Going against a democratic consensus

Prime Minister Gilani’s speech in the National Assembly ruffled some powerful feathers the other day. Army chief General Kayani was quick to allay the fears of the civilian government by stating that the army is fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities. On the other hand, General Kayani said that “irrespective of all other considerations, there can be no compromise on national security”. Now who defines ‘national security’ is completely another matter. But for the time being, Prime Minister Gilani is happy with General Kayani’s ‘clarification’ and is of the view that there “will definitely be an improvement because of it”. While there is a political consensus across the board — from Mian Nawaz Sharif to Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, from Altaf Hussain to Asfandyar Wali Khan — that democracy must be safeguarded, it was disconcerting to see Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif adopting a hawkish stance. On the one hand, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution in support of democracy while on the other Chaudhry Nisar, the Opposition leader in the National Assembly, assailed the prime minister for his statement. Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar are known for their hawkish tendencies but it seems that Mian Nawaz Sharif is not going with the hardliners, Memogate petition notwithstanding.

There seems to be a tussle between the hardliners and Mian Nawaz Sharif’s relatively moderate views within the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). This emerging consensus between the government and its allies as well as the Opposition shows that the political class as a whole understands the importance of uniting in the face of adversity from the non-democratic forces. Politicians like Shahbaz Sharif and other hardliners of his ilk are sticking out their necks for those who are working against democracy, thereby isolating themselves from the general run of opinion from all political circles. Political hawks are not just adventurous but seldom care about democracy itself; all they are interested in is power by hook or by crook. This political opportunism is something that has undone democracy many a time in the past. If some politicians are willing to commit hara-kiri, they should not try to set the entire democratic process on fire. Mian Nawaz Sharif has become more mature and responsible ever since his democratically elected government was ousted by General Musharraf in a military coup back in 1999. In principle, years of exile should have made Shahbaz Sharif more reasonable but that does not seem to be the case. It is important for the hawks to realise that if their only aim is to be in power, then the level of their political immaturity could not have been clearer.

Politics in Pakistan is not a bed of roses. Every day is a challenge for the civilians in a country where anti-democratic elements are out in full force to dislodge a civilian government one way or the other. By trying to dent the credibility of each democratically elected government, these forces only strengthen the hands of those waiting in the shadows. What is needed at this point in time is unconditional support of the government to complete its tenure so that free and fair general elections can take place and the power of the people be translated through their votes. The 'weapon' of choice should be the ballot box, not unconstitutional means.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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