Enlightened self-interest —Syed Mansoor Hussain

By this time next week Mr Asif Ali Zardari will most likely be President of Pakistan. Mr Nawaz Sharif will have returned to Lahore or its suburbs to plan his future strategy, perhaps in a blue funk. Mr Shahbaz Sharif will still be CM of the Punjab trying to fix everything it seems all by himself

When the ‘grand coalition’ between the PPP and the PMLN came into existence after the February general election, I was very sceptical about it. Grand coalitions between ideologically disparate political parties are rarely about working for something, they are almost always about working against something. Historically, once that something is vanquished, the coalition falls apart.

The optimist in me hoped against hope that perhaps these long time political adversaries were actually going to work together in the national interest. Sadly I was wrong, and my early scepticism was quite appropriate. The PMLN had joined hands with the PPP for one purpose and that was to get rid of President Musharraf. Once that happened, the PMLN had no further need for the coalition, the judges’ issue providing a useful political cover to leave.

As far as the ‘principled’ stand of the PMLN on the judiciary is concerned, it has more to do with political expediency than with any high ethical or moral consideration. Here I would like to point out that ‘principles’ are common to all and usually imply some form of ethical constraints.

What separates politicians is, of course, ideology. However, I would not dare accuse any major Pakistani politician of being ideologically driven. Unless, of course, one can call self-interest a form of ideology.

Pakistan has many problems. But I am still waiting to hear the PMLN stalwarts tell us what they would do about these problems if they were in power. Extremism and terrorism? Their answer is, restore the judges. Ask them about load shedding and power shortages, they say, restore the judges. Flight of capital and collapse of the stock markets? The same answer. What about inflation and the devaluing rupee? Restore the judges and all will be well again!

All this reminds me of a country western song by Raye Collin where the errant protagonist, when caught by his wife, gives her a cock and bull story, and then keeps repeating the line, “that’s my story and I am stickin’ to it.” Life would indeed be so much easier if country western songs could fix things. But then the PPP has not been as forthcoming as it should have been about the restoration of the dismissed judges.

At best, in my opinion, the restoration of the judges is a stumbling block and a distraction. It should be resolved once for all and then, perhaps before things get too dicey, the grand coalition can be resuscitated; this time with the aim of fighting the major threats against Pakistan and that are the rising tide of religious extremism and it accompanying violence.

The PPP and the other secular parties that sit with it in the centre just do not have the credentials to confront the rise of religious extremism, the token Maulanas notwithstanding. All they can do is make it into an ‘us against them’ confrontation. Only if they join the PML-N can they muster the required amount of Islamist flavour to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of those that support the religious extremists, if not actively but then at least by ignoring their excesses.

As they say in the old country, do I have a dream team? Not in detail but I would like to see the coalition survive in the centre as well as in the Punjab. I would like to see Mr Zardari as the prime minister of Pakistan and Mr Nawaz Sharif as the president albeit without the powers of parliamentary dismissal. I would like this coalition to have a two-point agenda — get the economy under control and mobilise the people of Pakistan against the extremist threat.

Enough about dreams and dream teams. By this time next week Mr Asif Ali Zardari will most likely be President of Pakistan. Mr Nawaz Sharif will have returned to Lahore or its suburbs to plan his future strategy, perhaps in a blue funk. Mr Shahbaz Sharif will still be CM of the Punjab trying to fix everything it seems all by himself. The Taliban types will still be blowing themselves up along with innocent bystanders. Load shedding will continue unabated, the value of the rupee will keep “slip sliding away”.

The road that leads to my house will still be in worse shape than ever even before, perhaps because it is being redone on a grand scale after the PMLN government took over in the Punjab. And it seems that I will soon need new tires, shock absorbers and possibly even a new suspension for my ‘new’ car. Foolish me, I bought a new car during a period of temporary insanity induced by the formation of the above-mentioned grand coalition.

As far as Mr Zardari’s presidential election is concerned, whatever else one might say about it, the fact remains that Mr Zardari, if elected, will be the first president in the history of Pakistan who has been completely vetted. Everybody and his uncle knows all about him even at times more than is actually there to know. His personal life, his politics, his finances and even his illnesses are being discussed openly in the media. Could one imagine something like that happening when General Musharraf ran for president?

Yes I am still an optimist, and I actually believe that most people will do the best they can for themselves and by doing so also do the best for those around them. Enlightened self-interest it is called. This after all is the basis of modern free market economics as well as politics.

So, I hope that at least if nothing else, the two major parties will pursue their self-interest but in an ‘enlightened’ fashion. And in doing so, they might actually do something to improve the lives of the people that voted for them in an election that now seems like ancient history.

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

Source: Daily Times, 1/9/2008

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