From political waywardness to new pathways

The opposition has also not promoted the cause of democracy as its interest seems more in destabilising the government

Talat Masood June 02, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The continuous decline in our political culture and more so the politics of street rather than of parliament will take the country nowhere except toward greater political waywardness. For this, political parties are to be blamed and the role of state institutions has not been very helpful either. To comprehend this trend, one has to look at how the government has rammed through the financial bills or other legislation in the parliament and uses ordinances as a substitute for serious legislation. It blames the opposition that they are not serious and deliberately subvert legislative work so that the government has no choice but to adopt such tactics. This is partly true that the opposition’s intent is largely to undermine the government’s efforts and less to improve legislation or to propose an alternate course of action. Nonetheless, the PTI government cannot absolve itself of conducting legislative business in a cavalier fashion and not allowing the opposition to play its role.

The opposition has also not promoted the cause of democracy as its interest seems more in destabilising the government and less in suggesting alternate or better legislation or foreign, defence or economic policies. Agitational politics — surrounding the speaker and harassing him or shouting slogans without offering better alternatives has only a nuisance value.

The conduct of both the government and the opposition is pulling the country down, demoralising the people and undermining the potential of the country and preventing it from moving up the ladder in the comity of developing nations.

Here I may qualify that there are areas in which the government has done well under difficult circumstances. The economy despite serious challenges due to the spread of Covid-19 has done fairly well and sustained an upward trend. Over the first half of FY21, there have been signs of slight recovery and the trend has continued and is gaining momentum. With the pressure of corona lessening and increased mobility and a remarkable increase of remittances especially from Saudi Arabia and Middle Eastern countries, business activity and private consumption has increased. The sale of cement and machinery imports both experienced double-digit growth rates and this trend is likely to gradually extend to other areas. This is no mean achievement especially if one compares with other South Asian neighbours. Our record in handling Covid-19 has also been better as figures indicate.

However, a country that is mired in poverty and where a high percentage of youth is stunted and nearly 40% of the population is illiterate and faces major internal and external challenges, a serious, persistent and cooperative effort by all key political parties is needed in lifting the national economy.

The PPP has decided to go at it alone as an opposition party and looks at the alliance contemptuously. Perhaps it realises its interests with PML-N do not converge and an alliance with PDM will only consolidate PML-N strength in Punjab, giving it a big leverage in the next national elections without any advantage to PPP. As it is, PPP has lost its support except in rural Sindh — a huge comedown for a party that at one time had roots across the country and still has some highly experienced and able leaders in its ranks. Regrettably, its present quality of governance and general drift fail to inspire the proletariat. It is ironic that leadership now is trying to draw strength not as much from the people as by compromising its foundational goals. It is sad that more than ever the nation needs a party that cares for the common people, shares their pain and works for its uplift. Empty words or slogans can only go that far. It is the 21st century the age of information of the mobile, internet and the television when people are far more astute than ever before. The electorate, except the ones who are too ignorant, cannot be fed by mere narrow ethnic considerations they want concrete progress and an improvement in their lives.

The MQM also fails to graduate from its narrow perspective of staying forever as a Muhajir party and retaining its old identity that may have had some relevance 30 or 40 years back. It should move on otherwise its drift will continue and the present leadership divided as it is will face further fragmentation.

PML-N has stayed intact despite multiple external and internal pressures which reflects on its internal strength. Recent success in the Daska polls shows that it has not only retained but increased its following. This may be due to the incumbency phenomenon but still for PTI leadership, as they say in the army, a wakeup call. Of course, the PML-N is also a victim of dynastic politics and in fact their hold has gotten further entrenched. This could be attributed to their insecurity as pressure on the leadership mounts while facing serious legal cases that are not based on mere prejudice. What is so unfortunate is that PML-N too has some highly experienced and able leadership in the wings that gets overshadowed by the dynastic power structure of the party.

The hold of families in Pakistan’s politics will not go away without serious internal democratisation. And unless that happens the grip of establishment will not lessen and democracy in Pakistan would be very fragile. Unfortunately, there are many who are of the view that Pakistan will never change at least not in the near future and argue how the PTI government is willingly leaning on the establishment as a better option than following the Constitution or relying on support of the people. This is Pakistani leadership’s concept of realpolitik.

From all this, one can clearly deduce that Pakistan’s greatest challenge is related to aspects dealing with human wellbeing of its people, the quality of its governance, the vitality and robustness of its economy and the priority that it accords to health, education and economic growth that opens opportunities to the masses. But will this happen if our leadership remains mentally locked up with old concepts of security and development?

Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2021.

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