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

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