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Tuesday April 23, 2024

Our politicians’ dilemma

By Abdul Sattar
February 23, 2023

The recent move by President Arif Alvi to announce the date for provincial elections has plunged the country into a new political crisis. This action has triggered a debate about the powers of the president, which were defanged following the reversal of the 8th Amendment included in the constitution by General Zia.

The country’s legal fraternity is divided over the action with some legal experts asserting that the supreme commander of the armed forces is empowered to take this step. Others believe that the president has violated his constitutional domain.

The PML-N has strongly criticized the move, threatening the president with the prospect of impeachment. The situation is likely to force politicians to approach the courts once again for a matter that should ideally be decided by the country’s political elite. The courts – which are already being criticized for the perceived relaxation accorded to former prime minister Imran Khan in certain cases – will find themselves in a difficult situation when delivering a verdict on this crucial issue. Politicians have already been passing comments on the country’s judiciary, commending judges when a favourable verdict is delivered and raising questions when it goes against them.

The current situation indicates that politicians have not learnt anything from history. Despite knowing that their political wrangling has always provided an opportunity to non-democratic forces to dislodge civilian governments, they continue making allegations against each other instead of coming up with an amicable solution to the political imbroglio that the country is facing. The PTI does not want to show any flexibility regarding their election demands while the PDM-led government is determined to delay polls, as it apparently does not suit the ruling coalition to announce elections at a time where Khan is riding on a wave of popularity.

This is not the first time our leaders have demonstrated a lack of political prudence that is required to tackle a myriad of crises; their attitude had been disappointing in the past as well. This attitude did not only damage the country but also turned out to be catastrophic for our leaders. Politicians suffered badly during the dark eras of dictatorships. Such an attitude also gave space to religious and sectarian outfits to defame democracy, besides lending credence to the still widespread claims of authoritarian mentality that democracy cannot be successful in a country like Pakistan where a majority of people still do not have political consciousness.

Political tensions between the first prime minister of the country Liaquat Ali Khan and politicians in other federating units led to political instability that witnessed change of regime frequently during the first 13 years of Pakistan, providing an opportunity to Ayub Khan and his team to plunge the country into the abyss of dictatorship. The longest spell of dictatorship did not provide enough political acumen to leaders of various organizations to get united against the dark forces of dictatorship. Despite having similar ideologies, the National Awami Party (NAP), Awami League (AL) and PPP could not come up with a joint agenda to defeat pro-imperialist dictatorial forces.

On the one hand, NAP and the AL were challenging the forces of strong federation and centralization, while on the other, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was trying to appease the same forces. He was accused of employing sledgehammer tactics against those politicians who were giving hard time to certain powerful elements in the country. His stubbornness created a political stalemate in the aftermath of the first transparent and fair elections in the history of the country in 1970.

The attitude of other politicians was not positive either, as they wanted to extract as many concessions from Bhutto as possible ignoring the fact that this attitude would only strengthen non-democratic forces whose dictatorial policies were one of the major factors that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan.

After the creation of Bangladesh, the country’s non-democratic forces made a retreat as they were not in a position to challenge the political leadership of the country. Political parties had an excellent opportunity to reach a consensus over the future of democracy, but unfortunately Bhutto once again started doing the bidding of apolitical forces, picking fights with various political organizations. Leftists inside the PPP and left-leaning nationalist organizations also acted irresponsibly, pushing Bhutto against the wall leaving him with no option except to join hands with those who later turned out to be his tormentors. The result was disastrous: the country plunged into the abyss of a monstrous dictatorship that not only transformed the political landscape but also tore apart the social fabric of the country.

After the restoration of democracy, it was hoped that the country’s political leadership would behave differently. Some pro-people actions of Benazir Bhutto’s government of 1988 boosted this optimism, but soon political wrangling gripped the country again, which lasted until the military coup of General Musharraf. The crackdown by Musharraf prompted the PPP and N-League to come up with the Charter of Democracy but the imposition of governor rule in Punjab, the highly irresponsible language of then chief minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif against Zardari and the imprudent approach of Nawaz Sharif during Memogate weakened the democratic forces of the country.

The cabal of conspirators launched the TLP besides throwing unflinching support behind the PTI and Tahirul Qadri. Khan, who was allegedly brought into power with widespread complaints of electoral manipulation and pre-poll rigging, found friendly institutions. But his decision to pick a highly incompetent individual for the CM post in Punjab sowed the first seed of discord. However, he continued turning a blind eye to enforced disappearances, gagging of media and threats to women rights activists. He was also accused of actively taking part in the persecution of political opponents.

Despite support from the powerful elements of the state, the Kaptaan utterly failed in tiding over the economic crisis, creating embarrassment for the country at an international level. This prompted his benefactors to stop propping up the government, and resulted in an infuriated ousted Khan coming up with the conspiracy narrative – which he has recently taken an unsurprising U-Turn on.

Now his party has also started employing the rhetoric of constitutionality. This was also the stance of several parties of the PDM. It is time politicians sat together and decided once and for all that they will respect constitutional limits. It is difficult to convince Imran regarding this issue because he had rather institutions do his bidding. Therefore, saner elements within the PTI should be engaged to hammer out a consensus over this crucial aspect of Pakistani politics.

Even though politicians did a number of remarkable things like giving the country a constitution, bringing back war prisoners, abolishing the 8th Amendment, granting provincial autonomy to provinces by introducing the 18th Amendment, they also committed blunders that harmed not only them but also the country. These include decisions like setting up the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), introducing the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Authority, leaving the judiciary unaccountable, ignoring the severity of Articles 62 and 63 and appeasing right-wing forces by adding retrogressive elements to several laws and the constitution.

Now, since all parts of the state seem comfortable with the idea of normalizing ties with India, this is again a golden opportunity for politicians to put their differences aside forging consensus on these two issues. But it seems our leaders are also likely to miss this opportunity.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: egalitarianism444@gmail. com