Political black holes —Syed Mansoor Hussain

One hopes what we are seeing in Pakistan is the beginning of a real two-party democracy: the left-of-centre PPP with like-minded parties on one side, and the right-of-centre PML and its allies on the other

We made it! No, I am not talking about Mr Asif Ali Zardari becoming the President of Pakistan but the Large Hadron Collider, located somewhere in Switzerland, that went on-line and did not create a black hole ending life on this planet. Here, I must admit that subatomic particle physics is not something I know much about at all.

As I understand it, a black hole is an astral phenomenon produced by the collapse of a large star creating a gravitational anomaly. Things enter but never leave, a bit like quicksand. I am sure enough that physicists and physics enthusiasts will contest that description but that is the way I understand it. And yes I have read enough science fiction to be sure of what I am saying. So there!

But all this talk of black holes makes me wonder whether Pakistan is a big political black hole. Just take the example of Iftikhar Chaudhry, our deposed chief justice. He has been sucked into a black hole of irrelevance and cannot crawl out of it. Of the two that tried to reinstate him, one has left for London and the other is trying hard to stay out of his own black hole.

There was a time when the good barrister was the lord and master of all that he surveyed, his driving skills the stuff of legend. Today, who knows what he is doing. It seems that it was his decision not to contest the elections that made him irrelevant in the present political context. Hubris?

For Musharraf, deposing a sitting CJ was the beginning of the end for him and started his slide into his own black hole. If I did not think that he did many Pakistani institutions in to ensure that he continued as president, I would actually feel sorry for him. But he had his day and as General MacArthur so famously said, old soldiers never die, they just fade away. And so he is busy fading away.

The Great Khan is also in a similar position, as are all of the ‘Patriots’. Does anybody remember who they are any more? And yes, our former minister of everything, including Pakistan Railways, is definitely in the list. As far as the Chaudhrys of Gujrat are concerned, they are circumambulating a black hole but have so far managed to stay out of it.

In science fiction, black holes serve another purpose too. One can enter a black hole and emerge from it in a different universe. President Asif Ali Zardari is one person who has managed to do just that. After his release from prison it seemed that he was destined to end up in his own black hole but he has managed to escape its gravitational pull and come out of it in a different political universe, where he is now, as they say in the old country, ‘the man’.

The same to some degree can be said about Mian Shahbaz Sharif. He is now a person of consequence. If we look at it objectively, one has to say that it is President Zardari and CM Shahbaz Sharif who are the two major players on the political scene in Pakistan at this time. If they decide to work together then indeed they can move things forward, particularly in the Punjab. After all, we still have a PPP-PMLN coalition in the province and from what President Zardari has been saying, it does seem that he wants to keep it intact.

Built-in political obsolescence is not a bad idea. The US has term limits for its presidents and that seems to work reasonably well. The important thing though is that two terms for a US president means at least one full and one more than half term. Similarly, in Pakistan, the idea of limiting the prime minister to two terms seems entirely reasonable but that should mean something close to two five-year terms in office.

In defence of the two-term limit, perhaps the political situation in the Punjab offers some insight. If the present chief minister did not have the problem of term limits, it is very likely that he would have asked the governor by now to dissolve the provincial assembly and call another election. The PMLN would then have easily won a majority in the province and ruled in the Punjab without the need for a coalition.

Perhaps then it might be best to let things stay as they are, and if any change has to be made in the Constitution to allow a third time term for chief ministers or the prime minister, then it should be time rather than term limited.

That said, black holes for Pakistani politicians are also a great tradition. After every military dictator is done, the Muslim League that he made his handmaiden also dissolves into obscurity: Ayub Khan and his Convention Muslim League; Ziaul Haq and his Junejo Muslim League; and, most recently, Pervez Musharraf and his Quaid-e-Azam Muslim League.

What is it about generals and the Muslim League, or is it the other way around? It seems that after the Pakistan Muslim League morphed overnight into the Republican Party more than fifty years ago, it comes to power with the help of an army general.

The exception to the above rule of impending political oblivion is the PMLN. Brought to life with the help of one general and strengthened by another, it managed to survive and has now become an established political party in its own right.

One hopes what we are seeing in Pakistan is the beginning of a real two-party democracy: the left-of-centre PPP with like-minded parties on one side, and the right-of-centre PML and its allies on the other.

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

Source: Daily Times, 15/9/2008


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