Get rid of the APC syndrome, please

Governments fearful of inviting public criticism for taking unpopular decisions, invariably end up proposing an APC.

M Ziauddin July 16, 2013
The writer is Executive Editor of The Express Tribune

You don’t win an election to lose it to the losers at an APC (all-parties conference). The voters have given their verdict. They expect the party in which they had reposed their confidence, no matter for what reason, to govern the country to the best of its own abilities and be judged in the next elections on the basis of its performance. They don’t expect the winner to go ask the losers in an APC for guidance on how to make policies or how to govern. That is what happens in the All Parties’ Conferences. The losers use this God-sent opportunity to hog the limelight by playing to the gallery with their emotion-packed “patriotic” humbug luring the ruling party to ride the tiger of public opinion on issues like foreign policy and combating terror — essentially the sole preserve of the executive. APCs normally turn into crowded jalsas from the very word go. Even those called by the government of the day soon drown themselves into a widening swamp of verbiage. Realisation gradually dawns on the hosts that it is too big a crowd to risk divulging and discussing relevant facts affecting the subject of the APC. And by the time these APCs eventually reach the stage of drafting resolutions, the executive, invariably, finds that it had lost the ground, the direction and the initiative to the losers. And the draft resolutions that are churned out at the conclusion, more often than not, sound more like election speeches demanding/promising the moon itself.

In case the APC is a closed door affair, then the media is inundated with all kinds of self-promotional leaks by the political non-entities. In case it were an open door meet, then the media talk-shows would have a field day depicting the entire episode as a farcical theatre of political undergraduates.

Probably Pakistan is the only country in the world where APCs are proposed at the drop of a hat. Governments, unable to come up with answers to knotty national problems or fearful of inviting public criticism for taking unpopular but necessary decisions, invariably end up proposing an APC. On the other hand, parties in the opposition usually clamour for an APC having exhausted all other avenues of opposing the government for the sake of opposing it. In the “bad” old days of civil-military turns in the saddle, most often than not APC-type moots would precede formation of alliances of out-of-power politicos for launching street agitations in urban towns to oust the party in power with the help of you-know-who.

Such APCs used to be held at the fag end of military regimes but in the very first year or so of civilian governments. The late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan used to lead most such campaigns. His departure from the scene has brought to an end a political culture better consigned to history but with the right lessons learnt.

Clearly, an APC has never been a substitute for the many forums of consultation provided in the Constitution. To start with, you have a parliament, then there are relevant parliamentary committees, next there is the Council of Common Interest (CCI) where decisions are expressed in terms of “opinion of the majority” and not consensus. In case the federal government, which has a majority in the CCI, desires a consensus, it can convene a meeting of all the four chief ministers and thrash out the reservations and objections of those not in agreement with the substance, direction or the goals of the policy.

So, instead of wasting time in irrelevant exercises like APCs and powerless committees, Mr Sharif would do well to get on with the job and formulate policies using the best brains of his party with necessary relevant inputs from the permanent instruments of governance — the civil service, the Foreign Office, the police, the intelligence agencies and the army and its intelligence arms — then take it to all the consultative forums of parliament and once finalised, make the official implementers implement them with a fair degree of efficiency and in accordance with a mutually agreed timetable. You don’t have much time to lose, Mr Prime Minister. You are the chief executive. Play the role, Sir.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2013.

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