Politics of defiance and confrontation – The Express Tribune

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The political situation at the national and provincial level is highly disconcerting
The news that Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto have agreed to implement the left-out clauses of the Charter of Democracy that was signed between PPP and PML-N 16 years ago is a positive development. Surely, any move to strengthen and defend our democratic institutions and processes should be welcome. We have, however, to see how in practice it will affect governance and enhance specific democratic goals and how committed these leaders and their parties will be to it in future. More importantly, how would it contribute to countering the impact of Imran Khan’s present mass movement? The immediate challenge to our democracy, stability and future direction unfortunately comes from the type of politics the leaders are engaging in. The onus of this primarily rests on the leadership of major political parties, especially Imran Khan. He has not taken his ouster from government gracefully, mistakenly believing that it was a conspiracy in which the US colluded with PML-N leadership. He is now openly on a war path on several fronts. He incarcerates his political opponents, refuses to deal with them in a straight open manner and tries to promote his own set of values. Having the ability to draw large crowds he feels emboldened to break essential norms of democratic conduct and even threatens to cross constitutional boundaries. Imran Khan is arousing the emotions of youth by his warped thinking and promoting national unrest. With more than 60% of the population under the age of thirty this type of policies would only promote politics of protest and mass rallies.
Imran Khan will keep harping on his demand for a high-powered judicial enquiry on the letter gate episode. Along with this he will maintain pressure for holding early elections. This rebellious posture makes addressing economic problems very difficult and places serious hurdles in achieving political stability. Imran Khan’s muddled world view which initially was attracted to the West and now disillusioned is another aspect that is puzzling for many citizens.
It appears that Imran Khan will continue with these policies and style of politics, perhaps convinced that it would enhance his popularity and give him and his party leverage in the general elections. It is so obvious from the confrontational line that Khan has chosen that he has not seriously thought through its implications for his own government in the event he was to get back into power. So, Pakistan seems fated for a summer and even a winter of turmoil. Although in the larger interest of the country one had hoped that the kind of following Khan commands and loyalty he breeds is directed toward nation building. He could make a great contribution by using his popularity and blind following to give a sense of purpose and certain clear goals to the masses to achieve in a changing dynamic world.
The other question is whether the coalition government during the year and half, or for the period it is destined to stay will be only fighting for survival or be in a position to undertake some essential economic and political reforms. Obviously, it would have been relatively less difficult for the government to pursue economic policies that are initially tough but rewarding in the longer term such as withdrawing some subsidies, provided the opposition was more understanding and cooperative. This would have set the course on a more stable footing for the incoming government.
The reality, however, is otherwise as the political situation at the national and provincial level is highly disconcerting. The most recent example of the rowdy behaviour of our elected representatives was witnessed in the Punjab Assembly. Chaos reigned in during the election of the Chief Minister and the nation watched on their television screens with deep anguish the “free for all” scenes of political hooliganism. It reaffirmed, regrettably that we have become a nation which is least tolerant, less law abiding and narrow minded. These characteristics are as pronounced in our national and provincial assemblies as in every day normal dealings. What is most disturbing is that there is not enough sensitivity or realisation of it. The serious drawback is the PTI leadership refuses to heed to rational voices inside and outside the party.
Although Pakistan has strengthened its legal structure to protect human rights, women’s rights but the practical implementation is feeble mainly due to lack of commitment at the political level and indifference of the bureaucracy. Religious intolerance as recently witnessed in the ghastly murder of the Sri Lankan manager at a textile factory is another ugly face of Pakistan’s society.
Moreover, corruption is a major weakness that has assumed serious proportion and is a reflection of the inadequate responses of the institutions — judiciary, NAB, civil society and others — to check its magnitude and spread. The impact of pervasive corruption and flouting of law by practically all segments of society has become a common feature with serious consequences on the nature of Pakistani politics as well. There were serious doubts about the integrity of the last general elections. Even the recent bye-election in Daska was a sham with the ballot box becoming an object of banditry. The winning political party invariably brings its favourites in bureaucracy on top positions as soon as there is change in government and there are now charges right or wrong that parliamentarians have been lured to defect to their side. These incidents are being highlighted not to engage in self-shame but are matters that need serious course correction if politics has to be set on the right path, economy revived and national prestige restored. This is certainly an achievable goal as Pakistan has as much if not more potential than many developing nations to achieve consistent economic growth, and move toward political stability and democratic consolidation. To achieve this fundamental goal our leadership — political, military and religious — will have to focus in a consistent manner by giving the right priorities to bring stability to the country so that leadership is able to focus on education, health, employment and the current and future needs and aspirations of the younger generation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2022.
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