Losing direction, losing credibility-Ikram Sehgal

Their own record of governance being rather dismal, the PML-Q’s scoring the coalition government’s 100-day performance negatively is a bit thick. However, the PPP and the PML-N cannot continue the pretence of being partners. Besides, the government being in a state of limbo and paralysis, this falsehood is force-multiplied by the PPP functionaries in government claiming an absolute mandate from their own party.

Everyone and his uncle knows that most of the elected PPP leaders who rendered sacrifices over the years have been sidelined; the handful in the corridors of power are at best a façade. Asif Zardari (unelected but ironically the only one who did suffer) is served by a motley unelected (or indirectly elected) crew with only a tenuous political affiliation with PPP. Are those ruling the country really representative of the electorate? The democratic camouflage is perpetuated by having Yousuf Raza Gilani in the prime minister’s chair, a good man with a politically potent CV, including substantial time spent in jail. Regretfully, he serves simply as a puppet-on-a-Zardari string.

The public perception of aimless drift, a free-for-all without anyone really in command, highlights the malaise in the present regime’s mode of functioning. Is it inefficiency and/or rank incapability? Or is the agenda more sinister and short-term, motivated by corruption? Left in the lurch, angry and frustrated diehard party workers are coalescing around the jilted Makhdoom Amin Fahim. The Faqir of Hala has now come out openly against Asif Zardari. Although the numbers for a full-fledged revolt are not there just yet, the PPP is well on the way to self-destruction. In the absence of a unified PML, the PPP is presently Pakistan’s only genuine national party with roots in every province.

Weathering the many political storms since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination with considerable aplomb and inherent confidence, including facing down the “long march” in June, Asif Zardari exuded great promise as an emerging national leader of some consequence. The major political capital came out of his campaign for national reconciliation. This has evaporated quite dramatically in the last fortnight. In all fairness, he cannot be blamed for everything under the sun. The economic crisis we are facing today is an inherited problem, a world phenomenon compounded by the faulty policies of the PML-Q government. Food is in acute short supply all over the world, but in Pakistan the problem is aggravated by the ill-advised decision by the PML-Q coalition to export wheat to India, then look the other way during wholesale smuggling to Afghanistan. The electricity crisis is certainly due to benign neglect by the Shaukat Aziz government, criminal inaction in keeping up with the demand. Mysteriously, in exclusion of everything else this is the one area the PPP faction ruling Pakistan is showing great vigour. One may well ask why? What is the motivation? The PML-Q cannot put terrorism at the doorstep of the PPP like an illegitimate child, their muddled policies contributed to the situation of calculated ambiguity and growing anarchy today. Combating terrorism needs a clear statement of intention crafted by professionals with experience, not overseen by amateurs with a gift of rhetoric and given to kneejerk reaction bearing no relation with ground realities. Professionals never do the Jack-in-the-Box routine at every macabre event for photo-opportunities. Public displays of micro-management are not required, mature macro-managing of security imperatives from behind the scenes is.

Bereft of Ms Bhutto, Pakistanis look to Mian Nawaz Sharif to take on her mantle as prime national leader, giving positive direction to our aimless “passage to nowhere.” With capable younger brother Shahbaz Sharif making things happen in Punjab, why Mian Sahib has boxed himself into a political corner on the restoration of the judiciary issue is beyond me! The masses believe in his populist message, but can he rise to his potential, or is greatness beyond him? Moreover, the country cannot be held hostage to his enduring hatred for Pervez Musharraf! While the superior judiciary issue certainly needs to be resolved, a cross-country helicopter ride will fill him firsthand with the real anguish of the masses, “Roti, Bijli aur Paani!” Mian Sahib must remain acutely sensitive to the real priorities of the populace.

Some technocrats who are corrupt outright been brought back by Asif Zardari as virtual czars running the government. It is no secret that “deals” are being done in the need to rapidly build additional electricity capacity in the country, those having nothing to do with the PPP are taking the country to the cleaners. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and its blanket amnesty for corruption is a blot on our history. The general perception now is that Asif Zardari’s rhetoric about political reconciliation and democratic values is a sham. His public bonhomie is suspected of being an act, a confidence trick to hide the real agenda: (1) to have all the cases and convictions against him quashed and (2) to make money in the power sector like he is suspected of the last time around. The intelligentsia and the masses may protest, but they can hardly carry out accountability. The potential scandals in the power sector represents the symbolic waving of a red flag, how long before those that matter conclude that if you stay with the Constitution, the Constitution will soon be left without a country?

Given the failure to reconcile with those close aides who served the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto faithfully, how can one measure Asif Zardari’s sincerity towards Mian Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain and his other coalition partners? To regain credibility he must cease to be an absentee landlord and come clean about his real intentions, and (1) get himself elected and take the responsibility of governance in his own hands or (2) stop calling the shots by remote control and letting those elected to fulfil their obligations of good governance to those who elected them. The farce being enacted in the name of democracy is really flirting with disaster.

The inconclusive “long march” somewhat revived the fortunes of Pervez Musharraf. Not a “Comeback Kid” just yet, but a recent visit to Karachi was a love-fest. Having endured unending vitriol, he has been patient for over a year, living with Sun Tse Tzu’s, “if you wait by the river long enough, you will see the corpse of your enemy go floating by.” However, some close advisors, in and out of uniform, need to answer for their excesses. They will certainly face legal challenges in courts both inside and outside the country. While the reports of the PPP-led coalition government’s demise may be greatly exaggerated, Asif Zardari needs to expeditiously take remedial measures on priority basis. The emergency meeting called by Asif Zardari in Dubai (and why in Dubai?) is the acid test of his sincerity. He needs to act, and act quickly. The PPP-led coalition, preferably with (or even without) the PML-N, must succeed, a sudden meltdown of government would subject the country to a greater crisis of governance than it is in today. Nobody in his sane mind would want the country to dissolve into frustration and chaos.

In losing direction, the PPP (Zardari) has also lost credibility. It is in serious danger of losing its already questionable right to rule Pakistan.

The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder 9.com
The News, 10/7/2008

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