Sunday, May 6, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 7, 2012

PML-N’s impatience At a rally in Taxila the other day, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif announced the launch of his party’s movement to topple the government of the PPP-led coalition. He issued a call to the people to get ready for a long march for the purpose. There then followed the litany of usual criticisms of the government for its faults and failures, spiced up by rude remarks about Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani being a “puppet” and “pawn” of President Asif Ali Zardari. He went on to raise the accusation once again of the president’s alleged ill-gotten money stashed in Swiss banks, which Nawaz vowed would be returned to their rightful owners, the people of Pakistan. By raising this bogey once again, Nawaz Sharif risks, and is in fact being accosted with, tit-for-tat accusations and allegations by the PPP, Interior Minister Rehman Malik in particular, about his own past transgressions of various types. Whether this kind of exchange will lead anywhere is anyone’s guess. Nawaz Sharif also exposed his frustration with the president, accusing him of misusing the agreement he had made with the late Benazir Bhutto (the reference is to the Charter of Democracy). Although he did not explicate the broken promises he accused the president of, one can surmise that the breach in trust between the two began over the issue of the restoration of the judiciary, which the president agreed to early in the life of the government when the PML-N was still a coalition partner of the PPP, but which did not get implemented until Nawaz Sharif launched his long march for the purpose, with some help, it is reported, from COAS General Kayani. It has been downhill ever since in the relationship between the two erstwhile partners. Meanwhile the PPP’s coalition partners, the PML-Q, the MQM and the ANP have called upon Nawaz Sharif to behave responsibly and not contemplate destabilising the democratic system. Instead, they advised him to adopt a democratic and constitutional path even if he wanted to see the back of the government. What is intriguing is why Nawaz Sharif has abandoned his policy of restraint vis-à-vis the PPP-led government, a restraint informed by the bitter experience of the military taking advantage of the politicians’ falling out to intervene and pack up the democratic system altogether. The restraint shown by Nawaz Sharif over the past four years may have earned him the sarcastic jibe of acting like a 'friendly’ opposition, but it now appears he has allowed himself to be persuaded by the hawks in his party (led by Chaudhry Nisar and backed up by younger brother Shahbaz Sharif) to go all out against the government. The timing of the change is also intriguing, given that the country is in the run up to general elections. The opportunity for the turn has been presented by the contempt conviction of the prime minister by the Supreme Court but the PML-N has displayed its impatience with the legal and political process to be gone through before the verdict can take effect. Nevertheless, the argument that a street agitation may destabilise democracy, if not provide once again an opportunity to anti-democratic forces to wrap up the system per se has not lost its validity, historically or at the present conjuncture. The other, more practical argument against the launching of such a move at this point is that the PML-N seems to be embarking on a solo flight, given that none of the opposition parties, inside or outside parliament, have come on board. This reluctance permeates the stance of the PTI, JUI, JI, et al. Certainly there is much ammunition available to pillory the incumbents, but it must be clarified that the problems facing the country are grave and complex, even if it is conceded that the government has failed to tackle them effectively and may therefore have to answer to the charge of ineptness. The PML-N and its leadership needs to remind itself of the risks and dangers of an all out confrontation between the two mainstream parties on the streets, especially since the aggressive stance of the PML-N has invoked an equally aggressive reaction from the PPP. Mutual criticism within the parameters of a democratic system are inherent in the process of politics, but taking such differences to the level of a confrontation between the workers and supporters of each side is playing with fire. All sides must realise that it in their own mutual interests not to let politics descend once more to the level of an irredeemable enmity, whose advantage can only go to the anti-democratic camp. Democracy has its discontents, but dictatorship is far worse, as Pakistan’s history has witnessed.

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