On issues like corruption, incompetence, flagrant violation of rules, defiance of the Supreme Court and standing firm against a contempt of court conviction, the polity of Pakistan is divided between those who are in support of the Gilani government and those who are against it. One specific trait of our social and political culture is partisanship — a cleric, a feudal lord, a tribal chief or a caste leader is never wrong, he is always right. Similarly, we see some prominent lawyers and commentators in the media, linked through a system of visible and invisible patronage of the state, waxing eloquent to prove that the prime minister is right and that the Supreme Court is overstepping its mandate. On the other hand, opponents of the regime, mainly the PML-N and the PTI stridently argue that he is a convict and he doesn’t have any legal standing anymore to continue as prime minister.
Before I explain why Gilani must go, I would like to concur with two arguments presented by his supporters. Firstly and politically, I think it was not possible for the prime minister to write a letter to the Swiss courts, whatever the merits of the case may be. President Asif Ali Zardari handpicked him purely on the same grounds that his predecessor appointed prime ministers, that is, being political lightweights. There was an additional quality that President Zardari was looking for and this was absolute loyalty towards him. Mr Gilani has proved his loyalty, honouring the time-honoured code of the feudal world — personal commitments are stronger than matters of public interest or law.
True, the prime minister is now a convicted person but in my view, he may continue to stay in the job until there is a decision on his appeal against the conviction. We have heard that he is not planning to appeal but who knows if the government may yet change its mind on that? Even his opponents, who want to see him return to Multan immediately, don’t present any valid argument against his right of appeal. They talk about moral legitimacy which, in an immoral political world of ours doesn’t carry any weight. If morality — that which is considered public conduct according to the accepted social norms of honour, decency, fair play and merit — were the value to judge our leaders; we may not find any in this part of the world, or elsewhere for that matter.
Morality is a good stick to beat opponents up with but a poor judge of the conduct of power-oriented politics. Politics is, therefore, governed by law alone. There is another source to judge politics, the opinion and support — or lack thereof — of the general population. Sadly, our tradition of rule of law remains weak and public opinion, if judged by electoral results, is polarised along a partisan party system based on strong social networks. Having said this, I believe Mr Gilani must go home.
First, never in our history have we seen such an incompetent government and perhaps, never will we see such a disastrous composition of actors again. There are only a handful of sane voices in his cabinet, the rest being incompetent and unable to run their ministries efficiently and for the greater public good. Second, Pakistan has done better under other regimes and could do better in terms of development, resource generation and governance. Also, the prime minister’s reputation is not all that clean, not least because of the serious allegations of favouritism and nepotism in the so-called ephedrine scandal allegedly involving one of his sons.
Finally, with a heavy burden of perceived corruption, poor governance and now standing in the middle of a political controversy, his carrying on in office may cost the PPP dearly. He is a political liability and the sooner he is sent packing the better off the PPP will be, as well as the rest of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2012.