Pakistan in the doldrums —Syed Mansoor Hussain


If the PPP hierarchy does not want to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, then it must come out and say so and take its licks whatever they may be. If on the other hand he is to be reinstated then let it be so, the NRO be damned

If we believe the press about what is going on in Pakistan, it would seem that Pakistan at present is being governed by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, assisted by the Keystone Kops.

Gone it seems is the hope and much of the enthusiasm that many had after the elections. It was an enchanted moment when it seemed that Pakistan was finally on its way out of the mire it was stuck in over the last many decades of its existence. Things did change but, sadly, not for the better.

The question however is whether all that is not well with the country is due to the new government. Some of the problems facing Pakistan as a country and its people are obviously beyond the immediate control of any government. Inflation and extremism are worldwide problems and even stable democracies are having trouble handling them.

Clearly what we are faced with is a transition from dictatorship to democracy. Compared to dictatorship, democracy is intrinsically an inefficient system of government. Decisions are made by taking into account different opinions and this takes time. Once decisions are made, they cannot be rapidly reversed either.

But the success of any system of government ultimately lies in the quality of opinions available, the ability to choose the ones that are best and then implement them. It is perhaps in this that the federal government is having problems. Whether this is due to lack of experience or political will or just ineptitude is the question.

Here it is important to determine who is it that is making the final decisions. Is it the federal cabinet headed by the Prime Minister, or is it somebody else? Based upon what is being said in the press and the electronic media and by people on the ‘street’, it is somebody other than the Prime Minister and his cabinet that is making all the decisions.

Opponents of the Pakistan People’s Party believe that the ‘somebody else’ running the country — and running it into the proverbial ground — are the ‘un-elected members’ of the PPP hierarchy in collusion with the presidency and supported by the hidden hand of our strategic partner and ally in the war on terror. Supporters of the PPP are quite bewildered and cannot understand why things are so bad.

Things are bad but compared to the last democratic interregnum, not really worse. At that time Pakistan was on the verge of default of its foreign debt, currency reserves had dwindled to nothing. The superior courts were literally under attack, the press under constant fire and the army as an institution was being humiliated. And let us not forget the 15th Amendment to the Constitution that seemed imminent.

Moreover, if we compare the recent trip of Prime Minister Gilani to meet with President Bush with the visit of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to see President Clinton, Mr Gilani’s trip must be considered a smashing success. (In relative terms, of course!)

But this does not mean the all is well in the PPP house that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto gave their lives for. Clearly, if nothing is done to put that house in order, it will crumble, leaving little behind except the memories and the possibility of what could have been.

Obviously some of the problems confronting Pakistan today have no easy and immediate remedies. Still, there is much that can be done to refurbish and perhaps rehabilitate the reputation of the PPP as a major political force in the country.

First and foremost in my opinion is to get the ‘judges’ issue out of the way. If the PPP hierarchy does not want to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, then it must come out and say so and take its licks whatever they may be. If on the other hand he is to be reinstated then let it be so, the NRO be damned. Dragging this issue is sapping public support for the PPP.

Second is the issue of governance; a case in point being the recent ISI-Interior Ministry fiasco. Whoever made that decision and then retracted it must pay the price for such supreme incompetence. It is not the decision that bothers me but rather the retraction and the lame excuses that followed.

Third, there are many matters relating to agricultural, financial and energy policies that need to be addressed immediately to provide some assurance to the business community as well as ordinary Pakistanis that those in control mean ‘business’.

Finally, movement does not mean action and results but it does make it look like somebody cares and is actually trying to do something. Mr Shahbaz Sharif, like King Canute, cannot make the waters recede but at least it is good ‘copy’ as well as a great photo-op when he wades into a Lahore street that is under three feet of water.

I realise that the Prime Minister might find such actions rather sophomoric and beneath his dignity, and feel that these are cheap ways to get good press. Let me assure him that wading into three feet of dirty water on a Lahore street with possible open manholes is not a walk in the park. Just ask the Lahoris who have to do it every so often!

So, driving home today, I went through the same road that I have talked about in these pages before. It is in a bad way, worse than ever before but it seems that somebody is finally going to fix it once for all. Reminded me of the signs they have in the US when roads are being redone: “The inconvenience is temporary, the improvement permanent.” I hope that is what the PPP is also up to right now.

And if not, God help the PPP.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.com

Source: daily times, 4/8/2008

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