Euthanasia to the Politics of Reconciliation

Mian Nawaz Sharif, Quaid of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) finally announced the expulsion of Pakistan Peoples Party Ministers from Punjab Cabinet while talking to newsmen on Friday February 25. As quoted by The Express Tribune, he gave the reason for his party’s decision as government’s failure to ‘…end corruption and improve economy’ and passing of his forty-five days deadline he gave to do so.

The reason appears quite judicious as a national leader who has been Prime Minister for two terms and who leads second largest political party in the country, must have been worried for the plight of people in the wake of price hike and, oh yes, corruption. The professional class living in cities, burdened currently under price hike, energy crisis and unemployment, must have very well received all this attractive speak in the presser. This is the class that benefits most during the dictatorship periods, as the politically malnutritioned dictators need a support base to run the governance structure, provided instantly by the professional urban class. This is the same class that offers itself conveniently for every (dis)information assault by a self-centered and thoroughly anti-democracy establishment of Pakistan, be it in the name of Islam or of corruption (only a section of politicians has to be branded as ‘corrupt’ very carefully, as the rest of ‘pious’ politicians would be used against people’s representatives when the need be). Needless to say, Mian Nawaz Sharif, an industrialist par excellence, has his hand right on the pulse of this very class as he knows how to placate it through selective infrastructure development and jobs creation etc.

The audience of Mian sahib was not just the journalists mainly from this class, but also the viewers of this televised performance and readers of Urdu musings in next day’s newspapers. On account of the history of perpetual hammerings of information upon us, from incessant dictatorial regimes, we have almost lost the ability to question or to process the information being glutted by talking heads who are polished enough to try their exemplary verbosity on us. And it works. Mian sahib starts his story with the his livid garrulity about how disappointed he has been lately due to passing of his forty-five days’ deadline to the government to improve economy.

As for the corruption, his favorite Transparency International’s rankings show that in 1997 (under the Premiership of Mian sahib), Pakistan was 5th most corrupt country among the fifty-two surveyed countries. This ranking rose to level 11 in the year 1998 under him, from among eighty-five surveyed countries (source: Transparency International). In 2007, the last year of military dictator Gen (Rtd) Pervez Musharraf, Transparency International ranked Pakistan as 41st most corrupt country from among 179 surveyed countries (the average scoring remains almost the same for all these years). In 2008 under the current government, Pakistan came to be perceived 45th most corrupt country among 180 surveyed countries, while in 2009 we were at 40th among 180 countries and in 2010 at 37th most corrupt country from among 178 countries that were surveyed. In past three years although, as the detailed results show, the institutions perceived to be most corrupt have been judiciary and customs.

Coming to combating corruption, there would be no denying the fact that it can’t be eradicated or even mitigated in days. A successful prevention strategy would involve not only the carefully thought and strongly implemented structural and political reforms to assure transparent governance, but also creating and facilitating favorable conditions for strengthening accountability through institutional reforms. Anti-corruption is a process that transforms itself into constant life style of nations. It is achieved in years of committed effort, not in days. It would be utterly imprudent to believe that an astute (I’m serious) politician of the stature of Mian sahib doesn’t know this important fact.

But Mian sahib is, as usual, full of surprises. He has yet to come up with his old time complaints that he is so fond of repeating at every opportunity our media provides him to practice his oratory.  We thought he is genuinely beleaguered by the ‘non-performance’ of the government, the way he opened his press conference. But in less than five minutes, he had once again flashed back in 2008, to the day President Zardari won the presidential election under the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. The way he keeps complaining about this “dhoka” have us believe he has yet to overcome the shock.

One thing came out crystal clear, Mian sahib, despite his proven passion for the democracy, did not mean forty-five days. He was piqued by the entire three years in which Zardari became President and the chief judge could not be reinstated before a long march harrowed Mian sahib himself. He spoke in his peculiar emotion-soaked voice about the ten points agenda he had given to the government forty five days ago, that touched upon issues like price hike, energy crisis, unemployment, etc. Sitting in Punjab, talking about service delivery issues, he might be mistaken to be talking to Punjab government, which has been responsible for service delivery to the people of Punjab, who are not living under ideal conditions either. In fact, due to classic bad governance, Punjab has defaulted twice in last three years.

So what exactly was Mian sahib talking about? Has he pre-poned his preparation for 2013, by attempting to make his party distinct from PPP through this divorce? He needed divorce in order to contest elections, and to contest elections one needs an opponent, not a reconciled partner. He had nothing substantial to say as ever, because the macro level problems he was talking about have not left Punjab alone yet, and are much bigger than the incompetence of one party. Many universal factors like war on terror, flood, and continuous firefighting with the deep state through media would have made it impossible for any party to govern Pakistan with desirable competence and outcome. It is however, difficult to keep a blind eye over the incompetence and maladroitness of the Gillani cabinet since last three years.

Tto be fair to Mian sahib, his role in saving the democratic system over last three years has been noteworthy. But the nature of politics and people’s level of understanding the statecraft is such that any politician has to succumb to these cheap tactics in order to win their sides with a hyper media and a revolution-infested youth and civil society. It is crucial for the country’s democratic future that voter educates itself in questioning the talking heads so they are not befooled on hollow rhetoric anymore. Maligning politicians (elected) who have ruled the country for less than 20 years (period before 1970 doesn’t count as we saw first general elections in that year), would be not only counterproductive, but also seriously damaging to the spirit of democracy.