Pakistani politics is a pain to understand. I’ve read a number of explanations in newspapers around the world, and they’re generally too long winded, have too many facts and refer to too much history. As an American friend of mine said, she would rather eat a mine than read something so boring.
So here is Pakistani politics, minus all the boring details:
First, a bit of background – in Pakistan, politics is solely about personalities and how powerful they are. There is generally never any discussion of issues or anything of substance. Basically what happens is that through a sort of mysterious process beyond the scope of this post, certain individuals become political godfathers and develop a following. It’s close to how the Italian mafia works, but not as stylish or well dressed. So, here are the main players listed in order of power.
h4. Playa #1: The Pakistan Army
The first and foremost player is always the “Pakistan Army”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan_Army, and the person heading it. These days, that happens to be Musharraf. The Pakistan Army not only loots the country by appropriating the majority of the taxes collected, “it also gets over 90% of all foreign aid”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2007/04/us_assistance_to_pakistan_since_911.html. Whenever a General is in power, like Musharraf, a lot of new politicians appear as democratic window dressing.
These days, the person heading the army (and hence the country) is “General Pervez Musharraf”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pervez_Musharraf.
h4. Playa #2: The Pakistan Army
Playa #2 is again the Pakistan army The way it works is that there are always multiple groups in the army – and only one of them is in power. The ones not in power are always lurking, and can and do kick out the top man and his friends and install themselves into power.
The other reason is that the Army has so much more power than the political parties that none of them even approach to being a distant second to the army’s first. Hence it’s hold on the top rungs of the Pakistani political ladder.
It is a good thing that the air force and navy are both subordinate to the army, otherwise they would occupy the next two rungs of the political ladder! The sad state of the Pakistani Air Force can be determined by the fact that they can’t even manage to take over a “million odd acres of parkland”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2006/07/saving_hingol_national_park.html whenever they please. The Pakistan army on the other hand can and does take over the entire country, and hands out parcels of lands to its officers all the time. This creates much resentment.
h4. Playa #3: The American Government
The American government is the godfather of Pakistani politics. While Pakistani politics is so confused and uncertain that it’s not quite a puppet on American strings, all the major players get America’s blessing or else they hit the road. Musharraf is one example, and even bit players like the US Assistant Secretary of State are listened to with great respect here.
Benazir has America’s blessing, and thus Musharraf, despite his hatred of her, is now trying to work out a deal.
h4. Playa #4: Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and the PPP
In the US, you have two main parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. In Pakistan, we have a similar system, except that neither of the two main parties have a manifesto besides acquiring power and money.
The “Pakistan Peoples Party”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan_Peoples_Party is the biggest political party in Pakistan, and “Benazir Bhutto”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benazir_Bhutto is the self appointed chairman for life. In any free and fair elections, the PPP would either win, or form a strong opposition, as it has so far always won the elections when they haven’t been rigged the other way. Her claim to fame is that she is the daughter of “Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zulfikar_Ali_Bhutto, who was the single worst leader in Pakistan’s history. This of course gives her the support of the entire country, as we like bad leaders. While her father wrecked the country by nationalizing everything, Benazir and her husband looted the nation, piling up an estimated 2-4 billion dollars in her many bank accounts. She has already been Prime Minister twice, and both times was kicked out.
While here in Pakistan we don’t care about corruption, and have destroyed most of the proof, the Swiss, the Poles, the French and even the Brits have tons of proof of much wrong doing. All this proof makes her a cinch to get elected again, as all the smaller politicians know for certain she’s corrupt and they’ll get to feed from the trough if they support her.
Another interesting aspect about Benazir is that she is startlingly ignorant and/or stupid. While not as bad as Bush, she makes the damnedest and wrongest statements every now and then. Most recently, on different interviews around the world she’s gone around saying things like the Taliban were from after her time as PM – this from the woman who midwifed the birth of the Taliban. Another stupidity worthy of Bush himself is that even a mental retard would have the sense not to make a deal with Musharraf, who is as good as gone, and only now she is realizing that.
h4. Playa #4: Nawaz Sharif and the PML
The PML is the other main political party in Pakistan, and also has a leader for life, “Nawaz Sharif”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nawaz_Sharif. His claim to fame is that he made a lot of money while Prime Minister. He was propelled into political power by a General, and ironically another General kicked him out. So what makes him powerful? Well firstly, in Pakistan when one has been blessed by a powerful General, then it really gets you places. Nawaz also acquired a billion dollars in his two stints as prime minister, and that also helps. He gave the Saudi’s access to Pakistani nukes, and so the Saudi royal family is eternally grateful. After Nawaz was given multiple life sentences for his many wrong doings, the Saudi’s rescued him and gave him a palace to live in. He has been Prime Minister twice, and was kicked out both times. He also holds the distinction of storming the Supreme Court, along with many other unsavory things. He continued, and improved on Benazir’s policies of corruption and nepotism, which made him many political allies. For good measure, he “started a war with India”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kargil_War and almost set of Nuclear Armageddon.
