Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Political dialogue Addressing an Independence Day flag raising ceremony in Islamabad on August 14, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf extended an olive branch to all political forces, particularly the opposition. The prime minister invited all political forces to enter into a dialogue regarding the coming general elections and a consensus caretaker setup. The prime minister said the government wanted to take the opposition into confidence for holding impartial and transparent general elections. He pointed to the consensus appointment of a chief election commissioner, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, implying the same sort of consensual approach should attend the government’s efforts to bring all the political forces on board, ensuing their participation in the elections to play their role in the continuity of the democratic system. He generously (given our political culture and practice of many years) acknowledged the role of the opposition in this enterprise and advised the opposition not to just focus on criticising the government but instead come up with positive suggestions with a constructive approach so that the challenges of development could be met. He underlined the importance of a dialogue with the opposition on all issues of national importance. The prime minister was at pains to deny any intent to have a confrontation between the pillars of the state, including the judiciary, and reiterated that the government was following Benazir Bhutto’s legacy of a policy of reconciliation. He said the government wanted a transfer of power in a democratic manner, which would go a long way towards consolidating the democratic order. He pointed to the patience with which the government has been and still accepts criticism. The objective of this patient approach he said is to ensure an environment of understanding and harmony, something our divided and fractured society badly needs. It must go to the credit of the PPP-led coalition government in power since 2008, through two prime ministers, that it has consistently upheld the philosophy bequeathed by the late Benazir Bhutto that what Pakistani state and society critically needed was reconciliation between differing points of view rather than open confrontation that had in the past (particularly the democratic interregnum of 1988-99) provided opportunities for the ‘third force’ to intervene. President Asif Ali Zardari, since coming to office, has been at the receiving end of more criticism and muck thrown at him than any president in Pakistan’s or any other country’s history. Yet he has, occasional outbursts at public rallies notwithstanding, exercised superhuman patience and avoided retaliation. This has had the salutary effect of tiring out his critics, who of late seem to have run out of breath, or be seeking alternative means to somehow rock the boat and see the back of the government and president entire. However, where these ‘soldiers of fortune’ in the media and the polity have fallen short is in their understanding of the real political change that has taken place, and is continuing. This represents nothing less than a tectonic shift in the political culture of the country towards a realisation that given our chequered and tragic history, there is no other way to ensure the stabilisation and progress of Pakistan except through continuity in the democratic political process. If that process throws up governments not to the liking of some, they have had perforce to learn to be patient despite their best and often vitriolic efforts and let the democratic political process run its course. There is no gainsaying the increasingly evident and accepted in larger circles fact that the convergence amongst the political parties on the way forward for the country resting on democracy is becoming the new verity. Unlike the 1990s, there have been no attempts by the opposition to run to GHQ to topple the incumbents and, except for a brief and unproductive interlude in the memo case, a reluctance to drag the judiciary into a role for which it is neither fit nor is justified by any constitutional or democratic principle. This points to the system groping its way, albeit haltingly, towards a maturity and settling down long overdue.

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