Thinking aloud —Munir Attaullah

People keep talking of the Lal Masjid ‘martyrs’, urge muzakirat in woolly fashion, and insist that the right way to deal with even this menace is to first restore the judges, then impeach the President, and then re-cast our foreign policy to conform to the anti-American sentiments of the people

Subversive thoughts, in themselves, need never be feared. They come to mind often enough (and naturally enough) anyway. Why not, then, deal with them in realistic fashion and, instead of simply dismissing them as unworthy of mental effort, at least think them through?(Whether one should subsequently voice them publicly, or act upon them is, however, another — and quite independent — matter. Here, other considerations may suggest keeping your own counsel as the wisest option.)

Astute readers will guess that this preamble is probably a prelude to my discussing a dicey proposition. They would not be wrong. For, I want today to think through publicly the desirability of certain political re-alignments that would strike most Pakistanis as heretical and unthinkable.

That they may well be. But so what? It is a thought that may well be vindicated one day. I may as well also confess that the stimulus for such thoughts is the current political scene that has left the public totally confused (aided and abetted by an over-zealous media).

The thought is a simple one: Is it in the nation’s interest that the PPP formally part ways with the PMLN and seek fresh political alignments? Would such a course of action also be in the PPP’s long term self interest, or detrimental to it?

As I said, my internal mental re-appraisal begins with an assessment of the current scene. The PMLN seems to have manoeuvred adroitly, ruthlessly, and successfully to both pocket more than its share of the electoral harvest and do so without attracting the odium that comes from having to make all those difficult compromises that governments face. Meanwhile, the PPP and its leadership are being blamed by everyone for ‘doing nothing’ about the ‘real problems’ confronting the country (as perceived by the media in its role as spokesperson of the public).

Now, it is not as if the government, in three months, has ‘failed the nation’ as the media proclaims. As fellow columnist Fasih Ahmed argued in these pages last Tuesday, and as the Prime Minister said in his televised speech, the new government has taken many policy initiatives on a broad range of issues that deserve to be taken into account if drawing up a performance balance sheet.

But the problem is that on the knotty issues of extremism, load shedding and food inflation, and the President and the Judges, our people want the type of instant solutions that may not be practical options for this government (at least in the short run) for a variety of reasons.

To repeat oft-argued positions here again will serve no purpose. Except to repeat the reality that it is in the nature of government that it cannot bring about radical beneficial changes in the short term, though it can easily compound many fold an already difficult situation by acting precipitously. Talleyrand’s directive to his ambassadors, surtout pas de zele (above all, no zeal), remains sound advice for a government, even if it is lost on our populace.

At the heart of my argument is the proposition that by far the biggest and most serious problem we are confronted with is the ‘Talibanisation’ threat in all its guises (one of which is the ‘the war on terror’ and how it affects our relations with the US. And that, in turn, has serious consequences for our economy). Many of us have been saying this for years, to no avail. For we live on hope and fantasy, and later excuse our stupidity by calling it badkismati.

More recently, however, the PPP, the MQM, the ANP (?), and the President and the Army, seem to have realised the enormity and seriousness of this creeping menace. In my opinion, even our economic problems are chicken feed compared to this threat that could easily turn us into another Afghanistan.

The problem is that not many Pakistanis — and certainly not the PMLN or the APDM, or the lawyers — see matters from this perspective. Instead of all shades of political opinion uniting to counter this threat by rallying public support and backing the Army to deal with the matter ruthlessly, every faction is only interested in pushing its own limited agenda, while the government is left more or less alone, with little help or public support in grappling with this monster.

Worse, people keep talking of the Lal Masjid ‘martyrs’, urge muzakirat in woolly fashion, and insist that the right way to deal with even this menace is to first restore the judges, then impeach the President, and then re-cast our foreign policy to conform to the anti-American sentiments of the people.

As the ruling party, the PPP faces a difficult political problem. It knows that the President and the Army have a long history of preferring to deal with the pliant conservative and right-wing elements of our political class, at its cost. So, to co-operate politically with the Army is to sup with the devil. On the other hand the PPP (thanks to BB) also understands better than the other political parties the important (albeit unpleasant) central role of the Army and the Americans in our affairs, for some time to come. The former is needed in the fight against extremism, the latter to support our economy. What should it do?

The solution was to bow to realities and co-operate with the Army and the Americans. And, by simultaneously seeking the support of the PMLN, it hoped both to have a counterweight to the President and to achieve political and social stability, while it tackled the problems of governance. The PMLN, however, has its own distinctly different views of the priorities for the government. In effect, its role is counterproductive, as far as our most dangerous problem is concerned.

Early in 2007, I had suggested (in a column entitled ‘Political re-alignments’) that probably the most stable government that would carry out what I consider to be our national priorities would be a coalition that would have the PPP at its core, with the President ‘delivering’ the MQM and the PMLQ in support. Nothing is impossible in politics, and I still feel my arguments then remain valid today. It is true that the MQM is fond of blackmailing tactics and can be prickly partner. But there are plenty of progressive and forward-looking people in the PMLQ. There is the making of a ‘natural’ coalition that can hold.

Let us face it. The PMLN, in its political philosophy, is to the right of the political spectrum, not far removed from the thinking of the Jama’at, the religious parties, and Imran Khan. Such groups too constitute a ‘natural’ coalition.

Is that the shape of coalition politics to come?

The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit



Source: Daily Times, 23/7/2008

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