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Head of PPP Media Cell
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s instructions to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last Saturday to contact the opposition parties and convince them to extend support to the government in order to get another extension for the military courts. It clearly reinforces the narrative of the indispensability of the opposition role that simply cannot be wished away. This epiphany may stay put. For, without the role of the opposition the parliamentary legislative business will surely remain stuck in a rut as has been the case since this government came into power. Who is the loser? The ruling party leadership may ponder on this question to review the political strategy in the context of the functioning democracy.
Damn if you do it, damn you don’t may be the situation the opposition parties may be confronted with when ruling party leader contact them for support in the Parliament. The PPP top leadership has already taken clear position-- not to support another extension for the military courts. The PML-N may also not like to oblige because of the perceived vindictive treatment meted out by the ruling party towards its top leadership. A lot of political activities between the political divide are likely to unfold, propitious or otherwise, during the near future.
Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry gave an impression in a dinner, hosted by him recently in Islamabad for the retired secretaries Information Ministry, predicting that the PTI leadership might go soft on the opposition after a couple months. The plausibility and coherence of the much awaited affability after couple of months is best known to the ruling party leaders. However, the commencement of good deeds may not be subject to delayed timings. It is welcome realisation as the present level of brinkmanship between the political divide was not only proving counter-productive but also holding back the government to bring about the desired results of improving the quality of life of the people. This change of mind also gets credence from the reports appearing in the section of media. If so, it means the better sense has finally swayed across the PTI leadership vindicating without the opposition’s cooperation the government’s the hard drudgery may remain inconsequential during the unforeseen future as well.
However, the recent decision of the Cabinet not to delist the names of the PPP leaders from ECL despite apex court’s reservations on the modus operandi in the case defies the change of mind of the PTI leadership towards the opposition. Is playing hot and cold is the government’s tactical strategy? The information minister while talking to media even hinted that the government might go for review in case it was instructed to remove the names of certain leaders from the ECL. This maximal position of the ruling party regretfully substantiates the view that the leadership has been on the trajectory of elimination frenzy of the opposition in order to practically establish ‘One Party Rule’. The prospects of the emergence of such political scenario in the country may be nonexistent simply because the formidable political forces of the country are equally strong and well prepared to scuttle such glib misadventures riddled with shenanigans.
The ongoing accountability is generally perceived as politically motivated and the perception is well entrenched that could not be rectified despite the reckless attempts of the mandarins. It is hard to find even a solitary comment in the media attributed to well-reputed political analysts endorsing the non-discriminatory nature of the accountability in hand. People undoubtedly want that corrupt must face the legal consequences of their wrong doings, but they strongly disapprove the way the whole accountability process is being pursued against the opposition leaders. This may fail the whole purpose of the crusade against the menace of corruption that undoubtedly has eaten into the vitals of the state and the society. People are mindful of the misuse of the corruption watchdog stridently by General Musharraf and others to browbeat the political opponents.
This unabated state of getting at the throat of the opposition may not usher an era of political stability so important for the culmination of the ambitious agenda of the ruling party. One wonders as why the ruling party is so heavily engaged in the impossible task of incapacitating the political opponents as its first priority. This is allegorical to the manifestations of despotic mindset that believes in absolute power that corrupts absolutely enough to dismantle the whole edifice. The hawks in the ruling party may consider to review their strategy and join those who believe in political co-existence as linchpin of the functioning democracy. The present composition of the Parliament necessitates the urgency of both the opposition and the treasury benches to reach an understanding and vigorously carry forward the legislative agenda for the earliest solution of the multiple problems facing the people.
The PTI may take the page from the history of the PPP government led by Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani when political victimisation was not prevalent in the widest imagination, and the parliamentary performance was indeed exceptional. The credit goes to the then government as there was not a single political prisoner what to talk of political victimisation. It may be kept in mind that the PPP did not have the majority in the House and yet it managed landmark amendments in the Constitution through political consensus across the board.
The passing of the 18th Amendment, naming of the KPK, 7th National Finance Award and host of other historic legislations for the empowerment of women and the minorities were the shining examples of the parliamentary performance of the then Parliament. The PPP leadership made it guiding principle to present the bills at the parliamentary forum after taking all the political parties into confidence. It was for this reason that about 98% bills presented in the House carried the political consensus. The record of the Parliament bears witness to this without fear of contradiction. If the PPP had not recognised the importance of the opposition in the Parliament the nation today would have been without the 18th Amendment, the 7th National Award guaranteeing the financial autonomy to the federating units etc. These were not small feats by any stretch of imagination. Rather these were historic achievements of the then government strengthening the federation and democracy in the country.
Going back to dinner meeting of the information minister and the ex-secretaries, it was satisfying to know that the minister was found keen to improve government-media relations as a top priority. The participants rendered valuable suggestions to the minister based on their experience. They appreciated the initiative of the minister who earlier brought unprecedented changes in the editorial boards of the state electronic media by incorporating the members of divergent backgrounds. The minister earned the accolades of the civil society and the media considering it as a breath of fresh air in the state controlled electronic media.
The ex-secretaries underscored the importance of the free media in a democratic system and urged that the endeavours to improve the government and media relations may continue because free media is sine qua non for building up robust democracy. The minister appreciably was aware of its importance as he was taking keen interest in solving the financial problems of the media by expediting their ads outstanding dues. He added that he had contacted the provincial governments to settle their advertisement dues as well to facilitate the media to overcome the financial crunch it was embroiled in.
Information Secretary Shafqat Jalil also shed some light on the steps the Ministry was taking to improve interaction with the representative organisations-- All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Council of Newspapers Editors and Pakistan Broadcasting Association—with the sole aim of assuring them that the government was equally committed in safeguarding and improving the freedom of press and speech as the fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution. At this stage, the participants underscored the importance of the implementation of the Defamation Law like in the developed democracies.
One of the vocal participants also suggested that the idea of setting up of media regulatory authority may not be pursued by the government in the face of the unequivocal opposition of the members of the Press Council of Pakistan belonging to the media organisations. It is a self-regulatory body providing the forum to address the grievances of the petitioners against the defamatory news reports published in the newspapers, or other similar complaints filed by the citizens. The media stalwarts are of the view that the proposed media regulatory mechanism is another attempt of the government to further muzzle the freedom of media. The minister was advised to engage the media organisations for evolving consensus on the subject while extending firm assurance of the government that the entity will not curtail the freedom of press in any way. Without winning their support the pursuit of media regulatory authority may worsen the government media relations that both parties cannot afford.
The ex-secretaries who attended the dinner included Syed Anwar Mahmood, Salim Gul Shaikh, Akram Shaheedi, Ashfaq Gondal, Mansoor Suhail, Chaudhry Rashid Ahmed, Saba Mohsin, Muhammad Azam and Imran Gardezi. The absence of Khawja Ijaz Sarwar and Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera was quite conspicuous. Principal Information Officer, Mian Jehangir Iqbal and Director Minister’s Office Danyal Gilani were also present who earlier warmly welcomed their seniors.