Not a soldier, not a tank on road, not even the picture of General Pervez Musharraf beams from street corners. Pakistan looks like a country where the military does not have to do anything except to manage the 'elected' leaders to stay in power.
A 14-crore nation is resigned to the khaki domination which it believes it cannot change on its own. Even seminars, much less demonstrations, to register their protest, are absent. Yet people ventilate their anger whenever they get an opportunity.
The referendum which Musharraf held to get an approval of his rule was boycotted by some 90 per cent Pakistanis despite the persuasion and pressure used. Even in the recent rigged elections, the majority voted for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which they consider some shades better than the others.
The military not only blessed the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), called the king's party, but also partially helped deeni (religious) parties to depress the pro-democracy vote. Defection and division were also effected in the anti-Musharraf combinations to demoralize them.
Still all is not well with the Zafarullah Khan Jamali's government which Musharraf has revetted by poaching small political parties and even individual members from their age-old allies. The shaky government survived the no-confidence motion a few days ago. But it is an open secret that behind the scenes the military won, not Jamali. I was in Islamabad when the arm-twisting of members was going on. Some should have made money because the asking rate per member was two crore rupees.
"It is a vote of confidence in my favour", the prime minister corrected me when I said how serene he looked two days before the no-confidence motion. Indeed, he did not have to work. Musharraf's men did all. But this has exposed the government further; it has been proved again that Musharraf is its saviour.
Jamali does not even claim to be his own master. During the interview, he made it clear that the Constitution, amended as it was, gave Musharraf powers (General Sahib, as he refers to him) which the prime minister must uphold. "There is no conflict", Jamali said when I emphasized that a parallel authority could lead to problems.
Jamali left me in no doubt that Musharraf was the boss. The prime minister did not see anything wrong in Musharraf combining the two positions: the President's and that of the chief of army staff. "It is up to him to decide," Jamali said. Musharraf has the presidium of Corps Commanders where all affairs of the state are discussed and decided. The National Security Council, the apex body which has the prime minister as a member, is only a formality.
Will the obedient Jamali last? If self-effacement and humility are the criteria, he should since he ideally combines the two. But it will depend on political pressures which Musharraf faces at a particular time. The National Assembly, as it has emerged after the polls, is not to his liking.
He had planned the PML(Q) to get a majority. Both the PPP and the Muttahida-Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a combination of six religious parties, won too many seats for his comfort. He cannot unscramble the situation although he has the power to dissolve the National Assembly. This is what makes Jamali insecure. If and when pressured, Musharraf may bring in someone else.
Even Benazir Bhutto is not ruled out. The release of her husband, Zardari, on parole, is significant. She is reportedly willing to accept the pre-eminence of military provided it withdraws the cases of corruption against her and her husband. Nawaz Sharif has practically no chance because Musharraf considers him his 'personal enemy'. The hatred is mutual, according to the people who have met Nawaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia. They, however, feel encouraged by Sharif's reported remark that "the contracted period of his banishment is over".
New Delhi is probably aware of all this. Therefore, its attitude towards Jamali is that of indifference. It knows he cannot deliver the goods on his own. This was reflected in the congratulatory message prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sent to Jamali. Vajpayee used the word 'appointment' on his assumption of prime ministership. Islamabad feels cut up. If the matter was confined to proving that Jamali was a rubber stamp, New Delhi would have been probably justified in its behaviour.
But the real problem is that the Jamali government, however restricted, represents the tooti phooti (broken) democracy, as a top Pakistan analyst puts it. A country which has gone through one martial law after another for more than four decades, and which has no independent institution, is looking for a respite from military rulers.
New Delhi should be adopting measures to help the democratic forces in Pakistan to gain strength. America, representing democracy, could have had some impact. But it is seen as Musharraf's ally. Although people are conscious that Washington has bailed them out economically by writing off part of the country's debt and by giving Pakistan straight aid, the anti-US feeling is very strong. The general belief is that Pakistan is the next target after Iraq.
Jamali's government has come through a process, even though managed and manipulated. True, it is Musharraf's creation. But should India be putting it more in Musharraf's lap? The fissure, however small, can embarrass him when he is telling the world that he has restored democracy in Pakistan. Besides, the Jamali government has some able and liberal people. Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri has been part of Track 2, which has been working towards building people-to-people contact.
By not taking any notice of them or by not even recognizing the shape of the National Assembly, New Delhi may be showing its toughness but not farsightedness. Dealing visibly and frequently with the Jamali government may be one way to make Musharraf realize that the democratically elected government, though not up to the mark, is far more acceptable to India than a purely military set-up.
Democracy is going to be a long haul for people in Pakistan. The military is unpopular but looks as if it cannot be pushed out. It is not prepared to vacate the territory it has come to occupy. And it is using the space with a vengeance. Most of the top civilian jobs are with the military. The perks for service officers are numerous. For example, a major-general gets 50 acres of land as soon as he is promoted to the rank of lt-general. Orderlies are available to all military officers even after retirement. More than anything else, a person in uniform has become an authority unto himself.
The military is bad enough. But India's intractability is worse. It is hurting those who want to have contacts with people across the border. Rubbed on the wrong side are the liberal elements: lawyers, doctors, artists and human rights activists. Activists like Asma Jahangir and I.A.Rehman, dubbed India's agents in their own country, have not been given a visa. Because of "cross-border terrorism", the scrutiny of visitors' credentials is understandable.
But New Delhi's new policy, implemented by the home ministry, is keeping out those who have been fighting against military regimes and who have been endeavouring for normalization of relations with India. But then the BJP-led government is using the Pakistan card to serve its domestic politics. It labours under the impression that the more intransigent it is towards Pakistan, the more will it gain votes in India.
I am receiving mails that I am acting like a Pakistan agent by publishing articles published in Pakistani papers. I am a humanity agent and I am a peace agent. I want truth and I want peact. So, I will publish anything I feel is near to truth in my opinion. This article was published in Pakistan Daily, Dawn.