Islamabad, Feb.14 : With parliamentary elections round the corner in Pakistan, the million dollar question being asked is: How to avoid political polarization in the next parliament without a brazen military intervention so that political rivalries between parties would not hamper Pakistan's role in the global War on Terror?
The international stakeholders namely the USA, the UK and UAE are playing a significant role in trying to establish a unity government in Pakistan.
With the Pakistan Army deciding to completely stay in the barracks, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has gone back to its old style of wheeling and dealing.
Instead of using military officers to setup a political stage, the billionaire club of Pakistan is coming out upfront to help politicians bargain their mutual interests.
Pakistan is at a crossroad, where on the one hand Al-Qaeda led militancy is threatening its existence and a strong and popular political setup could be the only saviour, while on the other side, serious political rivalries of different political parties pose a risk to the forthcoming elections i.e. more a problem than a solution.
So far, there is no win-win situation for any political party.
"In Punjab (the largest province which represents 55 percent in the national assembly), nobody appears to be sweeping the elections. The Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz with its popular votebank, the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid Azam (a Musharraf ally) with the support of the establishment, a little popularity and the large family grid systems, and the Pakistan Peoples Party with its sympathy vote due to Ms Bhutto's killing are likely to emerge with equal powerful strength in the parliament," commented Chairman of Nawai Waqat Media group Majeed Nizami in a TV interview.
Nizami has always been considered a part of the national oligarchy and has always played a role for reconciliation between various political parties. He also played a role in facilitating a backroom dialogue between Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam is desperately aiming to create a broad-based alliance of right wing political parties as they anticipate a victory in Punjab and a victory for the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazlur Rahman group) in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.
They also expect a victory for their old allies, the Pakistan Peoples Party (Patriots) and a clean sweep for the Muttahida Quami Movement in the urban areas of Sindh.
"With this right-wing political parties alliance, we would also look forward for the cooperation of other parties like the Awami National Party because the divide of right and left is now past and we should talk about patriotism," commented Secretary information Sindh province Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam, Haleem Adil Sheikh to this correspondent.
Nevertheless, another scenario is also under discussion in Pakistan that of a Pakistan Peoples' Party and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz combine in parliament.
There is a view that in this instance, independent votes would automatically gravitate towards them.
In addition, other political parties like the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam Fazlur Rahman would also prefer them and consequently that alliance would pitch for Musharraf's impeachment.
Sharif has already vowed to forge an alliance with the Pakistan Peoples' Party after the elections, and implied that a coalition government will work for the dismissal of President Pervez Musharraf from power.
Benazir's widower, Asif Zardari has also responded that he would take Nawaz Sharif along in politics. However, this scenario would only represent a traditional political setup that would be entirely different from the written power scripture of pulling the strings from behind.
Nevertheless, if plans of a consensus government fail and political parties form alliances against each other in the parliament, not only will the campaign for the War on Terror suffer, but also Pakistan's economic progress in which both foreign and domestic investors are stakeholders.
In the past, the ISI and Military Intelligence used to keep the political parties in line, but the new army chief (General Asfaq Parvez Kayani) is obsessed about keeping the army in the barracks and away from all sorts of controversies.
He recently ordered 2300 servicemen back to the barracks from civilian organizations. The ISI's political desk is again back to its old wheeling dealing style when it always avoided brazen political operations through Army officers and instead used businessmen as their front.
The Mehran Bank scandal of early 1990s is an example when Younus Habib and other business personalities were used to bargain the political interests with the politicians on the behest of Pakistani establishment.
The non-democratic governments do build pillars that would substitute the popular support to their governments.
Pakistan's three long-term military governments also reared such power pillars to support their power base.
Field Marshal Ayub Khan built the 20 richest families' from his industrialization program. The seven richest generals' were the by-product of Afghan War in 1980s under the Zia-ul-Haq regime, and the recently formed Billionaire Club is the gift of retired General Pervez Musharraf's government.
In the post-2008 election scenario, the Billionaire Club would decisively solicit all major players for a consensus government.
Established by two business tycoons Mian Mansha (listed as the richest personality, with his Nishat group worth 4.4 billion USD, and Tariq Siagol with USD 850 million ranking 8, the club aims to influence the macro policy making of the country.
The membership of the club is only by invitation and it is not necessary that any one of the 44 rich people in the country would be a member.
Three main cartels, including Textile, Cement and finance (banking, stock brokers and insurance) are part of this billionaire club
According to the sources, club members are also the main link of communication between top politicians (Asif Zardari with no industry listed number 2nd with USD 1.8 billion worth and Nawaz Sharif with his huge industrial empire worth USD 1.4 billion and stands at number 4) and the government and to help them bargain their mutual interest, in collaboration with Pakistani establishment .
"Internationally nobody gives them any rating among billionaires as Pakistan's documented economy is between USD 110 billion to USD 120 billion, so what to talk about a billion club" commented an economist Dr Farrukh Saleem who frequently writes on political economy of Pakistan and the region in Pakistani English newspapers.
"However, such syndicates are formed to protect their interests and I think this is what they would be doing under the umbrella of Billionaire Club," Dr Farrukh added.
The local and international syndicates have joined hands with the government to establish a strong political setup that would defeat Al-Qaeda in the region.
International players have deep interests in Pakistan. Pakistan is a regional War on Terror theatre, but at the same time, it is also the strategic backyard of the various regional and international players which consider Pakistan a major artery to access the huge Central Asian markets as well as an access route to the great game of oil and gas pipeline projects from Caspian Sea oil reserves to warm waters of Gwadar Seaport in Pakistan.
The Al-Qaeda and Taliban linked insurgencies reached to new heights in 2007 when for the first time, due to the Lal Masjid operation, Islamabad and the Swat Valley became battlegrounds.
Nevertheless, the same period was the time for the biggest ever Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Pakistan. The FDI inflows in Pakistan for the period of July-December, 2007 amounting to US 2.067 billion dollars.
The main investors were USA being on the top followed by UAE and UK.
"The U.S. government is committing 750 million dollars over five years to complement Pakistan 's 10-year plan for the frontier region," remarked the U.S. diplomat.
"Our joint efforts in securing good health and education systems, and economic growth in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) will help promote stability in South Asia," United States Embassy Counselor for Economic and Commercial Affairs Amy Holman said in a seminar on Wednesday in Lahore.
Sources in Pakistan's strategic circles maintain that a strong an meaningful political setup has to be in place after the elections because the period between February 18, 2008 to November 2008 is pivotal and is likely to be a period of crucial decision making concerning the global War on Terror in the region.