Wednesday July 24, 2024

Parties of the NRO

The assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was a seminal moment in P

By Ahmed Quraishi
May 01, 2013
The assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was a seminal moment in Pakistani politics. The entire province of Sindh was in a state of flux. The whole country was threatened by instability. Terrorists, abetted by Afghan sanctuaries, had unleashed an organised campaign of bombings in our cities. This was the perfect time to demand delaying elections in 2008.
Yet the PPP, the MQM and the ANP never made such a demand and the nation went to the polls undeterred, when all the ‘moderate’ parties were under attack. The head of one such party was killed and candidates faced real threats. And campaigning was nearly impossible.
The situation is much better now than it was five years ago. So, why are the three former ruling coalition partners trying to make election 2013 controversial? Why are they busy promoting a conspiracy theory about a plan to sideline ‘moderate’ and ‘liberal’ parties?
First of all, these three parties were partners in one of the worst deformities in our politics, possibly even worse than a martial law. This deformity was the NRO secret deal, brokered by the US and the UK in 2006-2007, which produced one of the most corrupt governments ever in our history.
Criminals, tax cheats, loan defaulters and individuals proven to have committed perjury entered government en masse. Whenever this coalition government faced a crisis, no less than the American ambassador at the time went into damage-control, quietly meeting opposition figures to urge truce on behalf of the coalition.
At least one such farmhouse meeting was actually exposed in the mainstream media.
Instead of accepting the many failures, and some successes, of their five-year government, and acknowledging the need to weed out the corrupt and the liars, the NRO coalition has chosen a different path. It wants to avenge the debarment of so many of its key figures from politics and elections. And since they won’t acknowledge failure, the three parties are resorting to play victim, and using the usual linguistic/provincial divide to distract voters and generate sympathy.
They are also blackmailing the state. A speech by the MQM chief last week went as far as warning that parties he did not name might be forced to demand ‘secession’ from the Pakistani state. Never mind that the law does not give any party the right to advocate or demand secession. In mature democracies this could amount to blackmailing the state. But in a soft country like ours, it will pass as normal politics.
Like the PPP, MQM and ANP, Imran Khan’s PTI also faced threats in Karachi last week. But instead of endangering the lives of supporters and citizens, the PTI chief decided to swallow his pride and cancel his election rally. The PTI didn’t come out crying conspiracy against it and it did not threaten secession.
The NRO coalition partners can also take similar measures to protect our citizens attending their rallies. This will not hurt their campaigning. They are not victims. They still have key allies in the caretaker governments, the police and the bureaucracy. They have billions of rupees in developmental funds that they siphoned off in the last hours of their government in March. And they have international support, as reports pour in of Washington lending them sympathy and, most importantly, support in indirect ways. In short, the playing field favours the NRO coalition even now, depriving other parties of equal opportunity.
It is also in bad taste to paint the entire Pakistani nation as extremists by repeatedly suggesting that the NRO coalition members are the only ‘moderates’ and ‘liberals’ in the country. Besides, it is an affront to liberalism to pretend that pro-Americanism means liberalism.
The PPP, the MQM and the ANP should stop trying to revive provincialism, should stop playing victim, and should accept their failures. Most importantly, this NRO coalition should start campaigning on real issues instead of promoting a conspiracy theory of exclusion.
Please grow up, so the Pakistani democracy can too.