Lion of Lahore Growls, but Why?

It originally appeared in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday October 31, 2011

The upping of the the political temperature recently seems to be promising a new but familiar tug-of-war among the old wrestlers with some new inclusions. This countrywide (read three big urban centres) fever comes just in time for a TRP-hungry media, which could go into psychosis by a mere mention of times of peace and political calm. Amidst all this, people look piqued and annoyed at these pitiless political games going on in their (people’s) name.

While the ruling coalition has wholeheartedly helped its critics in proving them right on almost every instance, the critics themselves could not come up with the model to follow. PML-N continues its politics of petty manoeuvring that mainly comprises preventing its main rival getting enough political strength in both Houses of parliament for a comfortable legislative space. With the upcoming Senate elections, the PML-N has made it a matter of life and death to prevent an upper House with PPP majority. The urgency the lions of Punjab are showing in achieving a ‘change’ is helping an ambitious political kid, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), at least in Punjab. Whosoever is ‘the patron’ of the PTI would be smiling broadly while watching this chessboard.

Quite well versed in double games, the old ‘patron’ of these political games seems to be honing its skills further. Those watching the recent growling of Punjab’s lion would have observed the continuous supply of ammunition through never ending whispers to the chief minister by some stalwarts of his party (coincidentally, quite close to the patron). It was not very difficult to see who was calling the shots while Shahbaz Sharif was trying to emulate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s style of handling the rostrum, once again. His loud message in the speech was that President Zardari must be pushed out if people want a qualitative change in their economic conditions. This over-simplification of complex issues normally works very well in societies where people are deliberately kept aloof from the policy literacy and the policy-making processes. Further fuel is provided by inefficient incumbents, too complacent to make amends in public policy and efficient implementation for speedy and transparent delivery.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, the time hardened chief of the PML-N, seemed to have decided to go into slumber while the CM Punjab prepared notes for his Friday speech. Mian Nawaz Sharif had won several points on the popularity scale among the progressive citizenry with his firm stance against the security establishment hijacking political space, alongside his rational and pragmatic position on relations with India. But it seems even the elder Mian sahib has a few dark points, maybe owing to his political ancestry. These dark points include, besides his superficiality of political decision-making, his absurd position on Pak-US relations and Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism. It goes without saying that he has not offered a clear opposition to the Punjab-based sectarian militant groups as well as clearly condemning the Taliban (good and bad).

In his fiery moments, Shahbaz Sharif probably jumbled up his talking points badly. What was his statement of the problem and the solution did not come out clearly. Whether he advocated a change of government through parliament or ousting a constitutional head of state from office through violent means remained ambiguous. The worst part of his speech was his insistence on hanging President Zardari when he leaves or resists leaving. Was he suggesting another judicial murder or was he inciting the people for a Gaddafi-like situation? More confusing was his (now hackneyed) singing of Habib Jalib’s ‘Aisay dastoor ko, subh-e-be-noor ko, mai nahin maanta mai nahin jaanta’ (I do not agree with and accept such a constitution that is like a dawn devoid of light). Is younger Mian sahib telling the nation that the current constitution should be rejected? If so, why? Does this announcement of rejection on the street rather than in parliament tell us something we have been missing so far? Is an ‘Ameer-ul-Momineen’ in the making? The answers should best be known to the lions of Punjab, but people who follow their party have a right to know in clearer terms what their leadership is thinking.

On the other side of the coin is Imran Khan’s PTI, which is bent upon displaying its ‘show of power’ as a forceful attempt to prove them relevant in the power game. While appealing to the young Pakistan for rejecting the existing political lot and criticising the institution of parliament, Imran Khan is visibly making similar political decisions. His reported negotiations with the disgruntled members of some bigger parties is a case in point, in addition to his succumbing to the callous politics of engaging people in hollow rhetoric rather than a qualitative debate that feeds into improving the system. One is keeping one’s fingers crossed how the PTI rally would do, which is going to determine if this blue-eyed boy of the establishment is going to pose a potential threat to the traditional strongholds of the Mian brothers.

While this ‘right wing’ political zoo is busy with itself, the PPP looks on with amusement. One wonders if the PPP even understands the seriousness of the challenges it is facing. It must understand that they cannot shelter behind the ‘transition democracy’ argument always, and for everything. President Zardari has been too focused on keeping his numbers intact in parliament in order to ensure the longevity of his government, but his elected team in the government seems to be least moved by these threats. One was absolutely bewildered to see regular meetings happening in the Presidency to manage the relief work for the flood affected areas. Something that was expected of the prime minister to do. That the government has miserably failed in delivering to the masses, even where it could have done just by improving governance, seems to have failed to bother the prime minister and the cabinet members. Someone in the corridors situated on Constitution Avenue must move fast and transform governmental efforts from macro-structural issues to micro implementation challenges.

All in all, politicians have a collective challenge right now that they must face collectively. Before the organised propaganda of ‘democracy cannot deliver in Pakistan’ starts infusing deep in people’s minds, they must proceed to political maturity. The PML-N will not gain anything by removing the incumbents, as those using them once again cannot afford Nawaz Sharif to head a government. Khan of PTI needs to go by the rules of the game if he wants to be in the game. Rejecting the structure of the chessboard means no game till the time you design a new board. The parties in the ruling coalition must show greater responsibility in not succumbing to the war of words and should lead the political environment instead of following the path paved by someone else.

Politics of reconciliation should not be confused with temporary ceasefire based on provisional political placating. It must involve a slightly long-term settlement of basic disputes and détente among different ideologies — if one is left in Pakistan. And people must play (as opposed to watch) the test match of democracy with patience and resilience.