Plea for sanity

Published October 30, 2016

IN these dangerous, overheated times, it is a plea as much as advice: the leaders of this great and proud nation need to step back from the edge of the abyss.

No one appears willing to listen, not the civilians, either in government or the opposition, and not the military. But each of them must be reminded, and ought to remind themselves, why they hold public office, or are entrusted with the responsibility of being the elected representatives of the people.

This country’s destiny and the success of its people depend on a democratic and constitutional order based on strong, representative institutions and the rule of law.

Those goals, the fundamental reason for the existence of the state, are bigger and more important than the fate and peccadilloes of the PML-N, the PTI or indeed any given era of military leadership.

But the more the current national leadership pledges to put ‘Pakistan first’ the more it becomes apparent that it is really ‘me first’ — a play for power at the expense of the good of the people and the republic.

The intensifying battle between the PTI and the PML-N is particularly dismaying because it has all the hallmarks of bygone eras, dark periods in this country’s history that the most sustained democratic transition was supposed to have left behind.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a vastly experienced politician, but seems unable to bury a personal tendency to allow political crises to escalate until they threaten to reach unmanageable proportions.

The Panama Papers could have been a watershed moment, a first family offering itself up for unprecedented financial scrutiny.

Instead, Mr Sharif opted to resort to political sloganeering. Even now, in this moment of democratic peril, the prime minister and his PML-N appear more interested in cracking down on legitimate political dissent than restoring the legitimacy of the mandate the PML-N received in 2013.

Lamentable as the PML-N’s attitude is, the PTI’s wilfulness is of historically tragic proportions. There are 19 months left until the term of the current parliament expires and a general election has to be held.

The government’s intransigence and the PTI’s principled opposition means the PTI has a realistic opportunity to compete for power at the next election.

If it does win in 2018, the PTI could expect to rule until 2023 — and the PML-N’s stance on democratic continuity means it can be expected to remain in opposition without trying to overthrow a democratically elected government.

Clearly, there are no guarantees for the PTI — as indeed there are none that the present course of agitation will lead to ultimate success. But the PTI and Imran Khan should consider what kind of Pakistan they want to rule over.

A democracy gaining in strength, or a polity wracked by bitter divisions and the spectre of extra-constitutional forces willing to intervene?

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2016

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