Is the fresh breeze of reconciliation flowing in the country real? Will it last for some time or is it just a whiff? Such questions are raised by edgy Pakistanis, while the media is trying to find out the answers for them. Two ugly incidences in Karachi and Lahore have quelled the euphoria about reconciliation.
To begin with we should analyse: whether the country needs “National Reconciliation” or not; how many expectations should be attached to this new phenomenon; is it fair to expect from the newly elected government to give us an atmosphere of tolerance, peace and tranquility overnight; and will all political parties rise to the occasion.
There are perhaps no two views that the country needs reconciliation after 8 years of victimizing the opposition, smaller nationalities and military operations. The fissures are so deep that it would take time to fill them. Had Pakistan’s political process moved on in accordance to the rules of the game set in the constitution, the need for a deliberate initiation of grand reconciliation wouldn’t have risen.
The credit for this initiative should be given where it’s due. Backed by the Western governments the initiative was taken by PPP’s Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf. Ms Bhutto’s vision for grand reconciliation not only in Pakistan but within the Muslim societies and with the West is adequately laid in her last book Reconciliation. President Musharraf was coaxed into this because his political bed partners were sterile. He entered in this deal reluctantly as he needed the support of a robust political party, which could give support to the anti-Islamic extremist programme. What the President’s club failed to foresee was that Ms Bhutto had cleverly trapped him in opening the door for other democratic forces like PML (N).
Many idealists say that the reconciliation move from PPP was to get the corruption cases withdrawn and find an entry for its leaders in Pakistan. They may also criticise the President for doing this to extend his rule and to please the Americans. Both the charges are correct. But one should bear in mind that in politics most people work in self or class interest. The good that flows to the people is the by-product of human greed, as defined by Adam Smith. People can get the best by keeping the pressure on politicians, directly and through the media, so that the ratio of benefits to them is higher than the ruling classes want to give them.
PPP’s Co-chairman Asif Zardari and PML leader Mian Nawaz Sharif should be given full credit for forgiving each other for the past and entering a coalition. Zardari moved forward with the Reconciliation baton handed down to him by the valiant Ms. Bhutto. He rallied the support of ANP in NWFP and many smaller parties in Balochistan. He has offered an olive branch to Balochistan nationalists and tribal militants. He walked to 90 Azizabad to PPP’s arch rivals MQM, who also opened the doors for him. All this is too good to believe. Many journalists are already apprehensive that such a broad-based coalition would not last long.
Though it is too early to hazard a forecast, the longevity of this coalition should be gauged on the mutual interests of the partners. PPP needs PML(N) in the centre because otherwise it would have to rely on PML (Q) and MQM to form the government. They also need each other because both want to restrict the President to his constitutional tight corner, if not out of his office. PML (N) also needs PPP’s support in Punjab to form the government with comfortable majority. Yes, they have some difference in policy about the restoration of judge’s issue and on ‘war’ against terror.
But such differences are not deal breakers. We should see the coalitions history in other countries, may they be in the region or in the developed democracies in the West. Italy has had over 52 governments in the last 60 years, because of the shifty coalitions; India next door had many change of governments in the 90s because of coalition breaks and is still struggling with the present one; Germany has an uneasy coalition of the two arch rivals and so on.
ANP-PPP alliance in the troubled NWFP and its adjoining tribal belt is also based on each others interdependence, as one cannot form the government without the other. It is also important for both the parties to stay together to tackle the militants’ insurgency in the country and to work to help Afghanistan and NATO fight Al Qaeda and Taliban.
In Balochistan to bring the major nationalist leaders back to the table and to extract the Army out of the quagmire a broad-based government is needed. It is also important for the reconciliation that they are on the same side of the table with the centre.
Perhaps the most difficult task of reconciliation is in Sindh, the province where PPP has a clear majority in the house. They do not need the support of other parties for the formation of the government. But Sindh is the only province where there is painful divide between the Sindhi speaking Sindhis and Urdu speaking Sindhis. This divide is also accentuated by the concentration of the latter in urban areas of the province, including their strong control in Karachi — the economic hub of Pakistan. The history of PPP-MQM relations is not very conducive as both had killed each others workers. There is also a tussle for government jobs and control over Sindh’s major cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. In spite of bitter historical relations, MQM’s close relations with the President and the PML (Q), the PPP has moved to woo them. MQM’s omnipotent leader has also softened up towards PPP.
But it seems to carry it further would be extremely difficult for the PPP as the rank and file is not much convinced with Zardari’s reconciliatory move and MQM is back to its old antics. On the other hand MQM is not willing to accept that Sindh mandate has been given to PPP, they also have seats from urban areas along with ANP. As the second largest party the mandate to MQM is either to sit in the opposition in true democratic tradition or to join the coalition as a junior partner. Asking more than their due share would only complicate the situation and damage the already questionable image of the party. In the interest of the country and the province both PPP and MQM should not push each other and make unrealistic demands.
The road to reconciliation is strewn with many potholes and pitfalls. But this should not deter us from taking the journey. Pessimists have no place in the march of history. Only the courageous lead. Nelson Mandela, the living legend of ‘reconciliatory politics’ has summed the spirit of the process: “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace … We cannot forget, but we can forgive.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)