Tuesday April 23, 2024

The convergence

Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif probably have been too consumed by their personal rivalry to notice a ma

By Ahmed Quraishi
May 16, 2013
Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif probably have been too consumed by their personal rivalry to notice a major shift in Pakistani politics. Together, they and their parties – the PML-N and the PTI – have decimated the ‘NRO coalition’ that ruled Pakistan for five years. This is a defeat for a political arrangement that symbolised unprecedented foreign and especially American meddling in our politics and a huge blow to years of American investment in Pakistani proxies.
The personal rivalry between Imran and Nawaz eclipsed another achievement. For the first time, we have two largely pro-Pakistan nationalistic parties dominating our politics. And to emerge from oblivion to become the second largest party in the country, the PTI has created electoral history. Together these developments indicate a surge in pro-Pakistan nationalistic politics after an unstable period that witnessed sponsored attacks on the idea of Pakistan and the promotion of divisive linguistic, provincial and sectarian politics.
These are bigger victories that transcend the Imran-Nawaz personality clash. Ideally, the PML-N and the PTI should have contested elections from the same platform against the discredited NRO coalition. The blame for the personal clash rests with both Mr Khan and Mr Sharif, and a history of dirty politics exists that cannot be ignored.
Yet Imran Khan wasted precious seventy-two hours to make a phone call to congratulate Nawaz Sharif on his election victory. This is not too different from Mr Sharif’s failure to personally call or visit the PTI chief in the hospital after his accident. But now that both of them have crossed this milestone, it is time to move forward. Imran Khan should understand that indecisiveness at this stage can be a killer.
Small steps by the chiefs of the two largest parties in Pakistan today will go a long way in reuniting Pakistanis after the polls. They need to demonstrate in words and actions that they represent all Pakistanis across the nation. This can be done despite the PTI’s legitimate concerns on incidents of rigging in some constituencies of Karachi and Lahore. The PTI has a right to demand a vote recount in a couple of polling stations in Lahore and re-polling in Karachi. The PML-N has a comfortable majority and it should not feel threatened by a probe that serves to improve the democratic practice in the country. If the PTI and the PML-N can do this while respecting each other’s mandate, this will be another achievement.
On foreign policy, both the PTI and the PML-N converge on the need to expand Pakistan’s relations with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, in addition to the US. But there are some concerns about how the new government will deal with India and the CIA’s drone programme.
Mr Sharif’s party is so far showing statesmanship in its post-victory statements and actions. Mr Sharif should avoid unnecessary clashes with the military that marred his government’s record in the 1990s.
Our military is an integral pillar of the Pakistani state. Our political system should formally accommodate the military’s input in national security issues, and for this we should be open to various mechanisms to achieve this. We can find a way to do this without the need to quote textbook examples from other countries. Our system should reflect and absorb our requirements and dynamics. This is a perquisite for uninterrupted democracy.
On India, to invite senior Indian officials to Mr Sharif’s expected swearing-in ceremony may not be a good idea after a year in which India has demonstrated petty anti-Pakistanism at the levels of the Indian government, military and media. The recent decision by New Delhi to drop security protection for Pakistani visitors to a religious shrine is indicative of immature strains in India’s Pakistan policy. We need to show that, while we remain interested in peaceful relations, Pakistanis do not accept this pettiness from a country that wants to position itself as a major regional power.
That message will be lost if Mr Sharif extends unwarranted diplomatic concessions to India at this stage.The CIA and its drone programme face unprecedented pressures and are under attack inside and outside the US. If the PML-N can muster the guts and the PTI supports it in the larger interest, Islamabad can find a way to end illegal American violation of Pakistani airspace and the wanton murder of our citizens in border regions, all without worrying too much about jeopardising our relations with Washington any more than they already are.
The PML-N and the PTI can make political history while in power. The keyword for Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif now should be: convergence.