Now what deluge or smooth sailing? (22 August, 2008)

Now what deluge or smooth sailing?

 

By Babar Ayaz

 

The unfortunate people of Pakistan are always on tenterhooks. Now that President Pervez Musharraf has finally resigned, after a brief breather, the issue on people’s mind is: will the PPP and PML (N) coalition remain intact.

 

It was believed by most political analysts (and after the advent of private channels we have one too many) that Musharraf was the glue that binds the main parties of the coalition. Though this fact cannot be denied, one would hope in the interest of the ailing country that the leaders of both the parties would show maturity and would not let the coalition break. Now if the coalition breaks and the country goes into another round of uncertainty, the sole responsibility would be on Mr. Asif Zardari and Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Mind you they have no scapegoat around.

 

The first most ticklish issue before them is the restoration of deposed judges. Mr. Sharif’s stand is right but if his objective is to get the judiciary its rightful constitutional place, he should be more pragmatic in achieving it. He has the right to keep his views and policies, but he should remember he is not in the coalition on a single point.

 

Similarly, Mr. Zardari should also realise that as a senior party leader there is more responsibility on him to keep the coalition without the Musharraf glue. He should stop dilly-dallying on the judiciary issue. Now there is no Musharraf to stop him from restoring the judges. If he has some reservations about the Chief Justice Chaudry Iftikhar, he should come out in the open.

The CJP should also realise that this is the time to assure the nation that once he is restored and his stand regarding November 3 emergency is vindicated, he will resign. The man who did him wrong has been humbled. It is therefore CJP’s turn to become a hero and let the country move on to attend a number of more serious issues faced by the nation. He would also be the saviour of the coalition which is essential for the country and should work together. Will you rise to the occasion, Sir?

 

To begin with let the provincial high courts be restored and decide about the Supreme Court later. A piecemeal solution is sometimes better than nothing and breaking the marriage.

 

No movement achieves its maximum objectives in one go. The present movement of the lawyers and the civil society is already fatigued. Other issues like food inflation, FATA Taliban’s insurgency and increasing external pressures that Pakistan should wind up the Jihadi organisations are already priority issues.

 

To solve these serious issues the coalition leaders should get a good efficient cabinet in place, give them policy guidelines and let them work. Mr. Zardari should restrain himself from the temptation of filling-in Musharraf’s shoes –either as a President or as a party leader micro-managing everything from the Zardari house.

 

The president, they have to choose, should be the man who is willing to accept the creditable role of Khawja Nazimuddin, Chaudry Fazal Elahi and Rafik Tarrar. If one looks at the constitutional history of Pakistan, only these three presidents lived up to their assigned constitutional role. And what did the media and politicians do? They joked about them. One of the basic problems with Pakistan is that while it has always aspired to be the parliamentary democracy, most of the Governor Generals (when we did not have the post of the president in the early days) and Presidents have transgressed their constitutional powers.

Unfortunately, even Mr. Jinnah also decided to be the all powerful Governor-General instead of becoming a prime minister, though the constitutional framework adopted by the country was parliamentary. So this tradition of presidents not letting the parliamentary system work in our country is rather old.

 

It is the responsibility of this coalition which has suffered presidents who violated constitutional powers, to ensure that this time they do not make a wrong choice. At the same time they will have to desist from interfering in the cabinet’s work on management and governance issues. And mend the perception that they have a powerless cabinet.

 

In building a strong democracy another basic task before the coalition should be establishing true federalism. At present Pakistan’s federalism is standing upside down on its head. A true and workable federal structure is based on local governments ceding some powers to the provinces and in turn provinces ceding some powers to the center.

 

In our case it is the central government which holds the crucial political and economic powers. And then the federal government bestows some powers to the provinces, which are again jealous to part with the rightful share to the local governments. Unless we correct this perennial problem we cannot resolve the Balochistan discontentment issue. We cannot deal with the pending issues before the National Finance Commission. We cannot resolve the water distribution issues between the provinces.

 

On the urgent problems list we have the rising inflation, sluggish economy, growing Talibanisation in Pukhtunkhwa and FATA, religious extremism insurrection, increasing western and Indian pressure to neutralize the Jihadi forces that are interfering in Afghanistan and India.

 

This is a tall order for any government. To meet these challenges again a wider consensus is needed which can only be provided by the coalition. Mr. Sharif and Mr. Zardari should come up to the expectations of the groaning nation and keep the coalition going. Mr. Sharif, don’t let some idealist civil society people tell you that you are a single point leader. Please move on with more urgent issues! Don’t disappoint the people of Pakistan. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

 

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