When former Pakistan president Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari launched a new political party in Lahore on 14 August, the Independence Day, it was widely seen as an attempt to provide an alternative to the two main political groupings, Nawaz Sharifs Pakistan Muslim League and Benazir Bhuttos Pakistan Peoples Party. So far, however, the newly formed Millat (National) Party has failed to make any wave in Pakistans muddy political waters and Leghari remains yet another pretender to the third force.
The country has seen a host of these. Most prominent among them in recent times have been former cricketer Imran Khan, former chief of army staff Gen Aslam Beg and, not to forget, Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat Islami.
The basic rallying point of all of them is the same, even though the remedies they suggest are different: the two main parties have failed to govern the country, therefore it is time someone else, more specifically “we the third force” took the reins. An approach that is flawed from the very outset, for rather than proving themselves more capable, the sole emphasis is on discrediting those who are or have been in power. They want power not as a natural democratic consequence of their political worth to the people, but rather by default.
n a country where politics is nothing but a blatant route to power, the theory is that those who do not see a future for themselves at the hustings, often try to establish their political credentials to ensure a place in a government formed without a general election. It is in these governments by decree that those who wield the real power, the generals, make their appearance. The launch of a new party always has Pakistans political pundits wondering whether the new entrant is backed by the military.
Third-party politicians have been known to resort to all kinds of stunts to seek favour with the army establishment. They have asked that incumbent governments be thrown out and a national government be set up, or worse still, a government comprising of so-called technocrats. How these technocrats are to succeed where popular governments have failed is, of course, not discussed.
The concept of a third force in Pakistan, mainly because of its purported links with the army, is quite different from the one in, say, the United Kingdom, where the Liberal Party has for long been seeking to assert itself. Since the UK liberals present themselves as a political alternative rather than as an aspirant to back-door entry to power, they are also able to propagate their ideals, which in turn leads to some of their views being adopted by the two main parties.
The only time this has happened in Pakistan was when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto borrowed a few catchy slogans from the socialists and incorporated them in his popular agenda in the late sixties. With President Ayub Khan on one side and the feudal politicians he had persecuted on the other, Bhutto emerged as a third force and went on to become a popular leader. As his popularity rose, his party gradually took its place as one of the two main parties striving to retain the status quo.
Bhuttos was one unique case, and even his rise was attributed to the days he spent in the Ayub administration where he had acquainted himself with the power mechanism of the state. That is exactly what was lacking in Imran Khan when he first emerged on the political scene. Leghari has plenty of experience in this regard, but is short on charisma and political ideals (or even slogans) to mobilise the people. That is, if he is actually looking to achieve this end.