Irony rules over all else

Published December 30, 2009

LEADERSHIP in Pakistan is its own worst enemy. It is quick to grab the limelight but lacks the ability to gracefully preserve the often ill-found glory and veneration that falls into its lap. Lessons are not learnt and heroes emerge because of the mistakes of adversaries.

Gen Musharraf's highhandedness made the Supreme Court a champion of people's rights. The handling of the NRO gave back to the presidency the support it was losing from its own party. And now, the swansong of Asif Ali Zardari to a bewildered audience only exposed his incoherence and insensitivity to the occasion. It was a rare opportunity to remind the people of Benazir Bhutto's philosophy of reconciliation and urge for unity to strengthen the democratic process. Instead, he threatened to pull out the eyeballs of those who dared to undermine 'democracy'.

Democracy is not simply an exercise in electoral politics. It may begin there but also ends there if other components remain absent. Absolute power for the president under a parliamentary form of government does not reinforce democracy. A politically partisan president can hardly claim to be a champion of democracy.

Maintaining a huge cabinet is not the government's right; it is an abuse of the people's trust in it. Most importantly, democracy can only be sustained in a system that remains accountable and is respected by the people.

The PPP is facing a number of challenges including the absence of a seasoned leadership. Still the government has made some positive moves, including reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan, offering an olive branch to the enraged Baloch and reaching a consensus on the NFC award. But it has also erred. There is no governance in sight, corruption is still tolerated if not encour

aged and the Dogar period saw some of the worst practices in the judicial system fully backed by the ruling party. Credence can be given to Zardari's allegation that the establishment has an aversion to the PPP. But this can only be countered by addressing the people's problems and putting the country on the right track. The way forward can be through negotiations and not constant defiance.

Governments are judged by the results they produce, not by the level of suffering in the past. Constant harping on the martyrdom of political leaders only undermines their sacrifices. People recognise the PPP's travails. Friends and foes pay homage to Benazir Bhutto's valour. But compassion for her does not necessarily extend to her spouse and other party leaders. Zardari's repeated attempts to stir up sentiments in the context of raising his children singlehandedly have backfired. There are millions of people doing so without any support or resources. Emotionalism on that score often appears manipulative.

No doubt, the greatest loss of Benazir Bhutto's assassination is felt by her family, but this cannot be a reason to snub those asking for a full-fledged investigation into her killing. Murder is a crime against society and people have the right to insist and expect that with the PPP in power, the party should pursue the case of their revered leader with vigour. A UN fact-finding exercise is no alternative to a criminal investigation.Zardari's outburst that he would either occupy the presidency, the Prime Minister House or a prison was bizarre. His reference to the Prime Minister House suggests he is eying the office once the 17th Amendment is repealed. Politicians must also be prepared to sit outside the corridors of power. His famous words, “Pakistan khappay”, were appreciated all round but cannot be thrust down the throats of the nation as a great favour.

Obama's Afghan policy is bound to play itself out in Pakistan. The transition to civilian rule will be under constant strain until it gives in to the military's policies. To overcome it the government must build larger political alliances at home and depend less on Washington's patronage. Ranting about conspiracies being brewed is no deterrence. Instead, the president should have stepped back, allowing others in his party to woo the opposition, especially after Nawaz Sharif denounced extra constitutional measures to topple the government. The PPP's response was to let loose the Punjab governor on the PML-N. There are a number of people, sticking out like sore thumbs, on television hysterically defending the government where no defence is possible.

The repeal of the 17th Amendment is being delayed on some pretext or another, allowing no space for the opposition to close ranks with the PPP. No wonder there are now calls by the opposition for resignations by PPP ministers. And now the PML-N has arrogated to itself the task of championing the fight against corruption! Irony rules over all else in Pakistan.

While bickering continues in Islamabad and amongst political forces, ordinary folk continue to face violence and economic hardship. They hear ad nauseam the sacrifices made by the judiciary, the military and the politicians for the cause of democracy and rule of law. Yet none of these paragons of virtue, holding positions of power, contemplated resignations on a point of principle. Neither have they protested, when in power, on issues other than those that singularly affected them. Every political party agrees that military rule has been a disaster, yet they are unable to marginalise the army's influence in politics. All deals and crucial decisions are left to the military. Once there is a transition to civilian rule, politicians begin to stab each other in the back, and the establishment, with the help of other institutions, takes over the decision-making process. Eventually, politicians are unceremoniously thrown out and end up playing martyr.

No doubt Pakistani politicians have suffered and been demonised, but they are rewarded as well. In reality, people who have truly sacrificed are those who have put themselves and their children to eternal sleep because they had no food, no mercy and no hope. Those who sacrifice also consist of judges of subordinate courts who face immense pressure, have few resources and must deliver tough judgments without any security from the state; they consist of those who flee from war at an hour's notice and of those who lose their lives in daily bomb attacks; of political workers who keep the flame of democracy alive while their leaders are in exile and of foot soldiers who die in conflict unleashed by the skewed policies of their seniors.

If Pakistan survives it is no thanks to the powerful and the mighty. The credit goes to the resilient people of this country who are witnessing a constant tamasha.

The writer is chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

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