Taking to the streets

May 17, 2019

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FOLLOWING JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman’s declaration of open season on the government, and mixed signals from the PML-N in this regard, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is now the latest political leader to announce a street protest against the ruling PTI. On Wednesday, the former president said the government has “fabricated” cases against him, compelling his party to resort to public agitation after Eid. At present, NAB is proceeding against Mr Zardari in 36 different cases, out of which the bureau claims to have established his role in eight. The so-called fake accounts investigation hinges on benami accounts through which money was allegedly laundered.

From the very beginning of this case, Mr Zardari and members of his party have denounced the matter as a politically motivated witch hunt contrived to weaken his position. In fact, when the JIT report in this saga was finalised, the PPP boss responded to the court by rejecting the allegations of the FIA, claiming the agency is being used by the ruling party to humiliate him. In parliament, too, he has hit out at NAB and asked for its chairman to seek permission from the assembly before proceeding against a lawmaker. It is evident that Mr Zardari is using politics to fight personal battles. With both the judicial arena and parliamentary forum still available to the former president, it is particularly striking that Mr Zardari would consider resorting to a lockdown situation to challenge these cases. Even if he feels the cases are unfair and politically motivated, he would be well advised to fight them in court or, alternatively, use the strength of the opposition in parliament to challenge them politically. A protest in the country at this stage would not only be short-sighted but also give impetus to undemocratic forces. The incumbent government — whose party was severely criticised for its anti-government lockdown so early into the PML-N’s last tenure — has not completed even the first of its five-year term. Such a protest would chip away at both the economy and at the democratic project, which has very recently begun to find its feet. Therefore, it is neither the right time nor the right reason for street agitation. While political protest is very much their democratic right, the opposition parties must acknowledge that they also have a responsibility to ensure that the democratic process prevails — and what better place for that than parliament?

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2019