Compromise and Pragmatism, Not Cheap Popularity is Pakistan’s Way Forward Many Dangers Lie in Politics of Demagoguery Adopted by Nawaz Sharif & Lawyers

As Pakistan struggles to overcome a number of challenges to its existence and security, our society and some of our decision makers remain split whether to approach these with a touch of pragmatism and realism or continue along a path that some ideologues claim reflects “ideals” more important than national survival.

If these anti-pragmatic ideologues are to be believed, nationhood revolves around some vague ideals that should not be diluted with realism. The ideologues remain unaffected by the tragic history of Pakistan, reflecting the country’s break up, multiple wars we did not win and a growing international perception that we are dangerous for the rest of the world.

The argument is being made vehemently these days that pragmatism and realism are bad for the country. Somehow what is happening in Swat and FATA is less important than the matter pertaining to the reassessment of the examination marks of the Chief Justice’s daughter. Even after an overwhelming majority of superior court judges removed as a result of the November 2007 emergency have returned to the bench, the nation must remain preoccupied with the singular issue of the so-called restoration of the three judges that have not yet accepted the government’s formula for restoration.

One wonders from where such high-minded concepts have been associated with politics and statecraft. In the columns of this esteemed newspaper one has consistently seen advice to key national leaders against being realist or pragmatist. Some hawks want the government to snub the United States or even to threaten cutting off supplies to NATO. Others have written so many articles against conferment of awards on some US officials that one can’t help wondering where they were when Ziaul Haq was honoring Morarji Desai and Mian Nawaz Sharif considered Dilip Kumar worthy of the country’s highest honour, Nishan-e-Pakistan. Now, even Nawaz Sharif’s willingness to consider a pragmatic approach to calls for a long march is being painted as a sell out.

To see whether being divorced from reality and following some self-defined idealist approach can resolve the problems faced by Pakistan, a cursory glance at the challenges faced by the country will be an enlightening experience.

Let us begin with the rising militancy of bloodthirsty Taliban that is pressurizing the state from the North West. Polish and Chinese engineers, none of whom are enemies of Islam or Pakistan, have been kidnapped and killed, raising the question of how anyone can negotiate with people who see nothing wrong with butchering human beings in front of video cameras that they otherwise consider Haram? There is little debate by the ideologues, who do not pause between their rants against the government of the day and the United States, as to how Islam is being served through these tactics.

The militants are now threatening even urban centers like Peshawar and targeting the elected leadership of the country. Commentators and television anchors suffering from obsessive idealism advise us that the state should withdraw all its forces from these areas and let the militants dictate the terms of a negotiated truce. How long would truce survive, does not bother them and what region would be the militants’ next target seems to be the least of their concerns.

In addition to the internal situation, there is much happening outside that should worry us. The United States is increasing its military presence in Afghanistan and thousands of new troops are going to be stationed along the border with Pakistan. This is bound to increase pressure on Pakistan as the militants would not find it easy to operate inside Afghanistan and would probably increase their activities in Pakistan. If the anti-pragmatists are to be taken seriously, they are advising Pakistan to act in defiance of the United States. This rhetoric, divorced from the dynamics of the global order, can only bring grief and harm to Pakistan. If plunging the nation into conflict with the world’s sole superpower somehow reflects idealism then I am afraid Pakistan is better off without such idealism.

In Balochistan, policies of successive governments and particularly Musharraf’s flawed approach to handling the issue, has created a situation of complete lawlessness. The state of Pakistan needs to heal the wounds inflicted on the Baloch psyche. It was the policy of reconciliation and pragmatism by the current government that managed to at least provide some solace to Baloch nationalists. A lot still needs to be done to ensure that the Baloch feel part of the Pakistani nation and do not regard themselves outside it. Here again, the anti-pragmatists have nothing to offer except conspiracy theories, rhetoric by TV anchors and meaningless words by columnists.

The world today is facing a global economic melt down the impact of which is expected to be far-reaching. At this moment of global financial crisis Pakistan needs the world’s good will, not its ire and anger. Pakistan faces prospects of reduced exports as the major consumer nations in the world see a decline in growth. This will have a snowball effect on national income levels and Pakistan’s unemployment levels, which are already high, will rise further.

A potential Chinese economic crisis that is being predicted in the year 2009 will further complicate matters for Pakistan. All this will stress Pakistan’s balance of payments situation. The ability of China and the oil-producing Arab states to help Pakistan will also diminish. Compounding these economic challenges further is the energy crisis in Pakistan that is crippling industrial production. All these factors have the potential to push more people below the poverty line. This in turn will have multiple socio-economic consequences for the state and society.

