Why does the PPP not govern? —Shahzad Chaudhry


Politics at the moment is about power, not about serving the people. It seems that the president knows the difference well, but he is content to pursue his own plan even if it means handing over the reins to the PML-N at the end of his five years

Within the last two weeks Pakistan has faced three major disasters. An Airblue flight went down in the Margallas, and exposed the inadequacies of the governing structure in proffering an organised effort to search and rescue. We became the laughing stock of the world because of the manner of our non-existent sense of response, capability and capacity in such calamities.

The floods followed soon after, as if giving a lie to the most popular refrain of the previous months, when everyone with a microphone unleashed a volley of abuse against India for imposing ‘water terrorism’ on Pakistan. There are many more reasons for castigating India, but water has rarely been a factual cause. Mostly, we have failed to frame our case on the basis of reality and have been driven by sentiment based on hearsay, and a poor knowledge base of our water issues. Nature compensated us well for the shortages of the previous months with widespread rains, except that we were ill-prepared, as everywhere else, to garner, exploit and use this seasonal gift. What should have been a boon has turned into a bane; hundreds have died, properties lost and the natural cycle of growth, agricultural and industrial, seriously disrupted. A few more billion dollars will be needed to recover from a huge economic setback. Sadly, this too points to an endemic failure of governance, lack of foresight, a dominant sense of laissez-faire in the ruling circles and an entire absence of planning and interest in governing.

Target killings in Karachi are the third chapter of sorrow. Why is there no law being applied? Three days of paralysis in the economic hub of Pakistan has wrought three times the financial loss caused by the unprecedented floods. The floods were God-sent and beyond human intervention, but what about fulfilling a constitutional duty of protecting the life and property of the people of Karachi? Where was the state? Why has the state failed?

This leads me to my question in the title: is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) actually into governance? I fear not. To my mind, any governance during their current tenure is likely to be incidental, never a planned activity. The PPP and its mandarins will give you many reasons for their plight, chief among these the war on terror, a handover from a military government lacking institutions, a difficult regional environment, and a radicalised society fuelling an uncertain domestic environment. These are a cover for their failures in governance, but a sellable cover all the same. The real reason though is different. It lies in the various fault-lines that retch the party from within, and continue to be perceived as the most imminent business concern within the party’s hierarchy. The reasons for the PPP’s failures in governance are political in nature, not geo-political, social or security-dominated.

The root of the PPP’s perceived nightmares lies in the brutal killing of the iconic Benazir. Three immediate challenges befell the hapless Zardari. Given his own weak reputation within the rank and file of the party, his biggest challenge was to gain and retain control of the party. He must have expected pretenders to unleash their ambitions when Benazir’s domineering presence disappeared. Amin Fahim from within and Ghinwa Bhutto and Mumtaz Bhutto from outside the party fold provided substance to his apprehension. Second was the threat to the Bhutto legacy. He, a Zardari and not a Bhutto, meant he needed to reincarnate a Bhutto. Appeared Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was anointed the chairperson of the PPP at 18 years. Losing the Bhutto lineage and control over the PPP has been a persistent fear for Zardari. That puts into perspective how both Bilawal and Asifa are being portrayed internationally as the rightful heirs to rule Pakistan. That also explains why the president abdicated his role as the head of the state and instead of relating to people in distress, he opted to head towards Europe to celebrate his son’s graduation and to launch him into active politics. There are changes to Bilawal’s induction plans, but we have not yet seen the last of them. Zardari’s mind is occupied with such issues, rather than aspects of ruling or governance.

Zardari’s third challenge was purely political — to maximise the PPP’s influence and power base across the national scene. The PML-N’s hold over Punjab, and Nawaz Sharif’s unquestioned status as a national leader in Benazir’s absence, added to Zardari’s reason of urgency to counter such a domineering challenge to the PPP’s traditional hold. Despite the initial tentativeness and apparent discomfort on both sides to engage, Zardari kept up a pretence of finding common political ground, in reality seeking time to reinforce his political hold, while taking the sting out of the PML-N’s opposition. Their combined aversion to military intervention has helped them co-exist, albeit uneasily. Most analyses point to a discreet agreement between the two to avoid berating one another and to let the political system sustain without undue challenge. While Zardari works on entrenching his family’s hold over the party and expand its political base, Nawaz Sharif sees a major chink in the PPP armour because of derelict governance, offering him an almost assured return to head the next government. Both seek time-based political agendas. The deal is: no harrying.

With such motives, where is the place for any thought on governance or delivery of service?

Politics at the moment is about power, not about serving the people. It seems that the president knows the difference well, but he is content to pursue his own plan even if it means handing over the reins to the PML-N at the end of his five years. In Zardari’s own calculus, time to reinforce control over the party is a bigger imperative than a return to power. Eight years from now Bilawal will be at a more acceptable age to vie for ruling the country. The default dividend in such an arrangement for both parties is an uninterrupted 10 years of democratic rule, helping entrench the political tradition, and distancing the military from habitual intervention.

The 18th Amendment may already be part of law, but the power locus still lies extensively in the Presidency. The prime minister remains a nominated executive and an appointee without authority. The cabinet responds to him only in name, in reality reporting to the president for seeking relevance in the constantly evolving political equation within the party. With both the ministers and the senior bureaucracy looking to the president, and governance farthest from the president’s mind, there simply is no governance. Governance is a ‘demand and supply’ function. Ministers deliver governance when the executive demands it. For the moment, the prime minister is dislocated and out of sorts, a forlorn figure, and incapable of governing.

Shahzad Chaudhry is a defence and security analyst

Article originally published in Daily Times, reproduced by permission of DT.

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