Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


A plague on all their houses?

Published Mar 23, 2013 01:02am

IT’S been a difficult five years for PPP supporters. But then, that’s nothing new: the last three times the party has been in power, it has been accused of rampant corruption and poor governance.

Sadly, these charges have contained more than a grain of truth. Incumbency, especially in a chaotic, Third World country like Pakistan, inflicts deep scars on those in power. Even the most efficient government could not begin to overcome our many problems in a five-year term. And God knows nobody has ever accused the PPP of efficiency.

What has kept the party faithful in line is the naïve expectation that somehow, the next time will be different. This is truly a triumph of hope over experience. The other factor that has kept liberals like me from breaking ranks is that there’s nowhere else to go.

It is obviously impossible to support the army or the religious parties. The MQM, despite its secular stance, is seen as a violent, ethnic party. In addition, I have trouble understanding Altaf Hussain’s rambling telephonic speeches.

Nawaz Sharif ruled himself out for me by trying to impose his version of the Sharia as the law of the land through the 15th Amendment in his last stint in power. This law would also have made him the amir-ul momineen, or commander of the faithful. The other iterations of the Muslim League are pretty much irrelevant.

The ANP, despite its proud secular heritage, now appears too deeply mired in corruption to merit serious consideration. That leaves Imran Khan’s PTI. While I admire his intensity and passion, I mistrust people without a sense of humour and irony. Every time I have seen him on TV — which is far too often — he has seemed full of anger and self-righteousness. He appears to see the world in black and white, incapable of perceiving shades of grey. Finally, his proximity to extremists remains deeply troubling.

Politics demands compromise, and the ability to get along with people you don’t necessarily agree with. But if Imran Khan is uncompromising, Asif Zardari has bent over backwards so many times that it’s hard to know what he stands for, except his desire to last out his term.

In Pakistan’s context, the completion of a full five-year term by an elected government is certainly an achievement of sorts. And here, credit must also be given to Nawaz Sharif for not trying to destabilise the fragile democratic system. Equally, Gen Kayani has been steadfast in his refusal to heed the many voices calling for military intervention.

But this success is hardly enough to build a re-election campaign on. Despite having completed the five-year marathon, there are too many failures to list here. The biggest one is in the realm of security. Although Rehman Malik has boasted of having broken the Taliban’s back, the sectarian death toll keeps mounting. And Karachi continues to haemorrhage.

Power generation is another dismal failure. Apart from massive shortages that have caused havoc in industry, allegations of corruption continue to swirl around Raja Rental, as the ex-prime minister is known as.

Unbelievable incompetence and indifference to the suffering of citizens has compounded the problem. Public enterprises like the railways, PIA and the Steel Mill are on constant life support.

To its credit, the PPP-led coalition has pushed through some important pro-women legislation, apart from getting a long-delayed agreement on the division of resources among the provinces. The 18th Amendment and the devolution of powers to the provinces is also a feather in the outgoing government’s cap.

However, passing laws and making rules is the easy bit. Implementing them is far harder. And here, the Zardari administration has failed miserably. The excuse often given is that it was hampered by constant judicial intervention. There is some truth in this: witness the constant procession of ministers and civil servants summoned before the Supreme Court.

But at the end of the day, people expect some improvements in their lives brought about by their representatives. It’s not enough to claim that the assemblies have completed their constitutional lives, or that the administration was hamstrung by a hyperactive judiciary.

I have supported the PPP since its formation, even though I have often been very critical of it when it was in power. In her second stint in office, Benazir Bhutto once rang the information secretary to ask why Mazdak (a pseudonym I used when I was in the civil service) had turned against her. The official reportedly replied: “Madam Prime Minister, I don’t know who Mazdak is, and why he has turned against you.”

The point here is that BB knew exactly who I was, and could easily have sacked me. The fact that she was not vindictive is what made her unique among Pakistani politicians. As long as she was alive, there was at least a remote possibility that the PPP would find its bearings. No such possibility exists today.

Hence my quandary: who should I vote for? Having eliminated all the possibilities, I am left with the stark choice of ticking the “none of the above” box, had one existed. But opting out is not an option. Politics is about choices, and we cannot afford the luxury of sitting in our drawing rooms, forever criticising politicians, but refusing to exercise a democratic right so many fought so long to extract from dictators.

Over the years, many young readers have emailed me, asking for advice on which party to join or vote for. I have always urged them to get engaged, and never waste their vote, so I can hardly take the easy way out by wishing a plague on all their houses. Luckily, I have a couple of months to decide.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

