrine will not work for Pakistan anymore.

The last question: Can PTI win a landslide victory on May 11? Indeed, there
are clear indications that it might. PTI advocates a political doctrine of
change in the political structure and political culture in Pakistan - an echo of
public sentiment in present-day Pakistan. It has demonstrated empowering the
citizens by intraparty elections, and giving party tickets to youth and many new
entrants in national and provincial politics. It has a straightforward stance on
drone attacks, relations with the US, and the end of the war on terror. It has
vividly prioritized its economic planning in tune with public demands. And,
added to this, is a massive and powerful force of new youthful voters, enhancing
its chances to emerge as the leading winner in the polls.
And yet, above
all, Imran has surprised everyone, his friends and foes alike, with remarkable
and endless determination, synergetic and limitless energy, political campaign
management capabilities (imagine six public jalsas in a day) and personal
Would PTI accept the incumbent President for another term of
office? No - the forces of political status quo and the forces of political
change have no fundamental or mutual interests to share. End of story. Watch out
on May 11. It is your turn to empower yourself. Get my drift?
The news of Imran Khan's fall has shocked the nation. Let us all pray for his
safety, health and recovery.
(The writer is UAE-based academic, policy
analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and
foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a master’s degree from Columbia
University in New York)