How would any of these problems be resolved through the single-issue politics of America bashing or seeking the reinstatement of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry? Should Pakistan devote its energies to figuring out answers to complex questions or just continue playing the games of lawyers’ movement and long marches? Should the media be highlighting the strategic threats to our country or just report on the mundane matters of rivalries between civil servants working for the president and the prime minister respectively?

To pave the way for success of the long march and to undermine the current judiciary, some petty issues are being raised with some consistency in the media. But the truth of the matter is that all these issues are very identical to what General Musharraf used to blame Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. If these sorts of allegations were not justified then why should these be now be of concern to the general public?

The lawyer’s movement and their backers have to do some serious soul searching. But it appears that some people suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and will never understand this and will keep on loving their obsessions. For those uninitiated about the term, “Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder” is defined as a mental disorder most commonly characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts resulting in compulsive behaviours and mental acts that the person feels driven to perform, according to rules that must be applied rigidly, aimed at preventing some imagined dreaded event; however, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected to the imagined dreaded event.

The problem in Pakistan, however, is that most of such patients disguise themselves as idealists insisting on following principles rather than people obsessed with singular issues.

The implications of the existence of terror networks inside Pakistan are complicating Pakistan’s relationship with the world. The Mumbai incident created a situation where India was threatening to use force against Pakistan. If the so-called anti-pragmatists had their way we would have gone to war by now and God knows how much damage both the countries would have inflicted on each other. Pragmatists and realists managed to avert the disaster.

The murder of a Polish engineer by Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the reaction by some in the Polish cabinet forces us to ponder whether there is any country in the world which is now not accusing us of being indecisive in battling terrorism? We as a nation have been indulging in self-denial and have ducked criticism by accusing others of nefarious designs. We dismiss American concerns about militancy by simply attributing it to some grand strategic agenda of the US. If Britain tries to remind us about our responsibilities the pundits tell us that perhaps the colonial master has not divorced old habits. If some Muslim country talks about the threat of terrorism we accuse its government of being a slave to the west. I wonder what accusation we would have for the Polish.

The truth is that the whole world sees Pakistan as a troubled and dangerous place and we need to reflect on why that is so.

If our leaders, including Mian Nawaz Sharif, embrace pragmatism then that would be a positive development. Some people are trying to shame the PML-N leader into believing that he should lead the long march and join the sit-in to prove that he is a principled man. If he decides otherwise, then he is being warned that his popularity will suffer immensely and he will be labeled as a pragmatist, which some in our media consider to be a word of abuse. I am not privy to any developments in the PML-N camp but if Mian Nawaz Sharif has indeed turned into a pragmatist then this is a very welcome sign for the country. A politician and statesman need to look beyond immediate applause and popularity; he has to weigh in all factors instead of following the obvious. Pragmatism and compromise alone will save Pakistan confronted with myriad challenges.
Aniq Zafar is an Islamabad-based Consultant and Liberal activist. This article appeared in The News

Nawaz Sharif’s All or Nothing Politics is Not Principled, Will Harm Country Street Politics is Justified Only When Parliament Doesn’t Exist & Media is Not Free

In the last few weeks Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has reverted to ‘all or nothing’ politics of the years of yore. In this mode of politics popularity through media, immediate public applause and harsh barbs directed towards opponents remain the ever-dependable tactics. The public particularly in urban Punjab and media loves this play. Media in fact can play a very ‘constructive role’, in its own judgment, in furthering the conflict as it itself defines what are the ethics of journalism and sits on judgment on most.

The latest buzzword in the armory of the PML-N is ‘dictatorship’ and that people of Pakistan should come out on the streets to end chances of all dictatorships. The first step that the PML-N leadership envisages for achieving its version of the democratic dispensation is to get Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry restored and let him roll the ball wherever he wants to. No one can argue that what general Musharraf did to the judiciary should simply be abhorred. He had no legal or constitutional justification to do so. The dictator had done so to perpetuate his own power, not realizing at all that the dynamics of politics and momentum of history once in progress hardly can be stopped with legal and constitutional maneuverings. General Musharraf had to go home once the political forces gave him an option either to face them in the parliament or resign.

