Destructive course

April 14, 2019

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IN a parliamentary form of government such as ours, it is the house of representatives where political debate should take place, where differences between parties should be aired. However, in the country’s current political climate, politicians are butting heads in rallies and on Twitter in a manner that smacks of a fierce election campaign. What is worse, given we had a general election less than a year ago, there is already increasing talk by opposition politicians to collectively bring down the new PTI government. On Tuesday, after meeting with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman told this newspaper he was confident he could mobilise the efforts of the opposition to dislodge “an installed government led by a puppet prime minister”. Some days ago, Asif Zardari said as much at a rally to commemorate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s death anniversary, exhorting party supporters to be prepared to march on Islamabad and throw out the government. Imran Khan, at another gathering, declared in response he would provide a container for Mr Zardari in Islamabad, taunting him that he would not be able to sustain a weeklong protest.

Even while the government is short on grace and restraint, the opposition is adopting a dangerous and irresponsible path. Both the PPP and PML-N know well that the fall of an elected government — beyond the immediate, and temporary, gratification of the party that comes to power in its place — has serious long-term repercussions that negatively affect the democratic system as a whole. History shows us that dislodging a government through street power is virtually impossible. The last time that happened was 40 years ago when widespread civil unrest resulted in Gen Zia staging a coup against Bhutto’s elected government and declaring martial law. The political climate in Pakistan is vastly different today, shorn of the idealistic notions that once animated the public. Dislodging an elected government in these times is done through behind-the-scenes engineering that ultimately eviscerates the system, and leaves the beneficiaries with limited independence in certain critical policy areas — after all, there’s always a quid pro quo.

There is a growing realisation that the PTI government is proving alarmingly clueless about how to rescue an economy in free fall, perhaps the biggest challenge at this point. Given this, and the drastic cuts in development budgets, all the talk about poverty alleviation seems little more than populist hokum. In short, the situation provides plenty of fodder for the opposition, in parliament and outside. Granted, the accountability process appears blatantly one-sided, and the government gratingly self-righteous. However, the opposition should be aware that the timing, tenor and content of its recent rhetoric about regime overthrow comes across as being motivated by the fact that many among its senior leadership are facing corruption charges. True or not, that does undermine what could be legitimate criticism of the government’s performance.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2019