May 152008

A tremendous setback for the process of national reconciliation notwithstanding, when one of the major partners in the coalition (the “odd couple”) walked out on the other on May 12, the coalition did not fall, and is not likely to. One must concede that the PML (N) tried its best to compromise, it had boxed itself into such a situation politically about the restoration of the Nov 3 judiciary, its credibility among the electorate would have been seriously impaired if it had stayed in the federal cabinet. “Restoration of the judiciary” is extremely important but certainly not more important than “roti, bijli aur paani,” presently a desperate necessity for a vast majority of the populace.

Agreement in principle notwithstanding, even neutral legal experts believe that without constitutional amendments restoration will result in legal confrontation that could imperil the democratic process. Is confrontation with Pervez Musharraf more important for Mian Sahib than food on the table, electricity in the houses and water to drink for the vast majority of the population? Is personal vendetta more important than the needs of the impoverished? Someone has to get his priorities right!

In my article “A pocketful of miracles” on Feb 21, 2008, I had written: “PPP is in a position to cobble a national alliance in the Centre with (a very willing) MQM, ANP, Balochistan nationalist parties and some independents. PML (Q) supporting PPP in Punjab can make a coalition governmentt, keeping the PML (N), the largest party in the province, out in the cold. While PPP can form a government of its own in Sindh, it will do so with MQM. With a coalition also in Balochistan, PPP can be part of ANP’s forming the government in NWFP. Including PML (Q) will give PPP the government in Punjab (and also additional comfort for staying in power in the Centre). This is a better situation than in 1972 when PPP was not in the governments of NWFP and Balochistan.”

Magnanimity is often taken to be a sign of weakness. Asif Zardari’s effort for genuine national reconciliation led to a perception that Mian Nawaz Sharif was the indispensable “king-maker” without whom the government could not function. Worse, and unfortunately, the PML-N started to believe this themselves. For the PPP-led federal government to survive in the 342-member National Assembly, it needs at least 172 MNAs. With 125 MNAs of its own and supported by the MQM’s 25, the ANP’s 13, the JUI (F)’s 6 and 8 from FATA, theoretically the “restructured” Coalition (with the PML-N playing a brooding King Lear) will have a tally of 177. And that is not counting independents and possible turncoats! The dynamics dictate that even without the support of the solid bloc of the PML-N’s 90 seats (or even the more fragile PML-Q), the PPP-led coalition can still govern, and govern well.

The PML-N walkout means the present cabinet can now function without being subjected to second-guessing on all and every issue, it translates into possible good governance. With Asif Zardari calling the shots for the PPP, Mian Nawaz Sharif being the other de facto PM to whom the PML-N ministers reported had virtually paralysed government functioning. Come to think of it, except for Ishaq Dar, all the PML-N ministers seemed to be marking time, did they know something we didn’t? Governance cannot be held hostage to political expediencies, particularly one guaranteed to result in constitutional anarchy, and that too in the face of impending economic and food crisis!

The situation is tailor-made for classic political (instead of military) “stay-behind” operations, therefore one must heartily commend the PML-N for not going into the opposition benches and thus allowing monkey wrenches to be cast into the system. Someone must do their homework about Operation “Clockwork Orange” and British PM Harold Wilson in 1978, not counting the “Mehran Bank” caper nearer at home. This nation’s interests have been sacrificed too many times at the altar of misplaced loyalty, loyalty to the state and to its people cannot be subservient to loyalty to any one individual. Whenever and wherever individual interest comes into conflict with national interest, the national interest must prevail.

The Finance Ministry, despite being ably led by Ishaq Dar, symbolises a government in paralysis. The fall of the Pakistani rupee has many internal and external factors, political uncertainty is a major contributor. The PML-N in the opposition would be a good thing for the PPP in the long run, it will make their performance better. For the PML-N it means five years out in the cold, given that the PPP spent the years of Mian Nawaz Sharif-2 in the wilderness, being hounded by the likes of Saifur Rahman, this would about even the balance.

Whenever one has had reservations about presidential actions these have been expressed over the years, whenever he has done right one has been more than generous with plaudits. The tragedy is objectivity is taken to be straddling fences. When the chips are down and the wagons are circled, the affected tend to be sensitive about any criticism, Musharraf’s immediate family is no exception. As an unabashed admirer, as recently as Sept 13, 2007, in “Limited Presidential Options,” I wrote: “His mother, wife and children have conducted themselves in exemplary manner, rather uncommon in any country’s (particularly the third world).” The family is hurt with any criticism, questioning good faith, the downside of objectivity. As opposed to, “if you are not for us, you are against us,” the belief is, “if you are not against them, you are against us!” Unlike some close aides who are more loyal than the king, Pervez Musharraf has seldom taken umbrage, until recently. That is the ultimate irony, being labelled “a close friend” of Pervez Musharraf by all and sundry cuts no ice, the same person is out gunning for his “close friend” in earnest, mainly through talented cousins.

Pervez Musharraf has done a lot for this country but in his desperate quest for personal survival as head of state he has also committed great blunders, Nov 3 being the worst of them! He is being led by the nose, albeit willingly, into a greater blunder, suggesting two Supreme Courts to offset restoration of the Nov 3 judges. This would disfigure the country’s prime institution beyond imagination. He would be unwise to test the exercise of absolute presidential power, the ground realities have changed. While the PML-N’s departure from the cabinet does make the president’s situation more stable, the president’s interest is best served by lying low and letting the democratic process alone. By not playing “patriot games” with the politicians he has continuity as a constitutional head of state. One does not want to see him humiliated and/or hounded out of office.

The “Odd Couple” are now apart, if they come back together they are friends, if they do not, they never were. The PPP must dominate vital ground in government functioning, must have tried and tested loyalists in place in critical appointments. There is a laissez-faire perception about government functioning that must be dispelled. For the PPP to survive the impending multi-faceted multi-dimensional crisis through the long, hot summer, it has to get governance functioning, and functioning soon. With the runaway bride gone, the honeymoon is over!

The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email:
Source: The News, 15/5/2008

 Posted by at 8:47 am

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