As Oscar Wilde undoubtedly would have said, had he been around in Pakistan today, “To lose one prime minister may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” One doesn’t need to be too conspiracy theory-minded to say that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has got exactly what it wanted, even if the timing didn’t quite suit the party. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has been a dead man walking since the day he was appointed as prime minister. He was under investigation at the time of his selection and it was only a matter of time before his shady past caught up to him.
The Supreme Court announced his arrest while Tahirul Qadri was mid-speech, which undoubtedly caused suspicion due to the timing, however, it does not mean that the Court’s decision was incorrect. There is certainly enough evidence of wrongdoing in the rental power plant projects to place the prime minister under trial. And, those saying the Supreme Court has undermined democracy need to realise that Ashraf doesn’t need to leave his office if he doesn’t want to. Simply being accused of a crime is not enough to disqualify him from office and by the time his trial ends, new elections will already have been held. Of course, if one speaks in terms of moral duty, Ashraf probably should resign but then morality has never held much sway in our politics.
Now would also be a good time to consider the last five years of the PPP rule and wonder exactly what it has done to deserve anyone’s vote. Defenders of the party say, with much justification that, any civilian government has to contend with playing second fiddle to the military. As true as it is, one of the PPP’s chief goals should have been to try and shift this balance of power, no matter how slightly. Instead, the PPP government ended up ceding even more ground to the military. A couple of times in 2008, it tried to bring the military to heel, once when it issued a notification bringing the ISI under the interior ministry and then when it told India after the 26/11 attacks that it would send the ISI chief to India. In both cases, the PPP’s backbone collapsed in under a day. At other moments, like after Osama bin Laden was found to have been living safely and comfortably within our borders, the PPP could have seized the opportunity to publicly claw back some power from a discredited military. Needless to say, it did not even attempt to do that.
On the question of militancy and growing religious intolerance in the country, the PPP has been no better. When faced with protests over the anti-Islam video, it announced the Ishq-e-Rasool Day, guaranteeing only that the protests would become larger and more violent. On Shia killings, it has been mostly silent, as it was on the blasphemy issue, even when its own senior leader Salmaan Taseer was assassinated. This is a party that is in power only so that it can continue staying in power. There is no larger agenda there.
There are some who absurdly claim that any criticism of the PPP is the same as undermining democracy. So, let me say that this PPP government has been the best thing that could ever have happened to our fledgling democracy. Any democracy which can survive such a complete lack of governance for five years is a lot stronger than we give it credit for. We criticise the PPP not because we want the army in power. There is nothing we would enjoy more than the right to vote them out of office.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2013.