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Bhutto's manifesto hits at Musharraf's power base

By Hamid Mir
Last updated on: December 07, 2007 20:37 IST
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The Pakistan Peoples Party's manifesto for 2008 is quite disturbing for the Pakistan government as it is closer in its thinking, policies and content to the Pakistan Muslim League faction led by Nawaz Sharif than Pervez Musharraf's liberal anti-extremism agenda.

Released by PPP chief Benazir Bhutto recently, the manifesto has surprised her critics and diplomats in Islamabad equally as the policies are not congruous with those laid down by Musharraf. Many critics still believe that Bhutto is helping Musharraf by participating in the general election without pressing for an independent judiciary.

Some claim that both Benazir Bhutto and rebel leader Maulana Fazalur Rehman are involved in secret negotiations with Musharraf, but the new manifesto sends out a very different message.

The PPP has demanded that military dictators responsible for subverting the constitution in the past must be answerable to the people of Pakistan. This clause may cause serious concern for Musharraf as he is the only general alive who fits the bill.

Understandably, the new manifesto has many other points on which Musharraf and the PPP are likely to disagree. Firstly, PPP claims it was not Musharraf but Bhutto who granted freedom to Pakistan's electronic media.

Secondly, the PPP has included the Charter of Democracy, signed by Bhutto and Sharif many months ago in London, in the manifesto.

The PPP has also promised many changes which are bound to destabilise the basic tenets of Musharraf's powers as a civilian president.

According to the manifesto, the appointment of governors, the three services chiefs and chief justice will be made by the prime minister who will also hold the post of chief executive. The National Security Council will be abolished and replaced by the old defence committee headed by the prime minister, the politically motivated National Accountability Bureau will be abolished and replaced by an independent Accountability Commission; the command and control of the country's nuclear arsenal will be placed under the DCC; all security agencies including the Inter Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence will be answerable to the elected prime minister; all indemnities promulgated by the military regimes will be reviewed; and the defence budget will be discussed and approved by parliament.

Some of these points strike at the very root of Musharraf's power base while others -- including handing over the control of Military Intelligence and the nuclear arsenal to the prime minister -- go even beyond that.

The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q has rejected all these points and claimed that the PPP has sent a surprising message through the manifesto to the establishment, which will now have to think twice before completely trusting Benazir Bhutto.

There is one point in the manifesto which may even disturb the fan club of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

This clause pertains to the appointment of judges to superior courts and says that these appointments will be made with the advice and consent of a joint parliamentary committee comprising representatives of the government as well as the opposition. The appointments will also be subject to the recommendation of a commission headed by a former chief justice who has not taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order.

Justice Chaudhry took the oath under the PCO many years ago and according to the new PPP manifesto, he cannot head any commission for the appointment of new judges.

The PPP has also promised to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate how the so-called National Accountability Bureau was used to commit perjury and it wasted national resources to politically re-engineer Pakistan.

Page 18 of the manifesto says 'Each elected leader of Pakistan left office brutalised and criminalised while none of the military dictators paid the price even when they disintegrated the nation and mutilated the constitution.'

This accurate observation can shake many in the administration who are sitting on the fence and watching the Musharraf-Benazir political romance.

The PPP has also challenged the tall claims of Musharraf who says he was the one responsible for media freedom in Pakistan. The manifesto says, 'the PPP liberated the press in 1988 by allowing free import of newsprint, the abolition of government permission to establish newspapers and journals and by introducing private radio and television stations.'

Sherry Rehman, the PPP's information secretary, explained that the first private radio channel FM 100 and the first private television station Shalimar Television Network were established during Bhutto's second tenure. So the credit of liberalising the electronic media goes to the PPP and not to Musharraf.

Speaking on the contentious Kashmir issue, the manifesto says the region's future will be determined according to the aspirations of the people of Kashmir and the United Nation's resolutions. But the PPP also expressed its support for maintaining open and safe borders at the Line of Control to socially unite the Kashmiri people.

The PPP has also promoted the idea of an Asian Common Market in its manifesto. The party further promises that a treaty of peace and cooperation with Afghanistan will be signed and the PPP will not allow Pakistan's territory to be used for cross-border terrorism against Afghanistan.

The PPP has also put forward the idea of building Apna Ghar, a free boarding school for socially or economically disadvantaged children to counter the growth of religious seminaries (madrassas), which have been mushrooming across Pakistan. The party is also committed to confronting terrorism but this issue has not been presented as one of the main items.

The new manifesto is worded differently from the manifesto of Bhutto's father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP in 1967, but the principles remain the same.

Zulfiqar Bhutto had said, 'Islam is our religion, democracy is our politics, and socialism is our economy and all power to people.' The new manifesto says, 'Islam is our religion, democracy is our politics, social democracy is our economy and all power to people.'

In 1978, during his imprisonment in Rawalpindi jail, Zulfiqar Bhutto had written a letter to his daughter expressing his liking for the Scandinavian model of social democracy in Pakistan for the eradication of poverty.

The new manifesto promises control of inflation, tax system, public works programmes, vocational training, a just labour policy, job quota for minorities in the army, police, intelligence, judiciary and other departments. However, all these promises need many constitutional amendments and the PPP needs a two third majority in the coming election to fulfill these promises.

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Hamid Mir