Monday, October 4

Strange bed-fellows!

Despite so many odds set against the military-supported government in Islamabad, the trump card—Madrassah Degrees—lies with the former and they will not hesitate to use it whenever it becomes imminent.

By Aamer Waqas Ghaus Chaudhary

When one cannot live in harmony with anyone else, it is better to be a sleeping partner instead of getting estranged for good. The same situation is applicable to the Muttahida Majlas-e-Amal (MMA), which has been changing its stances towards the government, the military Junta and the political parties, but has never tried to shut itself in watertight compartment. The six religious party alliance has been an ‘inactive partner’ of the political parties, and simultaneously remaining at a safe distance from the army where they have not been covert adversaries to the military regime at the federal level. They preferred to become allies in Balochistan instead. On the other hand, the Junta’s carrot and stick policy for the clerics proved doubly beneficial for both, and they continue to reap mutual benefits from their dual policies.
The MMA’s relationship with the fellow political parties has never been long-lasting. The clergy joined hands with any political entity whenever they considered it beneficial for them and withdrew their support if they wished to gain any political mileage otherwise. Hence their co-operation remained temporary, and ‘forced-by-compulsions’ harmony has always been unnatural. This is primarily due to the reason that the clergy’s vote bank has always been anti-political parties, but pro-military.
“Interestingly, the present military rule is being sustained and endorsed by the West on the grounds of the former’s pro-modernist agenda and anti-clergy stance, but at the domestic level, the same regime is breaking bread with the clerics to achieve dubious political stability,” says a political figure who is not depicting his ‘love’ for his mother political party owing to the reason that he is waiting to benefit from any change at the Centre. “This tenuous arrangement at the Federal level is ultimately going to bring disaster for the ‘partying’ political figures, who lack voting constituency if they are adjudged in free and fair polls,” he says. Ultimately the Mullahs will reap the benefits. Probably they have nothing to lose. Even if they play recklessly in the NWFP, they would not lose their voters, but any ‘national level’ change will make them ‘injured’ heroes. They will exploit the situation by maintaining that they have not been allowed to work for the betterment of the masses despite the mandate given to them. Nazims’ vote-of-distrust against the NWFP Chief Minister Akram Durrani and the Madrassha Degree commotion—the government is deliberately sleeping over it to twist the MMA’s arm at an opportune time—would add insult to the injury and they can become a bigger force in the next assemblies. Hence the government should be looking at the future instead of just trying to value present situation and applying Ostrich approach.
The MMA’s majority win in the NWFP, substantial number of seats in the National Assembly and other provincial capitals was actually a good omen for the military regime to sustain itself for a longer duration as far as the West is concerned. At the domestic level, it has actually become a blessing-in-disguise for the army rule. As the clerics never make a natural ally to the political parties—probably they are to none, even among themselves—they could not join hands with any political group because the former were ambitious and over-confident of forming government at the Centre even. This spoiled the show and they did not reach anywhere except their baby-sitter, that is, the army. On the other, even if half of the seats would have gone to any political party, they could have shun their differences and showed the door to President Musharraf, who is sitting tall in his chair afterwards since then. If two ardent political adversaries, that is the PML (N) and the PPP (P), can sit together and forge common goals, then why not any other political entity? It could have made life difficult for the government because political parties can be natural allies and can negotiate to any extent if they are certain that they can make some gain. For instance, till 2001 who would have thought Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif can forge fraternity? Therefore, the MMA is definitely providing the military a bigger room to play their games and multiply on their political gains.
The MMA has formed government in the Frontier following the last elections, which is the most sensitive Province to the happenings in Afghanistan—the first US anti-terrorist campaign ground since the Black Tuesday. The people and sitting government of the Province never hesitate in demonstrating its serious reservations about any adverse government policies. The military must have envisioned the MMA’s election victory in the said Province, but they did not made any effort to thwart it rather they concentrated on ‘balancing’ political parties in other Provinces; thereby giving an opportunity to the religious to forge their heads and pose ‘visibly dangerous but factually easy-handling situation’ for the regime. Again it shows the military’s confidence in their boys, who can be tamed and let-loose at will, but the political individuals are hard to deal with for the Army.
The MMA is good at throwing up embroidered slogans—like that of Parliament’s supremacy, keeping the Constitution intact, independence of government and judiciary—to thwart the criticism of their adversaries.
On the other hand, the Alliance is enjoying power-sharing in Balochistan with the same government to whom they are opposing at the Centre. What sort of this attitude by those, who are for ethical politics? The MMA cannot take on any government, which is enjoying the blessings of the military, and its track-record stands witness to this as the clerics bore the maximum benefits in all the military regimes. The Jamali government was also immune to such a possibility and that is why it had not felt the heat from the religious quarters. This was due to the reason that Pervez Musharraf was acting as a cushion to the Jamali government, and most of the present leadership could not dare to face him, especially the MMA. The latter is on the weakest wicket considering the fact that they cannot take the risk of eroding their political edge over others by opening fronts with the military. That is why their deadlines for the ‘Uniformed President’ keep on changing. As far as the onslaught by the MMA on the Jamali government is concerned, that is in the offing, but when the military wants it and not interested to take the blame of removing a ‘constitutional government’.
Despite the so many odds set against the military-supported government in Islamabad, the trump card—Madrassah Degrees—lies with the former and they will not hesitate to use it whenever it becomes imminent. This move will not only cause the MMA its NWFP government rather two-thirds of its MPs will pack for their homes. The Centre government recently demonstrated this ability and it has no reservations to raising the issue again. It is hoped that the religious alliance do understand the precarious situation as their Madrassah Degrees is virtually is a hanging sword. Nothing is left to imagination why the military regime is sleeping over the degree issue for the time being!
On the other hand, dissensions about the Legal Framework Order (LFO) was also good for the Junta and the MMA simultaneously considering the former could manipulate or twist the arm of the Jamali for being unable to evolve a consensus and making a mockery of the Parliament. On the other hand, the MMA was consolidating its position. It is the MMA, which is showing its stiff-on-ordered attitude and making life difficult for the politicians, who might be willing to evolve a viable consensus about the contentious constitutional quandary prior to the time when the military’s stick wagging make them non-entities. If one goes by the previous record of the establishment, this tenuous religious alliance (MMA) could have been shattered easily, but with obvious support and supervision of the alliance’s working by the premier agency plus the clergy’s thought of ‘Life in unity and death in dismemberment’ has kept them sticking to each other. Despite some reported schisms in the Alliance, they have been kept together to pose a threat to any political alliance of the two out-siders, and deliberately let the Jamali government hanging precariously through flimsy majority. The ‘Friendly’ visit to India by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman—though perceived by a few as an invitation by the Jamiat-ulema-e-Hind—made a huge success. The Maulana’s flamboyant statements about the LoC and Kashmir almost helped the government’s cause though it did not sat well with his MMA buddies. But they were not allowed to make an issue of it and it was hushed soon. Whatsoever is the case, the love-hate relationship between the military and the MMA will continue to remain the same despite the fact that they are strange bedfellows in a tumultuous democratic period. They cannot trust each other like real allies as they have an idea about each other’s tissue paper philosophy. The MMA, especially after the Taliban’s downfall and the military’s support to the US, and then the clergy’s lese` majesty attitude towards political friends, the military will remain suspicious of them. Hence, the military’s ‘institutionalised’ weak democracy, and unnaturally and forcibly grouped religio-political groups are making a good combination for the Junta to survive for a longer duration.

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