Polls as catalyst

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Elections 2018 are few months away. Atmosphere is getting charged, sleeves have been rolled up and all the major political leaders and their parties are closing their flanks and getting ready for the free for all. Every day nearer to polls political environment continues to grow bleaker. Whether the elections would be held in time or not remains shrouded in uncertainty. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is confident that polls will be held on schedule and there would be no government of technocrats as is being predicted in certain quarters. Doubts are in order whether the PMLN government would complete its tenure or not.
Whatever – election atmosphere is heating up rapidly. There is no political party that has not plunged itself in the electoral foray. Leaders too have opened their volleys against each other. Judicially disqualified Prime Minister and his team mates are on a war-path. Besides targeting the opposition parties as contender to their pursuit of power, MNS and his more vitriolic-supporters including his heiress Maryam see gateway to victory through attacking the superior judiciary and the establishment.
What sort of toll their tirade would claim could be any body’s guess? The very fact that election schedule for Senate has been announced, wheeling dealing for votes is in full swing, and its result would set the course for general elections most likely. PPPP Chairperson Asif Zardari has shown his political skills by pulling a fast one on PMLN by unseating its Chief Minister in Balochistan and bringing in some one from the out of the blue.
Here I will take you back to the year 2008 when power was transferred to PPPP government after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. It was not an easy time for President Asif Ali Zardari. Perhaps his achievement would be recorded in letters of gold as to how he sustained his five-year tenure when everything looked dicey. It seemed to be no better than a phase in passing by the powers that be. The Chief Justice that he restored was dagger drawns with him. CJP Iftikhar Choudhry tried to subvert the elected government through his judicial activism and many other covert moves to destabilise the PPPP government. And instead of PMLN supporting democracy as signatory to Charter of democracy, opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif played a dirty role in back stabbing it. The superior judiciary, media, the anchors and PMLN in cahoots with and in support of each other left no stone unturned to subvert the elected government.
Credit for the survival of the PPPP government must be given to AAZ for outmanoeuvring all his opponents. He safely piloted the democratic flotilla to safer shores to complete first time ever a constitutionally stipulated tenure. Notwithstanding many of the hurdles that he had to face, he outfoxed his adversaries at the board they had themselves laid. No doubt he moved on the right track by getting China on board on its ambitious CPEC, Gwadar Port development and he did right by opening up with Russia and building bridges with Iran paving way for a stronger Pakistan in the region to withstand the American politics of uncertainties via Afghanistan and India to counter China’s economic growth.
The government might not have provided much relief to the common man, it however, made succour available to the poor and starving that had been committing suicides during dictatorship. By raising the wheat procurement price, it ushered prosperity in agricultural sector. And of course one cannot ignore its most outstanding achievements in the field of Constitutional Reforms that have changed the dynamics of Pakistani politics. To sum it up, it would not have been possible without the long and tenuous struggle by PPP leader former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her supporters who dared to singe the beard of the dictator in his den. The price she paid was with her life and perhaps worth it since it meant culmination of her life long mission. One had hoped that the spirit of Charter of Democracy would be pursued and that the politic of reconciliation as legacy of Bibi would not be abandoned. Unfortunately as we all are witness to the torrid happenings since 2013 transfer of power, it would be nothing short of miracle if the PMLN government completes its tenure. It would have been all over for MNS in 2014 when umpire was all set to raise his finger in support of IK and PTI. It was Zardari and PPPP that stood as bulwark to save democracy from being derailed extra-constitutionally. Had not the legislators stood united, it would have been all over.
Pakistan could have avoided its ongoing predicaments if MNS had listened to saner voices advising him to strengthen the Parliament, show respect to it and seek solutions to national problems on the floor of the house rather than give space to other players. Instead he listened to buffoons surrounding him and was coaxed into following politics of confrontation. He believes that taking on his opponents and institutions in full steam could make him win without realising that previously he confronted a prime minister from Sindh with the backing of an overly Punjabi establishment. Now he has forced the situation to be Punjab versus Punjab in which apex judiciary that always supported him, has taken on him as if it is fighting forces as bad as Al Capone, Pablo Escobar or Sicilian Mafia.
Without being candid of what it is about, the fact is that the judicial disqualification of Nawaz Sahib has laid bare the fight. I would have loved to call it the final round in the ongoing battle for the supremacy of the ballot versus the military, civil and judicial troika– the fact that the other side is being led by MNS with the sort of reputation that he has that nobody would like to have him, that his victory could possibly end up with very serious consequences for the democratic polity.
Just few months short of general elections and country’s major political parties already plunged in the heat of campaigning; it is time there is a collective thinking for resolving the very vital issues facing the country. The fundamental issue that needs resolution and same page solution is regarding our national identity and need for going back to our original ideological moorings as manifested by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah as candidly expressed by him in his August 11, 1947 Legislative Assembly speech.
Urgency is there to incorporate it as inviolable preamble to the Constitution since one feels that retrogressive forces are gaining strength to eliminate its existence as raisin d’etre of Quaid’s Pakistan. One had felt encouraged last year when Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had made it clear forcefully that in Pakistan religion was essentially a personal affair and it had nothing to do with politics. Regretfully, there has been no follow up. Rather, the cleric brigade with truckloads of their abusive and divisive sermons seems to be in a driving seat. Once it is decided that Pakistan is a secular state, religious extremists would seek safer havens elsewhere. Instead of high sounding claims and counter-claims, leaders must get down to framing doable and deliverable election manifestos instead of piling each other with filthy palliatives symbolising their collective failures. We are facing water famine like situation, our population is bursting at its seams, unemployment is galloping, healthcare care does not exist, worsening of environment, lawlessness, child and gender abuse lately exposing the steep fall in eddy of moral decadence-we shall have to tighten our belts to recast ourselves in a liberal and progressive mode with a sense of direction and right priorities. Our leaders now and in future must understand that the only way forward is through massive modern education, elimination of intolerance, extremism, sectarianism, upholding meritocracy for ones progress and no room for mainstreaming of terrorist as some retired army generals have been promoting. In this contest one must take a stand against laundering of terrorists such as ehsanullah Ehsan and Sufi Muhammad.
In order to achieve above agenda, we shall have to sacrifice some of our other important needs. We spend billions on the defence, police and the law enforcing agencies on our police and other law enforcing agencies and yet the results are dismal. Law-enforcers have failed to completely eradicate the terrorists who strike at will and with impunity such as latest attack in Swat. Our police is in such a pathetic shape that it cannot track down its encounter specialist, nor does it show any results in curbing horrific crimes such as Kasur’s little Zainab’s murder. Judges conduct judicial charade measuring length of women’s skirts-whereas it seems everything is moving to a calculated cover up and all about Zainabs and other murders would soon be footnotes.
Martyred Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto firmly believed in elections as a catalyst. She rightly believed that elections unleash dynamics of change and one should make best use of the opportunity to put one’s house in order by seeking democratic and developmental priorities instead of opting for collective failures. It is regretfully emphasised that Pakistan cannot afford any misadventure at this juncture when it faces insurmountable challenges from within and outside.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)