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Reconstruction of politics

August 02, 2018


THIS year’s general election has changed some of the assumptions on which Pakistan’s politics has traditionally been based, though not necessarily in the sense the word ‘change’ has been used by different parties. The success of political parties will depend on how well they can adjust themselves to the changed circumstances. 

The issue of corruption by public representatives has become central to politics. It was traditionally brushed aside on three grounds. Firstly, that a politician’s corruption could be overlooked if he gave the people around him a good share in the loot. Secondly, that no one could be condemned for corruption until the charges against him had been proved in a court of law. Thirdly, that corruption, being endemic in Pakistan, politicians were unfairly singled out for persecution and were punished for reasons other than corruption. 

All these excuses have become irrelevant. No government will be able to slow down the accountability measures that have been set into motion over the last few years. Political parties would be well advised to develop mechanisms at effective levels not only to look at the corrupt practices of their rivals but also within their own ranks. If this leads to greater emphasis on integrity in public life the development can only be welcomed.

It will be necessary to devise an accountability system that is independent of government initiative.

However, there will be need to carry the discourse on corruption forward by ensuring that all proceedings on charges of corruption are above board, that all people are equal before the law and enjoy equal protection of the law. It will also be necessary to devise an accountability system that is independent of government initiative and does not depend for access to evidence of wrongdoing on the discretion of the keepers of records.

It is also time to dismantle the theory of justifying crimes that are supposed to be committed in the interest of the state. As an extension of the false dictum that the ends justify the means, this theory has caused incalculable harm to Pakistan. No state interest can be promoted through foul means, however attractive in the short run the gains from questionable means may be. Experience has shown that state functionaries who are used to carrying out unlawful acts in the ‘interest’ of the state end up by carrying on in their own selfish interest.

The second important change is that the Ziaul Haq version of the Constitution has been immutable for a long time. Those who wanted to get rid of the Zia insertions in Articles 62 and 63 for being vague and liable to subjective interpretation or considered these unnecessary in the presence of a comprehensive penal code, missed the bus in 2010. The forces that prefer the ‘Zia Constitution’ to the original version have become stronger. The best that democratic forces can aim at is to make Article 62 and 63 inapplicable by keeping their records clean and transparent. 

The third change is that Balochistan has taken a major step towards returning to the electoral mainstream. While complaints of poll management by several parties must not be dismissed as losers’ wails and every effort should be made to answer their reservations, the fact that voter turnout touched respectable levels carries considerable weight. This calls for a change in the federation’s attitude towards Balochistan, and the attitude of the rest of Pakistan’s population towards that province must also be revised.

That acceptance of Balochistan as an equal member of the federation is not going to be easy has been demonstrated by a provocative decision by the Punjab University. Under a ‘Balochistan Package’ the Punjab government had allocated seats for students from that province in all universities in Punjab. According to a spokesman for Baloch students in Lahore, the 100 seats that used to be reserved at Punjab University since 2012 have been reduced to 53. Besides, some key departments, such as computer science and software engineering, have been put outside the package. Are these extraordinary changes within the knowledge of the caretaker government? The reaction of Quetta is likely to be extremely adverse and an inquiry must immediately be held. 

Does the election of two prominent leaders associated with the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, from the tribal areas signify a change in the fortunes of the tribal belt? If the establishment is prepared to let the young men exercise their rights within the Constitution, the tribal people should have something to celebrate.

Finally, the change in Karachi. The MQM has alleged serious violations of the election rules and their complaints are reportedly being addressed. But, taking the election results at their face value, the fact that traditional Mohajir politics has become redundant cannot be denied. The position will become clearer only when the presence of Rangers in the city is no longer considered necessary.

Meanwhile, the MQM would do itself good by accepting the reality that the people of Karachi had become weary of the kind of politics that had been conducted for four decades. They were waiting for an alternative, for which they thought the PPP did not qualify. They apparently consider the PTI to be a good alternative but, whichever way they may go, they have to move out of the blind alley of ethnic politics.

Further, the MQM has been wooed by each federal government. The first thing the Benazir Bhutto government did was to enter into an elaborate understanding with it. It was too good a bargain to survive. Nawaz Sharif also took the MQM into his government and the arrangement lasted till he decided to discontinue it when Hakim Said was assassinated. Now the PTI is offering them an olive branch. How long will the MQM and PTI go along with each other? The MQM may go on saying that each time the other party was in the wrong, but it should have the courage to face the moment of truth that no party can avoid forever.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2018