A common thug, with a touch of Robert Mugabe thrown in for good measure.
h4. Playa #5: The Mullahs
Now we have the “Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muttahida_Majlis-e-Amal, or the party that the whole world’s afraid of. To put it simply, this is the party that Osama bin Laden would vote for. This is led by a bunch of backward mullahs, who are more famous for their perversions than their politics. One of their main leaders is better known as ‘Maulana sandwich’, for his fondness for making like one with nubile young boys. Another is known as ‘Maulana Diesel’, for reasons best left to the reader. Before Musharraf rolled around, they had never won more than 2-4% of the vote – but he did a lot of hanky-panky and now they are a significant force in Pakistani politics.
Their only claim to fame and power is the Islam trump card, which they use to hide their many failings and backwards politics. In Pakistan, no one questions anything to do with Islam, so this party automatically gets the Islamic vote. Their other main power base is the unhappiness people have with the two main political parties listed above, whose leaders are extremely corrupt.
The MMA are the Pakistan equivalent of all those nutcase Bible belters in the US, who go around proclaiming the end of the world and blow up abortion clinics, except that their politics make even less sense. Like Bush and his flunkies, the MMA also believes (literally) that they are God’s gift to man.
h4. Playa #6: Aitzaz Ahsan and other lawyers
The wild card of Pakistani politics, Aitzaz is extremely popular in Pakistan due to his brilliant defense of the Chief Justice’s recent circus trial after Musharraf tried to kick him out. “Aitzaz”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aitzaz_Ahsan and the other lawyers have united around a common cause, to rid the country of Musharraf, and they are the reason that Musharraf is taking a hike and desperately trying to do something to hold onto power.
Aitzaz has enough political capital and goodwill to start his own party, or if he allies himself with any one of the above that would ensure their victory in the upcoming elections. Events have put him in the drivers seat of Pakistani politics, but it remains to be seen which way he will go.
h3. The bit players
There are quite a few other minor players, of which I’ve listed the more important ones below.
h4. Altaf Husain and the MQM
Their leader is “a genuine nutcase and a raving lunatic”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/pakistan/2005_08/wanted_altaf_hussain.html. In fine Pakistani tradition, he is also leader for life of his political party, the “Muttahida Qaumi Movement”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muttahida_Qaumi_Movement. For some strange reason, he is very popular in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Thankfully, the rest of the country ignores his lunacy.
His claim to fame is that he is a wanted terrorist with over 260 criminal cases against him, ranging from murder, extortion, torture and worse. He is the Pakistani equivalent of Natural Born Killers, except uglier.
He is the current Army Chief and Dictator. Why so low down on the list? Cause he’s a has been, and everyone and his dog knows it. Even the army doesn’t want him around any longer, and while Musharraf might manage to hang on for a couple more years if America supports him, he’s practically on life support and his own handpicked stooges are looking for other jobs.
He started out well by kicking Nawaz Sharif out of power (that’s how bad Nawaz was, that even a dictator was heaps better), but Musharraf lost it somewhere in the middle. He’s now a typical dictator, blinded by his need to cling on to power, with all the megalomania that brings along.
h4. Imran Khan
A popular character, but no one actually votes for him. He is Pakistan’s most famous sports personality, and though retired remains popular in the entire country. However, not only has he not looted the country, he hasn’t even had anyone killed! So he remains a very minor player on the scene, but has the potential to be more.
He is the Pakistani equivalent of Micheal Jordan, except that he appears on far more talk shows and a lot less people listen.
That really is about it. Here we have the players in a nutshell. Considering almost all the above are nuts, nutshell is the appropriate term.
For even more information, we have Wikipedia’s take on the politics of Pakistan: “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Pakistan”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Pakistan.
h4. the summary
If one were to think that Pakistan’s political future (and present) is mighty bleak, they’re damn right. It is mighty bleak indeed. Just last year the Economist was “saying that this is a country everyone should worry about”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2007/05/a_country_that_everyone_should_worr.html and they were being optimistic.
Many Pakistanis blame the entire world on the country’s problems. The sad truth is, we’ve had elections before, and despite all the riggings, by and large the country votes for the same losers over and over again. The rigging just ensures that Loser 1 wins over Loser 2. When you have only corrupt incompetents running for elections, it doesn’t matter how fair the elections are.
Some notes on the above:
* Yes, both Benazir and Nawaz looted billions of US dollars from the country. And yes, they will both be elected again.
* Most of the people mentioned above belong in jail.