The lawyer’s movement has consistently argued that it was their movement that sent Musharraf home. One can agree or disagree with their claim but the fact of the history is that the lawyers decided to boycott the elections and in fact many other political parties also were in league with them. Mass movements and civil society actions play a vital role in creating awareness about any issue but to harness the fruits one has to adopt political tools. In the year 2007-08 the harnessing could only be done through elections. But this tool was sadly missed by those that claim that it was them who managed Musharraf’s ouster. Going back into the history one can easily see that the resistance to emergency 2007 was not that large that it could threaten to bring down the then regime. It was thus politics not street agitation that forced Musharraf’s hands. For Justice Iftikhar also it will be political consensus that will get him back and for that there will be some compromises and give and take. Lawyer’s movement’s stance is inflexible and a major hurdle in finding the solution to the issue.

Come to January 2009 and the forecasts galore for March 2009, one can see that again street agitation is being threatened by the lawyers community and it is being supported by PML-N leadership. The demand is that Chaudhry Iftikhar should be restored. PML-N has other complaints too and those relate to the Charter of Democracy. The problem with Charter of Democracy, however, is that each protagonist wants its own interpretation of the document. PML-N’s proposed constitutional package has not seen the light of the day yet but it can be safely presumed that it will keep its ambiguity on the status of the judges that took oath on PCO in the year 2000 and in fact never took oath on the constitution of Pakistan even after the constitution was restored in the year 2002. Similarly the CoD proposes that there will be a constitutional court with equal representation from all the federating units and all constitutional cases will be heard by that court. The CoD also talks about reducing the power of the chief justice in administrative manners (formation of benches, transfers and assigning of the cases). One needs to be educated what will be the position of PML-N if Iftikhar Chaudhry is to be restored with his powers severely reduced and him not being able to hear constitutional cases? Also in the true essence the CoD’s spirit is that only those judges of the superior judiciary would be acceptable who would have never taken oath under a PCO.

Indeed it is easier in Pakistan to discuss politics in the lexicon of emotionalism that can make you immensely popular with the media and the masses. An overdose of arguments soaked in national pride is also very popular with most of the leadership. Recently one key leader of PML-N Chaudhry Nisar criticized the government for allowing the visiting foreign dignitaries to meet the leadership of the armed forces. The criticism is good for point scoring but the ground reality is that Pakistan Army is directly involved in fighting against terrorists and extremists in the Fata region. This fight is crucial for not only the survival of Pakistan but also the whole region or even the whole world. And Pakistan Army receives a lot of military and financial aid from USA. Therefore such meetings become all the more necessary. Even visiting Pakistani political leaders meet the leadership of Pentagon when they are in the US or even in China. Does it undermine those nations’ civilian leadership? Obviously the answer is a ‘No’. Similarly his repeated argument is that the government should transfer benefit of reduced international prices of crude oil to the masses. Good slogan for popularity indeed, but wasn’t it Ishaq Dar in his brief stint as the finance minister who educated us on what had happened to the finances of Pakistan in the year 2007 and early 2008 when the government heavily subsidized the prices of petroleum leading to unprecedented bank borrowing. Now if the fiscal space has to return to the government it cannot be gained by so-called popular steps, but through proper economic planning. For the government the challenge always is to formulate and implement a policy, deal with domestic and international stakeholders and work in the institutional framework. Also when a government takes an initiative it has to manage it successfully. For example if the government moves a constitutional amendment bill it has to create consensus support for it and get it passed. It cannot run away after presenting a bill. For an opposition party presenting an amendment bill where the onus of mustering enough support is on someone else is just a very good PR tactic.

The PML-N leadership also has some weird ideas when it comes to handling terrorism. It continues to argue that security agencies operation should come to a halt and instead a dialogue process should be started. Hardly ever this leadership condemns the brutal killings by the so-called Taliban in Swat and elsewhere. Nowhere Mian Nawaz Sharif is seen condemning the burning and destroying of educational institutions in Swat. Mian Nawaz Sharif in his hatred for General Musharraf goes ballistic and starts addressing the issue of terrorism as if Pakistan could afford to be complacent in taking this challenge head on. Even if the US had not been pushing Pakistan, the sheer dynamics of the agenda pursued by the extremists would have forced Pakistan’s security agencies to take notice of the happenings in some areas of Pakistan. Also Pakistan cannot move forward by reversing any wheels. Pakistan’s security agencies are doing a job and the political leadership needs to stand behind them. Any confusion in this regard will be simply making that job difficult.

With due respect to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s agenda, Pakistan is facing a number of challenges and his agendas primarily are only couched in language of principles while they are limited to short-term political gains. He should launch a long march against terrorism and extremism in the society, that may not be popular now but some years down the road he will be remembered as someone who tried to save Pakistan from a menace by taking an unpopular stance. But if he has to follow “all or nothing” course, that would be a sad reflection of a leader who claims to represent the largest province of the country.

This article appeared in The News on February 3, 2009