Unfortunately, the vocabulary of failure, often moored in moral terms, is being carelessly bandied about without any acknowledgement of the performance benchmarks the government set for itself
Cheerleaders of dysfunction and entropy attempting to savage and bury the Pakistan People’s Party and the country’s fledgling democratic order under the burden of unfulfilled expectations and doomsday predictions need to dispassionately assess the performance of the coalition federal government during its salad days in power.
Public disappointment with the PPP-led government is being billed by a gladiatorial media as a revolution in the making. Distilling the drama, there are three main perceptions that the party and its leadership are being pounded with: inaction on the issue of the judiciary; inaction on the fate of President Pervez Musharraf; and inaction on mitigating inflationary pressures.
Unfortunately, the vocabulary of failure, often moored in moral terms, is being carelessly bandied about without any acknowledgement of the performance benchmarks the government set for itself. These benchmarks are an important illumination because they are rooted in the agenda which allowed the PPP to poll the largest number of votes in the February elections.
In his maiden speech to Parliament last March, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani articulated his government’s priorities for its five-year term. Terrorism, extremism and attendant law and order challenges were, correctly, accorded topmost priority. There was also recurrent mention of compassionate economic management. The issue of the judiciary clocked in at number 16 in the list of priorities, five notches below the need to introduce CNG-fuelled buses, while the question of Mr Musharraf’s fate was not addressed at all barring the reference for all state institutions to play their prescribed role to strengthen democracy.
At the announcement of the Murree Declaration in March, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari clearly stated that existing judges would not be displaced. Regrettably, this caveat was muted by media exuberance over the historic agreement between the two mainstream parties to govern collectively. As important as the establishment of a truly independent judiciary is, there is little likelihood that the deposed judges will be able to live up to such an ideal. The roadmap that must be followed for establishing a competent, fear-free judiciary is the Charter of Democracy, which was signed between the PPP and its junior partner two years ago.
As for Pakistan’s favourite scarecrow Mr Musharraf, his exit — whenever that may be — must be managed gracefully. Reconciliation demands that Mr Musharraf must not be harassed into exile and should be provided with security befitting one of Al Qaeda’s most prized targets. Today’s challenges cannot fairly or singly be blamed on either Mr Musharraf or the PPP. Still, in his first televised interaction with the press at the Prime Minister’s House, Mr Gilani was refreshingly reassuring and courageous when he accepted complete responsibility for setting right all that ails Pakistan. “We do not believe in passing the buck, we are accountable now,” he said.
While allowances have to be made for the fact that democracy in Pakistan, like the PPP itself, is in transition, the PPP-led government can be faulted for its preternatural patience with a ceaselessly obstinate junior coalition partner that has hobbled governance.
It can also be faulted for tolerating Lal Masjid fanatics to convene a commemoration in Islamabad; and for its short-sightedness in granting the insensitively loquacious Dr AQ Khan open airwaves. It would certainly benefit Mr Gilani were he to take a leaf out of the Punjab Chief Minister’s handbook and galosh around water-logged urban neighbourhoods to counter his wooden demeanour.
It is the PPP, not its junior coalition partner, which is exalting principle over populism. On several important counts, the government has done far better than the punditry is willing to give it credit for. Its signalling intent on several key socio-economic issues is also important because future public scrutiny shall be based on the successful implementation and concretisation of the government’s stated policies.
The PPP-led government has backed up peace talks with reasonable tribals by sending in tanks to put the fear of government in the Islamist militants; rolled back the punitive laws proscribing media independence; commuted death sentences to life imprisonment for thousands of prisoners; guaranteed access of competent legal counsel for the poor; strengthened the Lady Health Workers programme; announced formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission especially to assuage restive Balochistan; begun work on the redistribution of land with the woman of the household as legal owner; unveiled a programme to launch women’s crisis centres and toll-free helplines in all districts; and convinced the UN for an inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Through its proposed Constitutional Package, the PPP will be able to restore the Constitution closest to its 1973 version
It has also secured deferred oil payment terms from the Saudis; awarded contracts for the fast-track implementation of 877MW of additional power generation (bids for an additional 2,900MW are under process) that shall greatly reduce Pakistan’s existing energy woes; saved 500MW from the introduction of daylight saving hours; increased the wheat procurement price to encourage the agricultural sector; announced plans for food stamps and housing for the country’s poorest (the Benazir Income Support scheme will transfer Rs 34-50 billion in cash to this segment); increased the minimum wage by 33.33 percent; restored the rights of students and labour to unionise; reinstated workers laid off by the previous government; pledged to continue trimming frivolous government spending and passed a well-received national budget; instituted an Economic Advisory Committee of experts; and initiated a process to ramp up local natural gas output.
By any measure, these are creditable, concrete steps out of a mere hundred days in office. Critics should be mindful that Pakistan has escaped the inflation-fuelled rioting that has roiled India and Bangladesh and the dread of famine in countries like Haiti, where people are forced to eat mud. In such troubling times, the PPP has been able to maintain its socialist credentials without being anti-business. It has been able to ally with political rivals without lapsing into the comfortable polarities of the past.
Inherent in the uncharitable impatience being self-righteously paraded on our television screens is anger and disbelief that Ms Bhutto is gone. Inarguably, the PPP is the last hope for a liberal and progressive Pakistan. As Ms Bhutto stated in her last speech, we are in a struggle for the survival and soul of our country. For the sake of Pakistan, we must all work to strengthen the present democratic order and the PPP, not bury it.
Fasih Ahmed is a journalist and businessman and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times, 15/7/2008