Political mumbo jumbo

The claws are out and all our political actors are ready to pounce on each other. The PPP and the PML-N are busy outdoing each other in the war of statements. President Asif Zardari, who heads the PPP, says he wants to protect the democratic system. The PML-N, meanwhile, is not so sure about its stance anymore. On the one hand, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif keeps assuring the electorate that he does not want to destabilise this government but on the other hand, he has threatened to start another ‘long march’. In the situation in the country, which has achieved democracy after nine years of dictatorial rule, is it not a disservice to our democratic system to issue such threats at this point in time? President Zardari was concerned about the horse-trading allegations in Punjab and called it a violation of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed between (late) Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif in 2006. He said that the CoD was “binding” on the PPP as it has always “been a democratic party”. Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif accused the PPP of being the one to have ‘shattered’ the CoD. He also accused the PPP of conspiring against the PML-N in Punjab. The future of the PPP in the present Punjab government might be bleak but the re-emergence of the horse-trading phenomenon is something that is alarming.

The CoD was a response of two exiled leaders of the two mainstream political parties of Pakistan who had come to the conclusion that their mutual rivalry, nay hostility, had left the door open to undemocratic and extra-constitutional forces. It has been an age-old tradition in Pakistan that politicians make it a point to reduce natural political rivalry into downright enmity. Mian Nawaz Sharif and (late) Benazir Bhutto had been archrivals from day one. There had been mudslinging between the two whenever one was in power and the other in opposition in the 90s. Each claiming to be the arbiter of Pakistan’s destiny, did all he/she could to stab each other in the back. In the end, they only did each other, and themselves, in. Although the struggle against Musharraf brought them together, mutual suspicion re-emerged after Ms Bhutto’s assassination in 2007. The PML-N and PPP vowed to respect the CoD as both parties were serious about the restoration of democracy and decided to put aside their political differences. In a reconciliatory move, both parties formed a coalition government in Punjab and at the Centre. The PML-N decided to quit the federal government and sit on the Opposition benches when the PPP did not restore the deposed judiciary, amidst other simmering differences. Yet, the politics of reconciliation continued in Punjab, until now.

From 1988-1999, we saw both the PPP and the PML-N constantly holding meetings with the chief of army staff (COAS), appealing to him against each other. They were both appealing to the very centre of power that cut them both down each time. Horse-trading was central to such political gimmicks of the time. If these two parties have not learnt their lessons from those 11 years, we might see a repetition of the same era. The credibility of our political class is so low at the moment that if an undemocratic move takes place to get rid of all of them and the democratic system to boot, it would be difficult to garner support in their favour. It is time that both the PPP and the PML-N pull back from the brink before they are both drowned in this rhetoric that they are spewing without thought against each other and come together to defend the system. Our future depends on it.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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