Thursday, April 11, 2013

PML (N): enigma of principled politics

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
[Barry Goldwater, American Politician and Senator, 1909-1998]
It is said that every government is a perfect target for criticism. But interestingly this time in Pakistan though the Pakistan Peoples Party government is under heavy fire and of course it must be and even if outside government it should remain so; however, what should be the real target is Pakistan Muslim League (N). This article is an attempt at highlighting that point.

As for PPP’s politics both before and after February 18 elections and through the events that unfolded within the last 7 months, it is established beyond doubt that PPP is as usual on a collusion course with the elitist set-up, and is just continuing the policies of General (Retired) Musharraf and the security establishment of Pakistan. Take any issue and you will see that it is acting and behaving more and more like General (R) Musharraf. Rather it is set to achieve and is achieving what General (R) Musharraf so desperately wanted to achieve but could not.

So far, one of the most important achievements of the PPP government is its persistent denial of the rule of law movement, its refusal to restore the pre-November 3, 2007, judiciary including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and the notorious re-appointments of a number of deposed judges, and all that without having any immediate backlash in sight.

Another big achievement is its total adoption of US war on terror. Farcically, PPP Co-Chairman, and President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, while on his maiden visit to US, has crossed the limits in wooing the US administration. General (R) Musharraf liked to play the victim; whereas PPP leadership is playing the dog that walks ahead of his master. As regards the mechanics of internal terror warfare, PPP is making a mess of it via its policy of action and inaction or a mix of both. On the economic front, even after half a year nothing serous has come to the surface that could be termed positive. Instead the downslide continues.

Thus, alongside its politics of disorder, nepotism, favoritism, and corruption, the PPP government is presenting itself like a proxy government of General (R) Musharraf. And, sure, for all its deeds and misdeeds, it is rightly under an unprecedented barrage of criticism.

Meanwhile, it is incomprehensible why on the other side of the political game PML (N) is being showered with laurels, such as that it is doing principled politics; that it is consistent in its politics; that it has sacrificed the federal ministries for the sake of its electoral promise, i.e. restoration of the deposed judiciary; that it went to the last extent in partnering with the PPP to attain this objective; that it is not pursuing the retaliatory politics of 80s and 90s; that it will never be the part of anything that de-stabilizes the PPP government; that it is not set to doing any such thing which may amount to dismantling or toppling the PPP government; that it is giving the PPP government due space to act as it likes; that it respects PPP mandate and would like to see it sail through its 5 year tenure; that it will support PPP where it will deem it fit to do so; that it supported PPP in ousting General (R) Musharraf; that it will never go for any thing that may result in another throwing off of the civilian government, i.e. another military coup; that it is sticking to the Charter of Democracy.

That sounds great, and a bit real different in the context of Pakistan’s political dynamics. Is it so? It may not be, because there is another brush that paints another story which sees the present politics of PML (N) as under certain internal and external constraints. Though we do not know the secrets behind these constraints which only Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and their close associates know, but we do analyze the way events unfold and progress, and try to find the thread that goes through them. For instance, why PML (N) nominated Justice (R) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui for the September 6 presidential election if it was not going to give Zardari, PPP candidate, a tough time or if it was going to give him an easy win. Or it was just filler like PML (Q)’s that tried to canvass vigorously for its candidate. That reminds us the manner in which PPP helped General (R) Musharraf to win his second presidential elections in November 2007. Where PML (N) stand in this fare? What was that constrained it from doing the right thing?

On the issue of the restoration of the deposed judiciary, of course, PML (N)’s stand and its efforts are laudable. But is it all that it could do? Or it should have been doing? Or it should do? Sure, it was strategically great to bring PPP on the table and have it signed the agreements to restore superior courts judges thrown away by General (R) Musharraf and annul the 17th amendment. Was it sufficient to rely on the written word and that by a person like Zardari? The PML (N) may be excused for the Murree/Bhurban Declaration since it was the first thing or sting. But it cannot be spared for signing another agreement with Zardari which was again destined to be trashed by him.

One may object that it is easier saying now than doing it then. But the point of argument is different: was it sufficient to sign the agreements and wait they would be implemented? Why the PML (N) strategists stood on such a weak rock? Why couldn’t they understand the game of give and take? Actually, they committed blunders of great magnitude when they bartered just signed documents (Murree/Bhurban/Islamabad/London agreements) for hard cash, i.e. supporting the PPP in forming government in the center, for giving vote of confidence to the PPP Prime Minister. It may be or may not be that they had been a victim of temptation of federal ministries. But it took place exactly in the way it should not have been.

