me from these rising hands: PM Shaukat Aziz at a news conference
as victims waive and wait
Politics of the Killer Quake: Who has Gained and Who has Lost
October 17: The Deadly Quake on October’s Black Saturday
not just killed thousands, it turned the entire political scene
of Pakistan topsy turvy with neither the Government nor the Opposition
having any clue of how it would impact their future.
obvious and the immediate casualty of the tragedy has been the
Opposition’s slow but persistently growing campaign against
General Pervez Musharraf as all Opposition alliances had finally
agreed to launch a united movement against him after Ramadan.
That has now been called off.
noticeable victim was the break-up of the already fragile religious
alliance MMA with Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s Jamaat Islami and
Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI parting ways. As Chief Minister
of NWFP, Akram Durrani, quietly came to attend the hastily summoned
meeting of the National Security Council, despite protests by
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, it became clear that Musharraf had struck
the fatal blow to the religious right.
When Maulana Fazlur Rehman openly
supported the participation of his party leader at the NSC, the
MMA split became final. Musharraf immediately rewarded Chief Minister
Akram Durrani with a promise of several billion rupees in aid
for the quake victims.
politicians Benazir Bhutto of PPP, Nawaz Sharif of PML and Altaf
Hussain of MQM were still unable to muster enough political courage
to return to the country as some analysts thought it may have
been a smart move which would have made it awfully difficult for
Musharraf to go after them at such a sensitive time. But all these
leaders stayed abroad and tried to contribute verbally and by
making personal donations and asking their parties to do whatever
they could to provide help and relief.
Sharif, in fact, used the occasion cleverly to break his forced
silence and gave live TV interviews, his first in almost 5 years,
though he deliberately avoided talking about politics or to criticize
the Army. Altaf Hussain saw in the tragedy an opportunity to naively
establish the non-ethnic credentials of his party by appealing
to the constituencies outside the Mohajir strongholds of Karachi
General Musharraf, himself unsure
how the media criticism of his inept handling of the crisis in
the early days would play out, recovered quickly and started flying
up and down the quake-hit areas to activate his administration.
in an attempt to appease the Opposition, he publicly thanked them
for their concern and cooperation, by which he probably meant
their inability to mount a serious barrage against him. Interestingly
Musharraf repeatedly insisted that the blame game should not be
played, implicitly admitting that some blame could be placed at
That he realized soon and thought
it prudent to apologize without loss of time for his lapses in
order to keep the smoke from turning into a fire. He then went
on to focus on the relief effort.
The mainstream Opposition, realizing
that its single track politics of attacking Musharraf on issues
of democracy, human rights and power politics may turn out to
be counter-productive in such a situation, announced postponing
their anti-Musharraf campaign and instead vowed full support in
this means that everybody was looking at the tragedy through the
glasses of his own political future and was trying not to do anything
that could be attributed by the opponents as untimely opportunism
or callousness in pursuit of political power.
So what impact will the tragedy
have on the political players of the country is the big question.
One thing is clear. The only organized
institution which can provide some help and relief to the victims
in far flung remote areas is the Pakistan Army and they will have
to receive the acclaim or share the blame, depending on how they
conduct the relief operations and use or misuse the millions coming
in as unconditional aid.
political parties seem helpless in any case as neither do they
have the structure to provide any meaningful assistance, other
than staging some road shows for TV cameras, nor do they have
the credible leadership on the ground to challenge the actions
or inaction of the Government and the Army.
Benazir Bhutto herself, Nawaz or Shahbaz Sharif or even Asif Zardari
camped themselves in Muzaffarabad with several tiers of leaders
and workers, sharing the grief and pain of the victims, the Government
would have been seriously challenged. That is not possible.
But the role of these parties
is still not yet over. The bigger and more serious challenge is
still to be met. When hundreds of millions of dollars pour in
as aid from round the world, there has to be an equally strong
and organized watchdog role of the political parties, the private
media and the civil society to ensure that most, if not all, of
it goes into the right places and is not gobbled up by scam artists
who surround General Musharraf in hordes.
Musharraf has not done well to name some of these very scavengers
as managers of the relief funds, specially those who have publicly
admitted that they were more interested in keeping billions of
rupees for their own salaries, perks and privileges although these
billions were obtained from the Government in the name of spreading
education and providing health to the general masses.
Now these scam artists are under
the eye of the cameras as their past is shadowy and the job Musharraf
is giving them provides them the chance of their life to pilfer
away billions in the name of earthquake aid.
politicians who have been supporting Musharraf, the likes of the
Choudhries of Gujrat, are also feeling left out in the relief
effort and in a display of some accommodation to the other politicians
in Opposition ranks, have agreed to sit together to discuss the
tragedy and what to do about it in a All Parties Round Table Conference.
But these moves are more political than to benefit those in desperate
It is also clear that for many
months and probably years to come, the October 8 tragedy will
determine the shape of politics in Pakistan.
only, and so far the obvious, beneficiary has been General Musharraf
himself as the toll of death and misery has diverted all attention
from his rule and misrule of the last 6 years and has given him
another chance to prove that he can do much more than any of his
In that sense, Musharraf himself
is also using the tragedy to push his political agenda of 2007
when he is committed to hold fresh general elections and when
he himself intends to seek a new term of office as president.
What Musharraf does now will become
the issue of his election campaign in 2007 and conversely the
role the Opposition plays now will determine the strength of the
challenge it can mount against Musharraf and his allies.
What everyone is not focusing
on is that such a monumental tragedy should have brought everyone
to his or her senses, brought every one together in order to turn
a fresh leaf in politics by forgetting and forgiving the past
and starting an era of accommodation and cooperation.
Musharraf has to play that bigger
and wiser role because he has to realize that if even now he introduces
an institutionalized system of politics and change of governments,
it may help him more than anyone else. If he seeks legitimacy
through an accepted and internationally recognized process, he
would have succeeded in playing the role of a visionary and may
acquire another term in his office, this time legitimately.
But if he continues on the path
of confrontation to eliminate or push aside all potentially serious
but popular opponents, through the use of his gun, he would only
prolong the agony and misfortune of the nation.
is so because one day he has to go and if on that day, Pakistan
goes back to square one and starts all over again with a new military
commander staging a coup or grabbing power, it would be a bigger
tragedy for the country, may be bigger than Black Saturday of