Politicians are not holy men, nor need they be such

Dr. Syed Mansoor Hussain puts the questions about corruption, NRO, and our political class into a global perspective in his column, “The world is not ending any time soon.” This is a point it is most important to consider – politicians are not prophets or holy men, they are simply men and women who work on issues of policy and diplomacy. Each politician has or her failings, and all politicians in a democracy will come and go at some point. It is only dictators and kings that the people have to fear turning a nation to rot and never letting go. So what does all this mean for our current political climate? It means that, in the larger picture, the NRO is but a small speck of dust, and despite all the hyperventilating on TV talk shows, Pakistan will continue to thrive and the world will not end any time soon.

Democracy is a messy business. To repeat an oft-repeated cliché, the best treatment for a bad democracy is more democracy and not less. And free and fair elections at the right time are the only effective form of accountability that politicians understand and accept without question

According to the Mayan Calendar, the world ends in the year 2012 CE. This has spawned many ‘end of the world’ scenarios and most recently a rather graphic movie that depicts one way the world might end and soon. The movie is aptly called ‘2012’. Of course the world will end sometime and most likely in a few billion years. However, there are enough conniptions that alter the world as we know it every so often. 

There have been many changes during my own lifetime that would suggest that much of the world I knew even 40 years ago has changed or if one wishes to be dire, has ended forever. However, Pakistan still exists and goes on in spite of the predictions to the contrary by the resident prophets of doom and gloom that infest our media, particularly certain TV channels these days. 

Frankly I stopped watching television when the load shedding hit us a few years ago. Even though my television worked due to UPS devices attached to it, the cable company I subscribe to would shut down transmission when they lost electricity supply. So, I no longer watch television or the channels that most often highlight the ‘horsemen of the apocalypse’. Especially the one horseman that made his reputation by discussing eschatology, though I must admit that since then I have trouble figuring out whether his area of expertise is eschatology or scatology. 

Recently, Pakistani politics has been thrown into turmoil after the most honourable Supreme Court invalidated the NRO. The ire of all of the horsemen of the apocalypse is now aimed at President Asif Ali Zardari. The way it looks, these horsemen expect that President Zardari must do either of two things: commit seppuku or else just ‘ride off into the sunset’. Of course they prefer the first option since they are mortally afraid that he might just make another ‘comeback’. 

As far as I am concerned, I am quite satisfied with the state of politics in Pakistan. The problem with most Pakistanis, especially what passes for the ‘intelligentsia’ in this country, is that they have not really seen politics as it happens. I was in the US during the Watergate hearings when Senator Baker asked the famous question, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” President Nixon subsequently resigned and nothing really changed. 

Yes, I was there when under President Ford, the US embassy in Saigon was evacuated and people hung on to helicopters while that was being done. I was there when President Carter sent in the troops to rescue the hostages held in the US embassy in Tehran and the mission failed and the US Secretary of State resigned. And yes, I watched the Iran-Contra hearings and subsequently saw senior US officials being indicted for what they did. And what about the cake sent by President Reagan to the Iranians?

The Clinton years were of course an education in politics. The White Water Scandal, the suicide of Vince Foster, the end of the healthcare initiative headed by the First Lady were all very instructive. The ultimate was of course the impeachment hearings against President Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the entirely prurient Starr Report being the hallmark of that episode. And yet President Clinton survived and finished his term with his popularity very much intact. 

In spite of his personal failings, Clinton was in modern times one of the better presidents the US has had. And he was followed by a president who was a person of great moral probity and yet gave the US and the rest of the world much sorrow. The question of course is whether it is worse for a president to have an affair with a White House intern or to attack Iraq without good reason?

Now to President Obama. The man is so clean that it is worrisome. Evidently the only weakness this man has is that he occasionally smokes cigarettes. Yet his opponents are all over the place. They claim that he is not an American citizen since he was not born in the US, or else that he is a Muslim by birth and therefore lies about being a Christian. The less virulent opponents insist that he is really a socialist. Of course his opponents cannot blame him for being an African-American, which of course is the problem most of them have with him anyway. 

Back to politics in Pakistan. The government is muddling along; the opposition parties, as oppositions must do, oppose the government but are entirely confused. The major opposition party in the country after all sits in coalition in Punjab with the same party that it opposes at the Centre. And most importantly, unless the third time limit on being prime minister is reversed, nobody wants fresh elections either. 

The point I want to make is simply that I do not believe that Pakistani politicians are any different from politicians anywhere else. However, for the first time in the history of Pakistan it seems that different branches of the government, including the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the army are acting as they should. Until these four pillars of the state find the right balance, things will seem a trifle unsettling to those Pakistanis who are used to being governed by autocrats and army generals. Democracy is a messy business. To repeat an oft-repeated cliché, the best treatment for a bad democracy is more democracy and not less. And free and fair elections at the right time are the only effective form of accountability that politicians understand and accept without question. As far as ‘good governance’ is concerned, that is not an inherent but a learned ability. 

And yes, neither Pakistan nor the world is ending anytime soon. President Zardari is not going to suddenly disappear either, all the huffing and puffing by his opponents notwithstanding.

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