While the PML-N is eager to call general elections before the scheduled March Senate elections, the PTI has been waiting for years for the type of turnout it had in Lahore on Sunday. If one is fair, then it must be acknowledged that the Lahore PTI rally did not just surpass expectations but also appeared larger and better organised than the PML-N rally. While neither Imran Khan nor Shahbaz Sharif have any concrete ideas on how to better the lives of ordinary Pakistanis, Shahbaz Sharif’s Taliban-style threats of “hanging President Zardari upside-down” were not only undemocratic and in poor taste, but divisive, as the reaction in Sindh manifested. Both seem to be relying overwhelmingly on the corruption theme. While this may make some sense for the untried and untested Imran, it makes little sense for the PML-N, stories of whose corruption often circulated in the past.
The PML-N, however, currently has an edge over other parties as it appears to be the only large party in Pakistan that is willing to take on the establishment on foreign policy, and hence, the defence budget. These issues are as crucial to Pakistan’s development as the corruption conundrum. In fact, many political minds believe that the sudden rise of PTI is being clandestinely orchestrated by the establishment, which would not want to see the PML-N in power at any cost. What better way to do this than to prop up another right-wing politician with support in urban areas, and particularly in Punjab, which represents the Sharifs’ traditional constituency?
When Imran Khan asks politicians to declare their assets but conspicuously leaves out generals and bureaucrats, suspicions strengthen. Also worth asking is who is arranging Imran’s trip to China? And yet, Shahbaz Sharif remained fixated on Zardari and corruption, copying Imran Khan instead of poking holes in his foreign policy arguments. The PML-N must inform Punjab’s voters that drone attacks are America’s reaction to our military’s support of groups that target American forces in Afghanistan and thus, cannot be stopped unless we rethink our policy towards Afghanistan and India. Nawaz Sharif hinted at this at the All Parties Conference, but unless the PML-N is able to communicate this important factor to the electorate, it may be relegated to the shadows of the PTI’s urban ‘tsunami’.
Instead, the PML-N’s appeals for rough ‘justice’ have made the PPP look dignified. While too many analysts tend to dismiss the establishment’s propensity towards technocrats in the government, one must acknowledge that placing qualified people at key jobs to improve healthcare, education, information technology, railways, etc. is crucial to development. All political parties in Pakistan tend to overlook this critical aspect of governance and hence the military, through its decades of rule, has developed somewhat of a constituency in urban areas where many people feel that such sectors were better managed during, for example, Musharraf’s rule than during the current PPP tenure.
The PPP and the PML-N must take note of this very significant factor. The PTI, micromanaged by, and much like the other parties, built around Imran’s personality rather than progressive ideology, has not managed to attract any bright technocratic minds that could develop these essential sectors. The fact that the PTI is untested, however, and its constant rhetoric promising to value technocratic qualifications has led many urban youths to its camp. There is in reality only one way to democratically solve this governance crisis. And that is to further democratise the political parties so that they become meritocracies and not personal fiefdoms. Established political parties like the PPP and the PML-N need to recruit capable professionals in large numbers, as is done in functioning democracies elsewhere, and traditional politicians who may understand provincial and local nuances better, must begin to share power with them. Otherwise, they will neither be able to convince an increasingly urban and frustrated population of the value of democracy, nor sustain their political stature indefinitely.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2011.