Some breathing space

Published January 12, 2012

AFTER a day of high drama, the country took a deep breath yesterday, but with a rowdy session of parliament scheduled to begin this morning, the respite may be brief. With little certainty about the direction that events will take in the hours, days and weeks ahead, perhaps a stocktaking of what has transpired so far is in order. One thing in particular bears stating: if Pakistan had been a more developed democracy, the authors of the ISPR statement this week would have been summarily sacked. To directly challenge a prime minister duly elected by the public under the letter of the law and the constitution in such a public and blunt manner would amount to, in more advanced democracies, an intolerable challenge to the democratic dispensation. Alas, Pakistan is a very different country.

On another track, it appears that for now the PPP's coalition allies are not bolting for the exit.

What this suggests is that the possibility of the drama shifting from the hallowed precincts of the Supreme Court to the equally hallowed halls of parliament may not become an immediate reality. The relative strength of the coalition may for some, particularly those fiercely opposed to the government come what may, be a bad signalbut when it comes to a thinly veiled attempt to destabilise the government on matters of dubiaus import, the survival of the political government is a matter to be thankful for.

Much of what is happening in the country at the moment is too focused on personalities: Asif Zardari, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Ashfaq Kayani, Shuja Pasha, Iftikhar Chaudhry. A step back from the personality-driven narrative can help clarify matters. The individuals at the helm of their respective institutions will last no longer than 2013 (the civilians aspiring to a further term will have to get a fresh mandate from the public).

What kind of Pakistan do Pakistanis want in 2014? One where yet another group of would-be saviours is floundering in the morass of politics and illegitimacy? Or a state that for the first time in living memory has seen a democratic transition of government from one elected government to the next? In the Pakistani context, in which neither option, elected or unelected, has delivered the choice may not seem to matter much. But that choice is vital. To send Mr Zardari or Mr Gilani home, only the ballot box is needed. To send the other options home, the price the country has to pay is much higher.

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