The Rocky Road Ahead


Following is an article published in Daily Dawn by columnist Abbas Nasir who is also former editor of Dawn.

A WEEK after a majority of the registered voters exercised their democratic right it is time for some reflection and to assess how the scenario will pan out.

What’s sticking like a sty in my eye right now is how the caretakers, the Election Commission and even the army are congratulating each other on the conduct of ‘peaceful’ elections and how they haven’t even said a word about those who weren’t allowed to campaign.

The election day bombing of an ANP office in Karachi which killed nearly a dozen people was just one among a spate of incidents which claimed over 100 lives in a matter of weeks and should have served as a sobering thought for key state functionaries patting each other on the back.

Of course, this isn’t to brush under the carpet misgovernance, corruption or a lackadaisical attitude towards lawlessness which would have weighed heavily against the incumbents anyway. But equally valid is the argument that the three secular parties were unable to take their case to the electorate.

This isn’t to suggest this would have changed the outcome of the election but would have at least ensured a level playing field. Perhaps, even belatedly, those in positions of authority should say a prayer for all those who were killed by the Taliban for merely campaigning, for asserting their democratic right.

Ironically, the critical state of the country and the mountains of challenges that lie across its path dictate that there isn’t much point in pondering the past, and to move on. Even those affected by the Taliban’s bloody ban on electioneering have accepted the result for, they say, democracy’s sake.

So, what does the future look like? One indication came in a statement by PML-N MNA and negotiator Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, yes, the one who slew the change dragon in Lahore. “I can confirm we have a majority now but can’t give you exact numbers as people are joining every hour.”

The results have yet to be notified but the PML-N’s stunning victory has led to a deluge of independent elected members joining the party — even small parties such as the National People’s Party whose leader has announced a merger with the Raiwind Royalty’s party.

It is becoming clear that, short of constitutional amendments, the PML-N will have complete control to do as it pleases at the federal and Punjab level. This can only be good as success or failure will be clearly attributable to the policies and implementation of a single party and not a coalition muddle.

Everyone lauded the maturity of Mian Nawaz Sharif in publicly stating that since the PTI emerged as the largest single party in KP its mandate should be respected. As a result, the conservative government there is likely to be stable, that is, till it falls foul of the PML-N.

Balochistan is a different story. The PML-N’s contrived numerical superiority as elected members from the pool of independents and even the PML-Q rush to join it will give its chief minister’s candidate, Sanaullah Zehri, no more moral authority than his predecessor Aslam Raisani.

If the PML-N leadership has really come of age it should ponder whether offering the chief minister’s slot to one of the Baloch nationalist parties will be in greater national interest. Admittedly, none of these nationalist parties would have secured a majority on its own given the political landscape.

However, that these parties defied not only threats of retribution from armed separatists but also in some cases had to face up to the nastiness of those running election campaigns with as much impunity as they have allegedly run death squads, should amount to something.

What greater demonstration to seeking a resolution of Balochistan’s issues within the confines of Pakistan’s Constitution and on the floor of the assemblies could there be? Surely, the state can reward their gesture better than by delaying, withholding and allegedly changing their results.

So, a real test of statesmanship awaits the Sharifs but I doubt they’ll rise to the occasion on this one. If prominent nationalists are not in government, the PML-N chief minister will have to proactively control state excesses or Balochistan would be pushed further into the separatists’ lap.

The Balochistan government formation story is yet to unfold fully. One can talk more definitively of Sindh. Whether Qaim Ali Shah is reinstalled as chief minister or it is Hazar Khan Bijarani or Nisar Khuhro or even Owais Tappi they all face the same challenge.

Roads, infrastructure, development more generally and even provision of jobs (on merit and without seeking kickbacks from the poor unemployed) can all come later. The first and foremost priority for the Sindh government ought to be law and order particularly in Karachi.

This must be the most dramatic failing of the last coalition; even more than the unending tales of corruption and price-tagged decisions. If the MQM is part of the new set-up as well, it is even more incumbent on the two to deliver a safe environment to their devoted voter.

This is in their self-interest. As the statistics show, voter loyalty patterns are shifting at least in urban Sindh. And if a viable alternative appeared in the rural parts of the province, the current rulers can rest assured they’ll rapidly lose their traditional support in the absence of delivery.

Also, the elected provincial government will ignore law and order at its own peril. With a central government belonging to a party which isn’t exactly enamoured of the warlord-like attitude of the Sindh coalition particularly in Karachi it can only speed to its sacking by repeating its past mistakes.

For all the political parties, the electorate and the media the euphoria generated by an election campaign (even if all parties couldn’t participate equally or at all) will soon be a thing of the past — such is the daunting agenda that lies ahead.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.