By Kunwar Idris
WHENEVER Asif Zardari finds himself surrounded by his slogan-raising partymen, as he was the other day in Lahore’s Governor House, he tells them not to worry about the judges and the president.
The ‘new order’ he is working on will take care of both and forestall all such crises in the times ahead. It sounds as menacing as did Musharraf’s devolution order.
Under the new order, the presidency too, he assures, will reverberate with Bhutto slogans — as the Governor House did on that day. What new order he has in mind, Asif Zardari doesn’t disclose. But as always on that day too, in the very next breath, he recalled a Pakistan of the dreams of his martyred father-in-law and martyred wife.
Today, Z.A. Bhutto’s dream of Pakistan being a polity in which the government commanded the heights of the economy and all power belonged to the people (as represented by the party and its founder) stands consigned to history. Now the government is a mere regulator and the power of the people must show itself through state institutions.
Benazir Bhutto’s half-hearted efforts to establish herself and the party as the source of ‘people’s power’ only led to the premature collapse of her two governments that were haunted by charges of indiscipline and corruption.
Mr Zardari, in these changed times, should not be relating his new order to the dreams of either Zulfikar Bhutto or Benazir Bhutto. Their party now stands much diminished and he lacks the charisma of the Bhuttos; hence he must rely entirely on the institutions of the state and the rule of law to sustain himself in power for five years. The same is true for Nawaz Sharif, whatever plan or picture of statecraft he may have in mind, and will remain true whether the two agree to collaborate or go their separate ways which appears more likely.
Both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the former more than the latter, look set on a course where their personal and party interests appear to supplant institutions. When that happens inadvertently or when party chiefs control the institutions of state by design, even democratically elected governments tend to become totalitarian.
The authority continuing to reside outside the institutions after the elections would be like following the pattern set by the previous regime where President Musharraf exercised all power even after the prime minister was notified as chief executive in the constitution. Three prime ministers in succession owed their office to him and served in subordination to him.
For that, Musharraf drew his authority from the army (which, so to speak, was his party) and not from the constitution. He came to grief only when he overstepped his limits, even as army chief, at a time when popular discontent was growing and legitimate contenders for power had emerged from the shadows. His hold on state authority then loosened notwithstanding the elaborate structure he had erected to preserve it.
Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, again the former more than the latter, must take note that the power of the state that they usurp by virtue of their popular standing or party position will surely erode the institutions which are there to underpin the stability of their governments. It is common knowledge that Mr Zardari is the de facto prime minister. Why doesn’t he become de jure when nothing in law or propriety stands in the way? Likewise, why shouldn’t Nawaz Sharif become leader of the opposition when he is the only one who can credibly fill that position.
The contradictions inherent in the current situation are distorting not the power structure alone but also state protocol. It is hard to imagine how Mr Salman Taseer, the constitutional governor of Punjab, justifies treating his party chief as head of state. The PPP and PML-N must let the parliamentary institutions perform the role that the constitution envisages for them and then get down to removing equally troublesome contradictions in the administrative apparatus down the line.
Surely, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are not unaware of the disappointment of the people with the state of affairs both at the centre and in the provinces. Nor do they see the behaviour of the leaders and performance of the governments improving in the long run. Lack of policy direction (there is really no policy in place) and divided leadership are the basic reasons behind this. Another reason is the plentiful number of ministers to whom the establishment is unable to provide the offices, homes and vehicles they insist they must have before they get down to work. In any case, they are too many for the work available — even if every department were to be broken into many bits. Most will just have to saunter or swagger to the disgust of the people. (It is to be hoped that Shahbaz Sharif doesn’t add, or is pressed to add, more to the 16 he already has).The collective responsibility of the cabinet and secrecy of its discussions, which is a central feature of the parliamentary system, is thus bound to succumb to party caucuses and the cabal of advisers. This is a situation which, understandably, even the party bosses cannot do much about. But they can surely reform the administration below the political level to work better in the service of the people.
The problems at the non-political level are best illustrated by some examples of maladministration chosen out of many that are reported every day. The Balochistan government had turned away the inspector-general of police sent there by the federal government; a district education officer in Sindh had issued appointment letters for 4,500 schools teachers while the provincial government had banned all appointments; Karachi’s water and sewerage board has two heads — one appointed by the nazim, the other by the minister for local government.
These examples mirror the conflicts and confusion caused by the police and district government system introduced by Musharraf over which he directly presided. Uncertainty now surrounds its future. Politics may be a fascinating game but the new rulers must find time to attend to the administration of public affairs which is all but paralysed at the moment. Let them pose this question to the provincial governments: who is responsible for maintaining law and order and who is accountable for their breach? They would surely draw a blank.
Source: Daily Dawn, 22/6/2008