ISLAMABAD: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has returned home but will the healing touch that he brought to our fractious politics during his visit to Pakistan last?
While the answer lies with our politicians, the nation, which suffers the consequences of their perpetual polemics, hopes they would act on his advice of ‘peaceful co-existence’ as patiently as they had listened to it.
After all, democracy demands politicians be patient, instead of trying the patience of others, rivals or not.
Since the leadership of both the ruling PPP and the opposition PML-N have good rapport with the Turkish statesman, people expect them to take the advice of their common and experienced friend.
Peaceful co-existence was the constant refrain of Mr Erdogan in his interactions and appearances in Pakistan. He has also been in touch with the third force — Imran Khan of PTI.
People filling the visitors’ galleries of the National Assembly last Monday, to listen to the Turkish prime minister's address to the joint session of the parliament, were bemused by the bonhomie on display on the occasion. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the leader of the house, and Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the leader of the opposition, both praised Mr Erdogan high as the able and sole spokesperson of the Islamic world. However, it was the political correctness displayed by the PML-N, which does not accept Mr Gilani as lawful prime minister, that proved more telling.
Sitting in the press gallery and hearing these speeches one felt if a saviour had descended upon the troubled country who would guide it to safety and a new era of peace and prosperity.
One couldn't be faulted for the feeling as just before Mr Erdogan arrived, the PPP and PML-N appeared headed for a replay of their rivalries of the 1990s, providing the army once again an excuse to stage another coup.
Now, despite refusing legitimacy to Prime Minister Gilani and his cabinet, the PML-N is in talks with the PPP in the parliament on agreeing on a new chief election commissioner. And the ruling PPP is trying to persuade senior PML-N leaders for smooth passage of the new national budget. Whether Mr Erdogan's advice led them to the negotiations or not, it is fact that they returned to the negotiation table when things looked going over the brink.
According to PPP lawmakers in the know, “every single issue under the sun which Pakistan is currently facing” came under discussion in the talks between Prime Minister Gilani and Prime Minister Erdogan.
“Be it the Supreme Court verdict against Mr Gilani, the blockade of Nato supplies, or the stand-off between PPP and PML-N over the legal status of Mr Gilani, we explained him government's position in detail to which he listened patiently,” a federal minister said.
Mr Erdogan's advice on all these issues was to avoid taking extreme positions and try to find some middle ground, the PPP minister said. “He didn't say in so many words whether Mr Gilani should resign following his conviction by the apex court, nor pressed the government to re-open Nato supply lines. He repeatedly advised that you people have to keep the country's interest first and foremost vis-a-vis routine politics.”
At a press conference, Mr Erdogan openly advised the leaders of the two parties to avoid confrontation. “If rulers of the country keep on fighting at the top, their people will have nothing but sufferings,” he said.
On the ongoing impasse between the PPP and PML-N, the Turkish premier wanted the two parties to sit down and find some common ground, said another PPP lawmaker, predicting “substantial drop” in the war of words between them.
Prime Minister Gilani, however, recently sharpened his criticism of PML-N leadership when it resumed its demand for his resignation. A senior leader of PML-N said his party, which considers itself close to Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, had been advised by the Turkish prime minister “to exercise restraint and avoid politics of confrontation”.
It could mean that Mr Erdogan suggested that the PML-N wait for the general elections due in March next year for the sake of a smooth transfer of power.
In the opinion of the PML-N leader passage of the fifth budget in June would essentially mean completion of the government's five-year constitutional term. “Therefore our entire focus should be on next elections,” he said, noting that the 20th Constitution amendment had given the PML-N a big say in choosing the next chief election commissioner and caretaker setup.
“It gives the party a considerable leeway to make an impact during electioneering processes and, therefore, it should be the party's topmost priority, besides organising go-Gilani-go rallies,” he said.
How much Mr Erdogan's words of political wisdom weigh upon the two rival parties would be known in the weeks and months that follow budget session in early June.
According to a PPP MNA, chances are that Prime Minister Gilani will avoid attending the forthcoming National Assembly session and the PML-N will respond by not creating any fuss in the house and let the annual budget pass.