CIVIL SOCIETY PAKISTAN

May 15, 2008

Coalition chaos

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 2:34 am
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DAILY TIMES

MAY 15, 2008

View: —Talat Masood

PPP can be justifiably proud that it is the only party that has its support base in all four provinces. It has made enormous sacrifices, including the lives of its two leaders, to earn that position. But in a highly dynamic domestic and external environment, past glories and residual political capital are not enough

Pakistan has once again been plunged into a deep crisis.

The euphoria that gripped the nation after the elections on February 18 2008, and the tremendous amount of goodwill that poured in internationally has largely evaporated and the country now faces uncertainty.

For all practical purposes the government has been fairly ineffective since its inception as it has been deeply distracted by the judges’ controversy. What makes things worse is that the previous government too in the last eighteen months was a victim of institutional paralysis.

Of course the judges’ issue is central to the current crisis but there are broader issues that are at play in the ongoing power struggle. The weakening of civilian democratic forces does not necessarily mean a stronger President Musharraf either. No doubt, he would have additional political space to manoeuvre things but to what end? With the government’s hold getting weak and state structures crumbling, the levers to exercise power also diminish.

In any case, politics is not necessarily a zero-sum game. PMLN leadership was expecting that by restoring the judges, the president’s legitimacy would be challenged which would lead to his ouster. In the changed scenario they are likely to side fully with the lawyers and the civil society movement for restoration of the judges and simultaneously put pressure for the president’s exit.

The Bush administration still considers President Musharraf as the best interlocutor for the war on terror and considers him a stabiliser among the opposing political forces. The ground reality is to the contrary, and by supporting President Musharraf the US makes itself more unpopular with the masses which neither helps the war on terror nor the stability of Pakistan.

The PPP’s stance on the question of judges and the perception of its siding with or at least being soft on President Musharraf is eroding its credibility and popularity. The party leadership would lose a lot if it were to discard its ideological moorings.

Lately, leaders who represent the soul and spirit of the party and have roots among the people seem to have been marginalised and should be brought back and reintegrated in the central decision making process. It is crucial for national cohesion that PPP holds together at this critical time and leads the nation with clarity on short- and long-term issues.

Circumstances have thrown Mr Zardari into the role of the most powerful leader of the country. He has to seize the moment by aligning the party with the positive and progressive forces that are yearning for a genuine change in our political and social landscape.

Advice from the US, European capitals, or for that matter China or other Muslim countries is welcome but the answers and solutions to Pakistan’s problems are to found from within if they have to be acceptable and enduring.

PPP can be justifiably proud that it is the only party that has its support base in all four provinces. It has made enormous sacrifices, including the lives of its two leaders, to earn that position. But in a highly dynamic domestic and external environment, past glories and residual political capital are not enough.

Mr Nawaz Sharif has stated that his party will continue to support the PPP in the parliament and pursue the cause of the judges relentlessly from outside. PMLN is expected to align with the APDM, lawyers and the civil society in this struggle and that would ultimately pitch them against the government.

With this major contradiction it is not difficult to foresee it is not long before the two parties will part ways. Punjab is the key, being the driver of Pakistan’s politics and economy. In case tensions heighten between PPP and PMLN, will it be possible to govern and function with a hostile Punjab? Could that lead to governor’s rule and return to a repressive state?

As of now, Nawaz Sharif, by taking a clear position on the question of judges and standing firm on his commitment, has become a leader by default. On the contrary the PPP is giving the impression that the judges’ reinstatement is a trivial matter.

Already there are fissures in the federation owing to the insurgency in Baluchistan and the shrinking writ of the state in the tribal belt and NWFP. The breakdown of the coalition could weaken the bargaining position of the government while dealing with the insurgent tribes in Baluchistan and the radical militants on the western border.

Militants in FATA are likely to expand and deepen their influence after the fall of the coalition. Nothing suits them more than a weak, ineffective government and a divided political and social milieu. Radical groups thrive when governments fail to provide security, justice, employment opportunities and food security to the people. The task of building national consensus on the “war on terror” is likely to be more arduous as well. Therefore, much depends on how the PPP addresses these issues.

Deep economic problems coupled with the political crisis are a combustible mix. The fiscal position has deteriorated due to lax policies of the previous government and the adverse global economic climate. At a recent seminar, eminent economist Hafiz Pasha pointed out that the fiscal deficit could rise to an alarming 9.5 percent, more than double the laid-down target for macro-economic stability.

Trade deficit is also likely to reach 8.5 percent. High inflation, rapidly increasing oil and food prices and long hours of load shedding are creating acute hardships to millions of people in Pakistan. All these are contentious political issues and the government has to take these challenges upfront to avoid social unrest and political violence.

Our leaders will have to devise ways of enabling Pakistan to survive and prosper in a chaotic domestic and regional situation coupled with a highly aggressive international order. The best way of doing it is to find ways of cooperating rather than confronting each other.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general and can be contacted at talat@comsats.net.pk

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