DAWN-MREC-DESKTOP-300x250-2 - /1029551/DAWN-MREC-DESKTOP-300x250-2

Comments (26) Closed

Mar 23, 2013 05:27am
"Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me". I would rather PTI fool me for the first time then fooled by others for nth time.
Mar 23, 2013 06:57am
What a sad state a country is. The parliament is at the mercy of the generals. Is it worth to have an election?
Mar 23, 2013 07:46am
What a useless article repeating what we all know about various political parties. Please get out of your state of confusion and go out and vote for the best out of the lot which is clear to every unbiased and educated voter.
Mar 23, 2013 07:56am
Make a pledge to yourself to go out and vote for PTI.
Ram Krishan Sharma
Mar 23, 2013 08:40am
Vote congress
Muhammad Ahmed
Mar 23, 2013 09:23am
Vote for Imran khan! Yaar jahaan itnay azma'ay hain eik chance to apnay kaptaan sahab ka bhee banta hai.
Mar 23, 2013 11:22am
Pakistan ka khuda hi hafiz said, Musharaf on the occasion of his resignation as the president of Pakistan!
Mar 23, 2013 11:59am
Always read you because you come across as level headed. This time, do not understand why you have condemned Imran Khan without giving him a fair trial.
S. A. M.
Mar 23, 2013 12:09pm
U could have written something (good or bad) about Musharaf as he is also a contender. If I couldI would vote for Musharraf. In my humble opinion democracy is not the answer to all the ills that we have.In some situations democracy may not be suitable also. Do not you think that at times rule of baton is more apt.
S. A. M.
Mar 23, 2013 12:12pm
Can we? is there going to be a referendum on the question of unification of India and Pakistan. I would vote in favour.
Karachi Wala
Mar 23, 2013 12:26pm
Very good analysis of all the political choices available. Most of the big parties are either open or secret Supportesr of Taliban or are afraid of them. If Imran can openly challenge Taliban, my vote will be for him.
Mar 23, 2013 12:35pm
What an excellent comment ! There should be another box for voting - " Army " .
Mar 23, 2013 01:11pm
Come on grow up. Generals did not interfere during last five years. Parliament shot itself in the foot at its own.
Mar 23, 2013 02:09pm
Beautiful analysis. We all need a fact finding committee. Though I am not a supporter of any party, PPP deserves a credit for facing stiff opposition over the last five years from every corner and still completing its term, and handing it over peacefully.
Agha Ata (USA)
Mar 23, 2013 02:12pm
We shall never find a politician with no fault. So what should we do? My idea is that we should vote someone who is definitely NOT CORRUPT, and one who is STRONG and stead fast in his undertakings and has a sincere desire to take the country toward its long desired goal. Even if he has faults, lets take him and then get rid of him after he put the derailed train on the right track.
Mar 23, 2013 04:07pm
Nothing has changed. Nothing will change for the people ever. Nothing. Not until and unless people themselves will be prepared to work to bring a change in their habits and attitude which will enable them to be able to come forward to join hands with others to install a new and just system, which is "democracy of the majority."The system i.e. "democracy of the majority" can be evolved only and only by the participation of the masses. Participation by organizing "Co-operative, Cosultative Committes" of the people, by the people, for the people, in every locality and every qusbah. This is the only way people can organise the means to organising to have their ?true and effective representation?.Charity begins at home. So the initiative to organize "Co-operative, Cosultative Committes" has to come from the people themselves in the localities where they live. The initiative of mobilising the masses to such a far reaching and beneficial goal has to come from the intellectuals, thinkers, writers, social workers etc.There is utterly no other way for the people. It is their own collective action which can help them in making their country, their life, their destiny, Heaven or Hell. The people are on their own and no one is going to come from anywhere to help them if they do not take the initiative themselves to come together to work to bring the change.
Mar 23, 2013 04:18pm
What a clear depiction of desperation. My heart goes out to the poor Pakistani people who did not do any thing to deserve this mess. Unfortunately, it is up to them to clean it up as only they can.
Mustafa Razavi
Mar 23, 2013 05:24pm
Aamir; It is we who need to get out of the state of confusion. These "intellectuals" and "journalists" are a part of the deep state of the status quo and confusion is their best friend.
Mustafa Razavi
Mar 23, 2013 05:25pm
You are trying to provide a cover to the corrupt politicians.
Mar 23, 2013 05:36pm
As an indonesian, i congratulate Pakistani for their first ever transition of power from one civilian administration to another, we have experienced this since 2004 (with fairly free election since 1999). the very first term was the hardest and messiest, but as times goes by, the politician should and could be better to get a long with each other and start to really thinking for ALL PAKISTAN, not just their own kind
Mar 23, 2013 05:45pm
why indeed not "none of the above"? They are all, without exception, scoundrels of the ultimate order. By voting none of the above, you are not wasting your vote. Your are stating that none of them deserve your vote, that you turned up to vote but don't approve of any of them!
Mar 23, 2013 08:41pm
mr irfan hussain is liberal, anti islamic blindly pro PPP,he is not to be listened to,vote for Imran Khan
Cyrus Howell
Mar 23, 2013 09:07pm
"It has been accused of rampant corruption and poor governance." . There is no governance.
Cyrus Howell
Mar 23, 2013 09:12pm
Pakistan's constitution is like a big bowl of spaghetti. Everyone in government is winding it around their forks.
John the Baptist
Mar 23, 2013 10:39pm
vote for PTI. if lack of humour and irony is the only fault in him you you can name, it is forgivable compared to what your past patrons are doing to the country. if you vote PTI, i will buy you a bottle of Crystal in Devizes!
Mar 24, 2013 12:44am
I will vote for the passionate and self-righteous Imran Khan as i trust him not to feed on taxpayer's money. He might be humorless but we will hopefully get occasional dose of humor from likes of Rehman Malik, Nawab Raisani etc even if they are not in power...

Must read