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Aren’t people sovereign?

December 09, 2011

HAS he been forced out? Has he suffered a breakdown? Is he not in control of his faculties and thus unable to continue in office?

These were but a few of the seemingly untold number of questions that were asked in the wake of President Asif Zardari's departure this week for Dubai where he was admitted to hospital.

The questions and speculation snowballed as dithering PPP public relations managers (if the party has any at all) were first silent and then offered contradictory explanations for the president's trip abroad.

This isn't to say only the government can be blamed for the media storm. For, who doesn't know how effective media campaigns can be run by the opponents of greater civilian say in civil-military relations.

Ergo, unless a dramatic truth virus hits all and sundry there are serious doubts that as these lines are read, there will be more clarity between what is information and (mis)/(dis) information.

We have all read reports in the international media, suggesting that in the days preceding his departure, those in contact with the president found him 'incoherent', 'not focused' or, in other words, a bit lost.

If these suggestions are based on facts and are not part of an inspired disinformation campaign, isn't it incumbent on all commentators to await (for a few days) the verdict of Mr Zardari's physicians?

The media believes politicians, like showbiz stars and other popular personalities, are entitled to no privacy regardless of whether journalistic intrusion can be justified on public-interest grounds.

In case of illness, surely an only parent to three children is entitled to a little space, a little compassion even where the argument is valid that holders of public office are always open to scrutiny.

Of course, if the mental/physical health/ state of a leader dictates that he or she is unable to perform duties as normal, the public does have the right to know.

But the indecent haste displayed by many in the media while jumping the gun, no matter how subtle some of them tried to be, left one with a bad taste in the mouth.

Was it merely a quest for the 'big exclusive' or more ominously a desire to see the president's five-year term truncated, whatever the means and the consequences?

What many of our colleagues didn't focus on was that it is prerogative of parliament, not the media or, yes, even GHQ to rule on the fitness of an elected president to hold office.One can cite misgovernance, corruption, downright incompetence and even callous disregard for the public good in some cases to wish the current lot took a long walk off a short plank.

If only wishes were horses. That isn't how democracy works, is it? We have used soft and hard coups to remove elected governments after wearing them down by sustained demonisation campaigns.

On each occasion, the great and the good who engineered the process of hounding out the 'crooks' and took charge left us in a greater mess. They couldn't respect the popular mandate.

We were left to do penance for their sins. Our sufferings on this account are far too many to count. Sadly, in our blighted land history seems to repeat itself many times over.

Didn't you notice, when reporters were beginning to update their databases, starting to tour the country to gauge public opinion in anticipation of elections in 15 months, how we were blown off course?

Yes, by memogate. Triggered by that seemingly unstable and misguided missile, Mansoor Ijaz. An avowed critic of the 'out-of-control' Pakistani military and its security services, he woke up to a bigger evil, the 'feudal'democracy.

Up to a point it appeared ambassador Husain Haqqani's resignation would be enough to draw the curtain on the issue but then Mr Nawaz Sharif took the matter to the Supreme Court.

His crude critics in the PPP, led by that dodgy doctor, Babar Awan, can say what they like but the PML-N leader has not done anything yet to threaten the system and pave the way for the military.

It was at the PPP's behest that that paragon of judicial piety Abdul Hameed Dogar disqualified the PML-N leader and his brother but despite this betrayal by a key ally he opted for restraint.

What many didn't realise was that Mr Sharif's decision to move the apex court may have been merely a reaction to the pressure of PTI chief Imran Khan's perceived inroads in Punjab rather than anything more sinister.

It was against this backdrop that the president's unsatisfactorily explained illness was being viewed when better judgment became a victim and conjecture ruled.

Call one out of touch with reality and a fool if you must, but isn't it true that issues confronting Pakistan are of such a fundamental nature that the energy spent on media trials and media medical boards is better spent elsewhere?

The supremacy of civilian rule remains a distant dream; the elected government may have completely adopted GHQ's foreign policy but even this doesn't seem enough.

Although we are told approaches have been made, contacts established with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, is the violent movement really willing to lay down its arms, embrace democracy and abandon its emirate goal?

Where militancy may recede for a few weeks, bigotry takes over. For instance, did you know last week dozens of Ahmadi graves were desecrated near Lodhran in Punjab?

Who knows if our isolationist foreign policy is again forcing us into a game with no exit strategy like Kargil though one hopes for Pakistan's sake this high-stake poker pays off.Independence isn't about developing an unending ability to cause self-harm. Let's for once focus on the real issues.

As for poorly performing governments, corrupt elected officials and those suspected of 'treasonous acts', let the people show them the door for they are sovereign.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn .