The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
In more ways than one, despite the new round of confusion over judicial restoration, the new government has got off to a good start. The problem is that the challenges of governance in the country are so many that such efforts quickly become lost amidst the dense jungle they form.
The power riots in Multan were just one indication of what may lie ahead over what will, inevitably, be a long, blistering summer. The third rise in petrol prices within a six week period and the inflation it has already triggered is another warning. The situation that has been inherited has brought a great many difficulties. In this respect it is rather a pity that the country’s former managers and the international monetary agencies that so whole-heartedly supported them through their five years in power, have only now begun to concede that ‘mistakes’ were made or that the financial picture is not a rosy one.
Had these admissions been made earlier the problems that exist now, particularly the crippling energy shortfall, would have been tackled sooner and prevented from assuming such massive proportions.
But there have also been some positive signs. In the international sphere, the government has greater standing then it did immediately after the cabinet was sworn in. Even Washington, which despite the lack of any discernible evidence of success, has continued to insist President Musharraf is a key ally in the war on terror, seems lately to have changed its tone. It has decided to table before Congress a proposal for a substantial package in non-military aid to the civilian administration. As importantly, it has extended trust — by indicating that it is ready to stop the unmanned, Predator flights over the tribal areas, which along with their cargo of bombs have unleashed an immense wave of anger across the country. Whether the US keeps these promises is to be seen, with some reports already coming in of more drones spotted over Waziristan. The realization that more US intervention will only fuel more violence does not, as yet, seem to have fully dawned.
A minefield of problems exists too at home. As Benazir Bhutto found, most notably during her first stint in power, the python-like loops of the Pakistan bureaucracy with its close links to the establishment, are capable of forcing the life out of any governmental endeavour. The struggle the federal government has faced in having cases against detained Baloch leader Akhtar Mengal dismissed, despite being in power in the centre, Sindh and Balochistan, are evidence of this. So far, while the Balochistan government remains desperate that the pledge made to free Balochis and open talks with nationalists be implemented swiftly to allow efforts to begin to create greater harmony within that turbulent province, the elements that have held a stranglehold over Pakistan since its inception have thrown up one objection after the other to suggestions that Mengal be released. The BNP leader himself has declined an offer to walk out of jail on bail while his bodyguards and party activists remain behind. Some are already reading conspiracy into the murder of the Balochistan University VC.
Other efforts at subversion have also been reported and Asif Ali Zardari is now on record as having stated the presidency was involved in conspiracies. The way in which such tactics can hold back governance while also acting to discredit the government, has been well-established in Pakistan with its long history of struggle between different centres of power. The fact is that the governing coalition needs to be given a fair chance to show what it can manage. Many ideals of rule can be drawn up and many scenarios suggested. But the fact is that, in the reality that exists today in Pakistan the present setup is probably the best option we have available in terms of a dispensation that is democratic, progressive and includes individuals, many of them young, who seem truly determined to bring around a political turnaround.
The steps taken by the government, in terms of releasing the judges from house arrest and removing amendments made under the November 3 emergency to the electronic media law, are good ones and suggest the decision-making compass is pointing in the right direction. It is also true that at least some lull has come about in suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, though the scenario in tribal areas remains grim and it is uncertain how long the current calm will prevail.
Pakistan’s history of disrupted government and misrule also means there is a great deal of cynicism. The announcement by the young chief minister of Punjab, Dost Muhammad Khosa, of plans to cut the criminally extravagant budget of the chief minister’s secretariat has been met with some of this tendency to immediately scoff and dismiss such pledges. There is plenty of reason to be sceptical. But perhaps there is also a need to give the new set of rulers a chance. The fact, after all, is that if they fail the future of Pakistan will be darker still and hope for any kind of change even fainter.
A judicial restoration would help re-inject some buoyancy into the atmosphere and prevent further sag. The issue has now become so significant that it needs to be settled so that national thinking can move on and the other tasks of governance begun in earnest. This process would be aided by an exit by Musharraf from the presidency, allowing Pakistan a fresh new start, but so far he has given no suggestion that he is ready to follow such a course. Indeed, huddled up with legal aides who specialize in finding ways to subvert the Constitution of Pakistan — that much mauled document that still remains the country’s basic law — the president is said still to be planning ways to parry any offensive from democratic forces.
It is a pity that the matter of judicial restoration has led the two principal coalition partners into a kind of stalemate, giving rise to further speculation and preventing national politics from moving on. The issue needs to be dealt with, on the basis of agreements reached between the PPP and the PML-N, so that the current sense of uncertainty can be ended.
The government meanwhile must also think of ways of keeping some of the wave of optimism on which it has been ushered into power rolling on. While the many crises that exist will obviously not vanish, and indeed may grow before they recede, the people can be presented with a vision for the future.
Rather than offering solace and compensation to individual families of suicide victims, what is needed is a far wider safety net that can catch the most desperate people before they throw themselves under trains or swallow poison. As the medical adage goes, prevention is the key to dealing with almost any malaise. This means a social welfare system, employment schemes and most of all land reforms, the one step that could make the biggest difference to the largest number.
There must also be a review of why Pakistan has lagged behind all its Asian neighbours over the past two decades in terms of human development. Recent findings by donors of mismanagement and wastage in the implementation of educational and development schemes in both NWFP and Punjab must be studied. In the past, successive governments have repeated each other’s mistakes and held back development by choosing political vendetta over public welfare. That must not happen again, so that at the end of what should be a five-year term in office, Pakistan has a new set of leaders to look towards and the democratic future of the country is more secure than it has been before over the troubled six decades of the country’s existence.
Source: The News, 24/4/2008