Political battle is turning in to an all out war (24-05-2008)


Get ready for the long nail-biting climax of the political final match. Forget IPL. Stay tuned and hate the commercial breaks as you don’t know which way the game is going to go this time. Everybody wants this game to finish as early as possible.


Now the elected government, it seems from Mr. Zardari’s statements, has picked up the courage to cut the President to size as envisaged in the 1973 constitution. This is a right step but it seems would be a long-drawn battle unless President Musharraf is kind enough to have mercy on the people of Pakistan and leave us in peace. Till that happens the media would be right to give a ball to ball commentary of the final match between Zardari Vs Musharraf Eleven. The space covered by the on-going political tussle in the media is bound to overshadow all other issues.


This leads to the common perception that the government is too busy in the power struggle and judges issues. And it is not doing anything to save them from inflationary pressure. It is hard for them to believe that the economic ministries which are supposed to find solutions to the crushing inflation are trying to find ways to provide some relief to the poor.


One may differ about the various solutions being considered by the economic managers, but they cannot be blamed for not attending these issues. The recent monetary tightening measures announced by the State Bank of Pakistan Governor Shamshad Akhtar are aimed at reducing money supply and discouraging imports of non-essential goods. The principle is that if too much money is chasing too few goods the prices are bound to rise. Yes there is a communication problem on the side of the government. They are not reaching out and explaining to the people what is being done. Only press conferences are not enough. Things have to be explained in the common man’s language. A job my former colleague Sherry Rehman, should attend to immediately. All the economic ministries should develop a proper integrated communication strategy and clear plan for at least the next quarter. Haphazard collection of press releases and press conferences would not change the perception that the government is not doing anything. These are tough times people have to be repeatedly and innovatively explained. The government has to claim media space by creating right stories and through independent views and comments about the economic situation. They have to drum in that the government’s elbow room is very little. The country is actually in a four-sided nut-cracker — massive fiscal deficit, yawning balance of payment imbalance, unprecedented pressure of rising commodities prices in the international market and poor agricultural and industrial growth — is squeezing the country.


To top it up the political uncertainty is sapping the country’s productive abilities. While the people wanted the judiciary independence battle, which has been lingering for over 14 months now, to be sorted out as soon as possible, Mr. Zardari has now decided to turn it into full-fledged war. He wants to bring an 18th


Amendment to the Constitution with 62 clauses cleansing the constitution from all the polluted amendments made by the military dictators, in some case Mr. Bhutto himself.


To begin with according to the media reports he wants to do away with the notorious clause 58 (2) B which empowers the President to dissolve the parliament and sack the elected government. This clause was struck down by Nawaz Sharif’s government but was brought back by Musharraf. This clause was inserted by General Zia-ul-Haq to open a burglar’s window for unconstitutional army intervention through the President. We have seen that when President Leghari was not backed by a decent General Karamat he failed to use this clause and sack the government. Reportedly, another major change which Mr. Zardari wants is to pack up the National Security Council. Again this is not Musharraf’s doing alone; it has been created on the army’s demand, which was pending since Zia’s time. So the big question is will Rawalpindi let the Islamabad government strike out their favourite amendments to the constitution. If they will as some well-informed journalists say in Islamabad the nation would start believing that for once the GHQ has retreated to its position as prescribed in the 1973 constitutional, before its was mutilated beyond recognition.


Some un-confirmed reports are that Mr. Zardari’s legal team is looking into the possibility of restoring the 5th and 6th Amendments to


the Constitution (made by Mr. Bhutto’s government in 1976) which are related to fixing the tenure of the Chief Justice of Pakistan to 5 years.


The all-in-one 18th Amendment’s introduction, discussion in National


Assembly and Senate committees, in both houses and finally getting them passed is not a small feat. Finally, asking the President to sign his own power trimming law would also take sufficient time. So the political brinkmanship game is not expected to be over in the next two months at least.


Till that time the media’s obsession with politics cannot be blamed. This blame about disproportionate coverage is now coming in not only from the government, but also from the public and some senior journalists. Many journalists may privately agree that other issues should also be highlighted but they do not want to say it because they would not like to be labeled as government’s lackeys. One can only say to such honest colleagues is not to be afraid of what others say about you just do your job to support the cause of the poor of Pakistan and rise above middle class fixations. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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