Women’s Bill may be a double-edged weapon
ISLAMABAD – The farce played in the name of Women’s Rights Bill finally reached its denouement this week. On Monday the National Assembly was prorogued sine die after suffering the, pangs of two weeks of idle wait in the vain hope to deliver the bill. For all practical purposes, it has been thrown out in the cold and may never breathe again. Notwithstanding the words of our incorrigibl. Optimist Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and PML chief Ch Shujaat Hussain who reaffirmed the resolve to get the bill through in next session, one remains stuck to the temptation of betting bottom of his dollar that it will never come off.
Consider what has been boiling in the Political cauldron in recent weeks and the grotesque concoction we ultimately got in the form of Protection of Women’s Rights Bill (PWRB). The rapid transformation of the political landscape and breathless shuffling of pawns on the power chessboard are stunning. It has been a swift journey from the sublime to the ridiculous. While it is nearly curtains for the bill, the fate of political alignments and some key players in the sham charade also hangs in the balance. By design or coincidence, the bill did some nasty collateral damage. It shattered the dream of a grand opposition tearing asunder its ever-brittle unity. Such a unity seemed to be building up around no-confiÂdence motion and was spurred by the Supreme Court verdict annulling privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills and accompanying startling revelations of scams implicating the high and mighty in power corridors. The nationwide outrage over the ghastly killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti infused a new vigour in the anti-Musharraf campaign. The emerging scenario gave a lethal meaning to the idea of resignations from assemblies. But all of this has been swept away by the controversy on the bill. Not only the still-born united opposition is reeling over the impact of the fortnight of controversy that dominated national scene, some of its components are engaged in mutual recriminations.
For President Musharraf the entire episode has had an immensely salutary effect. The fractious debate on the bill riveted the entire attention of the media and political parties on an other wise non-issue, relieving the President of enormous pressure that was casting a dark shadow over his future ambitions. It was increasingly imposable to defend the uniform. Even one time colleagues had begun demanding that he quit the army post, hold free, fair and transparent elections and rid the country of the existing untenable system revolving around one man alone. They were followed by more strident demands from lawyers, prominent national figures and others. The opposition was coming closer by the day. Price hike, unemployment, economic hardships, endemic corruption, scandals implicating top figures, gathering storm over the economy, the disastrous and indefensible military operations in Waziristan and Balochistan against own people, violent reaction particularly in Balochistan and Sindh over killing of Akbar Bugti, unending bickering with in the ruling coalition, were all combining to a possible eruption of social commotion. In foreign policy the much hyped composite dialogue with India had reached an ominous deadlock. Relations with Afghanistan were getting sour while U. S. and western mentors had begun voicing doubts about commitment to their war on terrorism all these challenges looked formidable while dates for visits to Europe, Cuba and US were drawing closer.
Much of this seems to have suddenly evaporated. No wonder the General haughtily declared in New York last week that he felt not bothered by problems at home: “Pakistan is stable, I am relaxed and confident.” It is a measure of Cen Musharraf’s unflinching trust in the ineptness and incompetence of his detractors that he set off last week on a long trip abroad to rub shoulders with world leaders rather thean be weighed down by domestic worries. He defied gloomy analyses and dire predictions by armchair political pundits about real or imaginary ‘crises’ he is currently facing within the country. Next day the Prime Minister left for Kabul and then for Dushanbe on another of his unending binge of foreign expeditions that are later explained in terms of his quest for more investment and for enhancing image of the country.
In effect, however, these only remind the nation of his glorious irrelevance to things political or to the realm of strategic decision-making.
Left to mind the store in proxy is an invisible collegiate of courtiers and aides. It is a paradox of Pakistan’s history that while it is increasingly becoming difficult to manage an ever mismanaged country and arrest its continuing downhill slide, it is a fascinating study how easier it is for a Pakistani ruler to stick to power and surmount all challenges, provided he is well entrenched in the establishment. For how else can you explain a paralytic and imbecile governor general Chulam Mohammad keeping the entire nation in thrall for more than three years with the help of a foreign nurse, Ruth Boral, and, of course, gracious nod from the army chief?. Much of the credit for this amazing turn of events is claimed by the Chaudhries. A day before the crucial meeting of the MMA supreme council which, according to Qazi Hussain Ahmed, was to decide about pulling out of Balochistan government and coordinate with other opposition parties to quit assemblies to generate the most vicious political crisis in Musharraf’s 7-year rule, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain met Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Next day, the MMA came out with a bizarre ultimatum that it would resign from the assemblies if the was adopted. The announcement caught the country by a storm. Shujaat stepped in again and adopted a dangerous strategy to deal with the issue bypassing constitutional panels like Islamic Ideology Council and the Select Committee of the National Assembly. He set up a committee of Ulema and carried out negotiations with the MMA outside the parliament.
Ostensibly, Shujaat was motivated by his compelling urge to humble the PPP which appeared to be coming closer to a patch up with Musharraf in the backdrop of its support to the bill. The tactic applied to torpedo the Musharraf PPP reconciliation has achieved immediate objectives, but proved a double-edged weapon stripping the General of the veneer of enlightened moderation.