Pakistan and its latest crisis —Syed Mansoor Hussain


Political gamesmanship aside, the people of Pakistan do want their elected leaders to put their egos aside and concentrate on things that matter to the country. The price of bread, law and order and religious extremism is what they worry about


It is a sad but unfortunate fact that when people reach positions of power, they also often attain an exalted sense of self-importance that prevents them from separating self interest from national or institutional interest. Hubris is what it is usually called.

Who is in the right as far as our latest national ‘crisis’ is concerned is immaterial. The question is what will happen next, and that will be determined as always by circumstances that cannot be predicted at this time. The law of unintended consequences is now in operation.

Before we start getting too upset, we should accept the fact that politicians are politicians and that they are in the business of acquiring and then wielding power to advance their political or personal agendas. This is true in Pakistan and it is equally true in almost every country in the world where politics and politicians are allowed to function and contest elections.

But what does separate Pakistan from most other democratic countries is the fact that what passes for our middle class and the intelligentsia is sadly devoid of any sense of democratic continuity.

One of the most striking things after the elections last year was that almost as soon as the PPP government came to power at the centre and then as Mr Zardari took over as president, members of the aforementioned intelligentsia, newspaper columnists as well as talking heads on TV started talking about how bad things were and how imperative it was for somebody (the army) to step in and fix things.

Having lived in the US under administrations that I was opposed to as many others were, the one thing I never heard, of course, was that somehow the governments we disliked should be immediately replaced. Yes, peaceful protests against government policies, especially the unpopular war in Iraq, happened and the political opposition geared up for the next election cycle.

Also, I remember vividly the anguish many of us felt when the conservative Supreme Court of the US essentially gave the presidential election to George W Bush in 2000. But neither Al Gore, the losing candidate, nor his supporters decided to launch a mass movement against the court or the government. That is how democratic societies that believe in the rule of law function.

The question that I keep asking myself is what exactly the PMLN and its leaders expect to accomplish by their ‘call to arms’ at this time. Besides creating a law and order situation of considerable magnitude, nothing politically desirable is possible. The PPP government is not going to just whither away, the former Punjab CM is not going to become CM again and the ex-CJ is not, as if by magic, going to reappear in the Supreme Court as the chief justice.

Of course, I had hoped all along that the Supreme Court of Pakistan would not disqualify the leaders of the PMLN and also that if a way could be found to reinstate the ex-CJ, it should be done. And I still hope that if these two things are possible, they should be done even now. If the president of Pakistan can somehow make these things happen, then that would indeed be something that I would support completely.

As far as the government of the Punjab is concerned, the PMLN having won a plurality had the right to be asked first to form a government. It was indeed asked to form government and it succeeded in doing so, but only after the PPP provided it with a majority. Now that it has lost the support of the PPP, any group that can claim a majority in the Punjab, whether it is headed by the PMLN or not, has the right to form a new government.

One thing has however become obvious. All the conspiracy theorists are dead wrong: what happens in Pakistan is not determined by some hidden dark and evil forces. If the Americans ran things, none of this would have happened. If the army ran things, none of this would have happened. And I do not think that Mr Nawaz Sharif listens to RAW. As Pogo the possum said so famously, “I have seen the enemy and it is us”.

And, whatever anybody might think or expect, I do not believe that the Pakistan army is going to step in and remove the PPP government in Islamabad. What happens behind the scenes is anybody’s guess. But in all likelihood, the army will publicly continue to support the present government for the foreseeable future.

That said, what next? The Long March is the next big thing on the horizon. Whatever the leaders of the lawyers’ movement say or might want their movement to be, for all practical purposes it is now just an extension of the PMLN’s political agenda. The Long March is going to be the arena where the confrontation between the PPP and the PMLN will be played out unless something changes.

If however the leaders of the PMLN, the Jama’at-e Islami and Mr Imran Khan decide to join in the Long March, I hope that the government will let them all come to Islamabad and camp out on Constitution Avenue, but on one condition: they come there and they literally stay there until the CJ is reinstated, however many days it takes. Yes, I am being slightly malicious in this respect but then I also believe that people with populist aspirations must also demonstrate populist tendencies.

Political gamesmanship aside, the people of Pakistan do want their elected leaders to put their egos aside and concentrate on things that matter to the country. The price of bread, law and order and religious extremism is what they worry about, not who is sitting in the chief minister’s house, the prime minister’s house, the chief justice’s house or the presidency.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.comReproduced by prmission of Daily Times\03\02\story_2-3-2009_pg3_2

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