Learning Lessons, Moving On

From the very first, the controversy begun by news reports that the government was secretly planning to withdraw the reinstatement of judges was a bit ridiculous. At this point, though, the non-story has become simply a waste of everyone’s time. Now that Prime Minister Gilani has publicly and nationally addressed the controversy and assured that the government has no intention of sacking the judges, it’s time to take our lessons and move on.

From the very beginning, the story was a bit silly. Whatever you think about Zardari’s political mistakes, it’s hard to imagine that he would do something so obviously self-destructive as sacking the Supreme Court. If the PPP thinks they are getting attacked now, the result of sacking the judiciary would be nuclear annihilation in comparison.

There are some important lessons to take as we move on from this fiasco, though, and Dawn does a good job of pointing them out:

There are, however, clear lessons to be drawn from the latest near-upheaval in the country, if such incidents are to be avoided. First of all, the media regulators, industry-run and public, need to conduct a thorough inquiry into the events leading up to certain news channels airing the de-notification claim. The results of the inquiries should be made public, not just to ascertain what happened that fateful evening, but to prevent recurrences. The media — which now appears able to wield political power of its own — must open itself up to fair and proper scrutiny.

Next, the superior judiciary must reflect on behaviour unbecoming for an institution which is supposed to be cloaked in an air of calm and dispassion. Flip through news channels day or night and one is likely to find some outrageous news or the other that is soon either denied officially or quietly taken off the airwaves. Anything is possible in Pakistan, but some things are less likely than others. A judiciary which even a military dictator could not sack is unlikely to be undone by a weak political government saddled with fractious coalition partners and surrounded by opponents. Politics does not happen in a vacuum.

Finally, the PPP-led government. Its bona fides would not be so casually suspected if it were serious about governance and developed a reputation for smart but fair play. The party may feel aggrieved, but that is part of the reason a media rumour can instantaneously turn into political ‘fact’ in the minds of many.

This is good advice to all the players involved. We’re still suffering from the psychological scars of the past, but we must work together to move forward. Rather than treating everyone with suspicion and jumping immediately to wild accusations, let’s inject a bit of civility into the political discourse, shall we?

Election 2023

Tomorrow's Leaders

With the next elections less than three years away, you might be wondering why I’m writing about elections over 10 years down the road. As it turns out, the two are not unrelated, and, in fact, one may be very dependent on the other.

When the next elections come around in 2013, it will largely be a battle between the same players that we have witnessed almost non-stop over the past few years.

Though the military has largely – and to their great credit – stayed out of politics, the media has more than taken up the mantle of outside agitator and political meddler. Popular media names have thrown all sense of responsibility out the window, spreading rumours and making dire predictions that never seem to come true (and never seem to result in apologies, either). Accusing everyone under the sun of corruption without ever providing any evidence has become a popular parlour game among the nation’s intelligentsia.

But there are consequences for these actions. Irfan Husain points to one serious consequence in his column from Saturday’s Dawn, “The party of the old guard”: the lack of enthusiasm for politics among the nation’s youth.

A major reason for this lack of interest in politics among educated young Pakistanis is the constant hammering of politicians and the ramshackle democratic system by the electronic media. Day in and day out, retired bureaucrats and generals, as well as out-of-power politicians, are invited to TV studios to abuse the government of the day.

Apart from being a destabilising force, this drip-drip-drip of venom understandably turns young people off politics. They do not have the experience to discern between genuine criticism and a campaign inspired by dark, cynical forces.

I hear this all the time when I talk to my friends. No matter whose name comes up – Zardari, Nawaz, Altaf, Imran – the response is always the same. “I can’t stand that guy. He’s corrupt. He should be in jail.” Really, wow! What have they done that’s so corrupt? “Come on, you know it’s true. Everyone knows it. Don’t be a sucker.” Okay, then who do you like? “Nobody, man. I hate politics. They’re all corrupt.” So you think the military should take over again? “God no! We just need some real people in government, not these feudalists and their cronies.” Okay, so why don’t you get involved in politics? You’re smart, you’d be great. “Are you kidding? No way. Even if I could get elected, there’s no way I would put myself through that.”

Complaining is cheap. It’s also safe. Who wants to get involved in politics in a country where doing so means being attacked from all sides and having unfounded rumours spread about you? It’s no wonder that the youth aren’t going to get involved. It’s much easier to go into business or journalism or law where you’re seemingly above reproach.

I hear people complain about Bilawal getting involved in politics. But who are the other young people that are doing anything? At least Bilawal is doing something. If you think you’d be better, why not do something? Everyone starts somewhere, right?

In 2013, the elections will be between the same people. All the parties will field mostly the same candidates under the same leadership. That’s fine for 2013, maybe, but these guys can’t run everything forever. And if everyone is really as unsatisfied as they claim to be, why is no one stepping up to bat?

The truth is, all these rumours and conspiracy theories are more than harmless entertainment or hard politics. They’re creating an entire generation of disillusioned young people who will grow up to be disillusioned adults.

There is no shortage of ‘Ministers In Waiting’, as can easily be seen from their incessant campaigning on TV talk shows. Sharif & Co. along with Imran’s XI like to toss the idea of midterm elections; Altaf Bhai continues flirting with his ‘French Revolution’; and Mushy couldn’t keep his true intentions quiet long enough to get back in the country. Someone is going to be in charge of the government in 2023. Do we want that to be our best and brightest? Or do we want it to be the only person willing to put up with the abuse? We’d better decide now, or we may not have a choice.