NA-120 and all that

Published September 19, 2017

ELECTORALLY, Nawaz Sharif has won and Imran Khan has lost again. NA-120 was Sharif’s own seat. In the last elections he won by around 40,000 votes. This time his wife won by 14,000 votes. Still a comfortable win over a very good PTI candidate. So what is the big deal?

The big deal is that Nawaz Sharif was removed as prime minister by a unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court for a false declaration regarding his sources of income, and faces the possibility of convictions on far more serious charges of corruption, fraud, etc. If this means little or nothing to his supporters in Lahore and Punjab, so be it. The PML-N could have chosen any candidate other than from the family of the disqualified and controversial prime minister.

If Punjab chooses to vote for a prime minister disqualified by the Supreme Court, or his wife as a stand-in, that is its choice, however unfortunate, short-sighted, self-destructive and unfathomable it may be. But Punjab cannot choose on behalf of the rest of Pakistan. If it tries to impose a criminally corrupt political leader on the rest of Pakistan it will destroy the country, because the people of Sindh, KP, Fata and Balochistan never chose to join Punjab; they chose to become Pakistan.

This was proven by their rejection 60 years ago of One Unit which was an anti-Pakistan political imposition by Punjab aimed at denying the political rights of the East Pakistani majority of Pakistan’s population as well as those of the smaller provinces of West Pakistan. As a result, the Pakistan of the Pakistan Movement died within 25 years of its birth. The same game is now being played with what is left of Pakistan. It must not succeed.

A dereliction of duty by Punjab undermines the whole country.

A prime ministerial candidate from a province that has more than half the national population should also win a majority in at least one other province to qualify as prime minister of Pakistan. Of course, Punjab could split in two and satisfy this condition. But a necessary political point would be made. A constitutional amendment to this effect should be considered and debated. A federation in which one province outbalances the rest can never be a stable political entity. This has been attested by the history of Pakistan.

It is above all for the people of Punjab to reject the current nonsensical situation. Takht Lahore can never be Takht Pakistan. If the attempt is made the worst suspicions will take root in all the so-called ‘minority’ provinces with all the consequences and opportunities for those external forces that may not wish us well as a country. Those who argue that in a constitutional democracy there is little that can be done to resolve this situation, talk anti-national drivel. It is not for Punjab to measure the patriotism of other provinces and their peoples. It is not likely that Punjab would meet its own criteria. The wonderful Parveen Shakir observed “it is true but it is embarrassing” by which she did not mean hide the truth, as some former ministers suggest.

We are told that the people of Punjab are historically a politically passive people riddled with the nine viruses of jagirdari, pir-parasti, biraderi, mahkumiat, tasawwuf, qismat, qina’at, paisa and intizamiya. This is nonsense. The Quaid proved it to be so. So did ZAB. The lawyers proved it too. The media? Imran seemed on the point of proving it several times without succeeding the way he needs to. Like King Arthur he tries and tries again. These disabilities, moreover, are also found in the other provinces of Pakistan. It is just that in Punjab everything is relatively on a much larger scale and impacts on the rest of the country while Punjab is relatively insulated from developments in the smaller provinces — except for the port of Karachi.

Punjab is the national example. Punjab sets the tone. A dereliction of duty by Punjab undermines the whole country. And Punjab has been derelict. As a Baloch (not ‘Balochi’) friend told me “Lahore ke log ko Lahore se Balochistan ke log nahin dikhtay, aur Islamabad se Lahore hi dikhta hai.” This near-sightedness needs to be corrected if we are as a nation to walk the path to national survival, revival and prosperity. Empty rhetoric to the contrary is an ignoble disservice to the country.

Where do we go from here? The disqualification of Begum Kulsum Nawaz? Another NA-120 by-election? An early general election? Begum Kulsum fronting for Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister? Nawaz Sharif succeeding Asif Zardari as the First Man of the country and politically gaming from the prime minister’s residence with maybe a well appointed office in the PM’s Secretariat? Another NRO or muk-mukka? The ‘boys’ having defeated one nuisance and incapacitated the other continue to observe an all-powerful political purdah? (Decoding Cyril is no kid’s play!) But such questions have no answers; only further questions such as: what do we have in mind as the population rolls on towards 400 million by 2050? As the climate dries out snatching away our human habitat? As education, skill-sets and law disappear in an information-cum-technology global economy and job market? As everyone to some degree or another becomes some kind of terrorist?  

If we don’t have the answers let us think about them. If we don’t have time, don’t waste it. If our leaders are incorrigible don’t vote for them. If we will not think for ourselves let us think for our children and grandchildren. If Pakistan’s fate is God’s responsibility let us earn His Divine favour — not just through prayer but through good works, and not just politically smart charity. If no one is innocent the top must be guilty. If it is not our DNA it must be our political character which can improve. If real answers are essentially simple, why make them difficult? As a country, a nation, a people we need to get a life! As Edward Murrow rightly observes “a nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2017


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