Also, for a political party like PML (N) it was just preposterous to take the signed agreements as serious documents that will make a difference and bring the desired change. Men like Raja Zafarul Haq, Javed Hashmi, and Khawaja Asif should be well aware of the treacherous nature of Pakistani politics and when they were dealing with Zardari they should have taken extra-care. We leave it, they made a mistake. But, did they make sure that they were doing their home work to build pressure via street agitation and other means to get these agreements implemented? I am just helpless to understand how naively PML (N) reposed its trust in these agreements! Or I should not trust it?

Further to this, take the example of the Long March. How PML (N) kept itself aloof from it is not a matter of debate. Or how could it make it a greater show and send a message to the PPP government that in case PPP does not restore the deposed judges to what extent it could go. Moreover, throughout this period after the last agreement expired, PML (N) shied away from the rule of law movement. It did not strengthen it the way it should have. Why? What are the constraints? What are the secrets behind? We have nothing to do with them.  

What I want to argue on is the single point on which whole PML (N) election campaign was based: that it will restore the judges who were thrown away by General (R) Musharraf on November 3, 2007, to save his mock presidency. And, I want to see how sincerely and forcefully it acted or is acting to achieve that objective. It needs to be pointed out here that it is not just a promise but it is the only road to go back to constitutional rule in Pakistan which can ensure supremacy of the constitution, independent judiciary, rule of law, and our fundamental rights to us people of Pakistan. That’s the importance of this promise! If PML (N) does not opt for doing what it can to get the deposed judges restored and the 17th amendment annulled, it will amount to a death by slow poisoning in contrast to PPP which has gone for a cold-blooded murder. 

Therefore, we can ask again, was it sufficient for the PML (N) to quit the ministries? Was it sufficient to leave the coalition government? Was it sufficient to sit on the opposition benches in the National Assembly? Was there nothing else that PML (N) could or can do to meet its lone promise? Or was it just at scoring numbers in the eyes of the people?

A cursory look at the previous months’ events enables us see how PML (N) has been acting as a sleeping partner of PPP government. All of its acts be it quitting the ministries, leaving the coalition government, or sitting on the opposition benches, are just passive acts. By playing a silent partner of PPP government, it is making itself liable to be accused of the same ‘crimes’ that PPP is committing. By allowing PPP government to do whatever it likes, it is actually endorsing whatever PPP government is doing and is up to doing. By strengthening the PPP government, it is actually giving credence to the unconstitutional acts of General (R) Musharraf.

All that politics of PML (N) implies that it passively supports the re-appointment of the deposed judges, PPP’s refusal to restore the constitutional judiciary, annulling of the 17th amendment, and other such acts like the NRO. In sum, PML (N) is accepting and validating all the acts of General (R) Musharraf’s unconstitutional rule. Also, it is tantamount to endorsing the PPP government’s policy of following the US line in the war on terror which is in stark contrast to the PML (N)’s policy. In the economic realm too, it means just stamping what the PPP managers are doing or undoing.

In conclusion, PML (N)’s policy of appeasement towards the PPP government, pre-meditated or adopted under the circumstances, is casting serious doubts on its claim of principled politics. It is baffling which principles PML (N) regards as supreme and worth-following if they are not based on and derived from the constitution of Pakistan. It is just enigmatic how its politics can be termed principled if it is but extending support to the unconstitutional acts of the PPP government.

It is just naive if we believe, as PML (N) and its advocates make us believe, that the present PML (N) is a different political party and that it is not seeking power through any means as PPP has sought and succeeded. It is just waiting for its term to grab the power. One can quote the statement of late Benazir Bhutto which she issued when the Charter of Democracy was signed: First we shall rule, and then it will be the turn of Nawaz Sharif.

However, if PML (N) is really a different party now, it must demonstrate that. It should abandon its policy of appeasement towards the PPP government. It should get rid of the fear lest its constitutional struggle against the PPP government should be termed as a return to the vengeful politics of 80s and 90s, or should result in a military coup, or should result in the loss of its government in Punjab (In both cases, it is going to be lost.). It should make it clear that it will oppose any such takeover tooth and nail. It should take bold stand against all the unconstitutional acts issued from the PPP government or from any other quarter, not only verbally on various fora, but physically on the streets and in the markets also. It should go to the people, take them into confidence, and win their support to bring Pakistan back to constitutional rule. In the words of Barry Goldwater quoted above I would like to remind PML (N) that extremism in the defense of Pakistan’s constitution is no vice, and that moderation in the pursuit of justice, independent judiciary, and rule of law is no virtue!

[This article was completed on October 5, 2008.]

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