Jun 042008

By Mr Sharif’s calculation, there can be no political loss to him, only substantial gain — immediate and long-term — in rejecting circumspection, compromise and restraint in the making of such disruptive political demands and public posturing
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. And if that crown be one of thorns, you can say goodbye to restful nights and sweet dreams. If, further, your subjects are poor and restive, and easily swayed and misled by emotional but empty slogans, your very equanimity and patience too will be severely tested.

It is hard, at the moment, not to feel deeply for Mr Zardari.

For, governing Pakistan has to be one of the world’s toughest, thankless, and despairing assignments. The bequeathed structural problems from decades of state idiocy are deep-rooted. And many powerful and competing forces, with their host of simplistic, do-or-die, single-point agendas, insist on pulling in different directions and ripping us apart, with a ‘damn the long-term or collective cost, I need satisfaction now’ attitude.

As if that was not bad enough, a nation of largely jobless, rudderless, helpless illiterates remains an easy prey for those who, instead of preaching conciliation, would rouse and stir their emotions — and stoke the smouldering embers of deprivation, resentment and hate — for personal and short-term political gain.

Yes, I know what all those politically correct politicians and media personalities, anxious to flaunt their democratic credentials, keep spouting monotonously: that we actually are a ba-sha’oor nation; that it is only badkismati say this, and badkismati say that, that we suffer what we suffer. I take it, my readers do not suffer from such myopia, having, I hope, long banished that reason-suffocating term, badkismati, from their vocabulary. But, just in case anyone has any lingering doubts, I say to him, just ask virtually anyone in the wide outside world to get a totally different perspective on our predicaments.

But then I reflect that I am being singularly stupid in suggesting that. For why should we expect a world, satanically united and viciously determined to conspire against us Muslims and our bomb, to say anything else to us other than that intended to dissipate our jazba and dilute our eeman? Is that not why we reject ‘dictation’? Just give us the money and get lost.

These thoughts are not new, but depressingly old. Nor can I be alone in thinking that politics has to be our national passion. Everyone, it seems, is pre-occupied thinking, talking, gossiping, writing, and speculating about developments on that front, to the virtual exclusion of all else. And this has been so now for well over a year, without respite.

You might think that the searing heat of our pitiless summer — and the dust and the flies, and the general state of lethargy that accompany it — might distract us from our passion. Not a bit of it. On the contrary, everyone is currently in thrall of Mr Sharif who, true to form, has steadily raised the political temperature, and is even now busy doing what a ba-sha’oor nation loves best from its leaders: recklessly upping the ante of defiance, damn the consequences.

Last year, there was some debate in the media between the rival merits of the measured, ‘transitional’ process that was evolutionary in nature, and the swift, radical, and ‘transformational’ approach, as the preferred political option. Now we know that this debate is as old as history itself, and with no definitive answer. For, there is no ‘one fits all’ recipe for every deep and troubling political conundrum. All such a debate can achieve is to manifest the personal preferences of the debaters. But, while it is unlikely any of them will change their minds as a result, the real battle is to win acceptance for your point of view from those tuned in who may not themselves have thought about the matter too deeply.

Readers know on which side of the divide I stood last year. So, it should not surprise anyone where I stand today.

I endorse and applaud Mr Zardari’s calm, patient, thoughtful — and incremental but sustained — efforts at coming to grips with our hydra-headed political woes and malaise. For, how can I not approve of an approach to politics that is sensible, rational, and measured — and, therefore, eminently modern, and long overdue? Do we not desperately need to break away from the old mould and introduce fresh traditions of more sanity, restraint, and tolerance in public life? Is circumspection not to be preferred to confrontation?

By contrast, I view with dismay the increasingly strident political posture and tone of Mr Sharif. In the immediate post-election phase, the PPP-PMLN coalition seemed a promising harbinger of desperately needed political stability. Standing united, it could have further politically marginalised the disruptive APDM rubble, brought some sanity and realism to the agitation by the lawyers, and transferred the arena of politics from the streets to where it rightly belongs: the Parliament.

Such stability — and let us be clear that only the PMLN acting with restraint could guarantee that — would have allowed the government to focus its attention on our real problems. In due course, it would even have forced the President to reluctantly vacate his office himself.

Alas! Many had feared and predicted what is happening now. After all, why should Mr Sharif and his party be satisfied — for the life of this Parliament — by ruling only Punjab but playing second fiddle at the Centre? So it is not for nothing that Mr Sharif has successively gone out on a limb and raised the ante for Mr Zardari, first with deadlines, then with his ministers cold-shouldering the President and later resigning, then with the promise to join the lawyers in their march, and now with strident calls for the impeachment of an illegal President.

By Mr Sharif’s calculation, there can be no political loss to him, only substantial gain — immediate and long-term — in rejecting circumspection, compromise and restraint in the making of such disruptive political demands and public posturing. If the demands are accepted, he is the knight in shining armour. If they are patiently deflected and thwarted constitutionally, the doors of government will probably remain open (is there a better option, in the larger interests of the nation for political stability, available to Mr Zardari?). Finally, should the PPP break with the PMLN as a result of the demands (can it afford the political price of doing so?) Mr Sharif, as the hero of the people, will be unstoppable come the next election.

So, is it a win-win strategy for Mr Sharif? Possibly. But do not think for a moment that Mr Zardari is naïve enough not to understand these political dynamics better than you or me. Politics is a tough business, and he too knows how to play hardball, should it come to a crunch.

Finally, how many have fully digested that ominous statement from the Army that it considers Musharraf as the legitimate President of the country?

The writer is a businessman

Source: Daily Times, 4/6/2008

 Posted by at 9:10 am

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