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Immature politics

Publication Date : 22-10-2012


The Supreme Court of Pakistan dropped the bombshell, now the political parties are fighting over the fallout. The open secret that the presidency and the security establishment colluded to rig the 1990 elections received an official imprimatur last week — predictably leading to all manner of political attacks and counter-attacks in present-day Pakistan, where a general election is around the corner. Rather than say mea culpa and focus on its more recent record of robustly supporting the democratic process, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has tried to dredge up allegations of electoral manipulation and partisanship in 1993. For its part, the Pakistan Peopel's Party (PPP) is enjoying the discomfiture of the PML-N and taking liberal pot shots at its rival for national power. None of it is edifying or becoming of a mature political process. Of course, with elections on the horizon in a fractured polity, few will be thinking about the long-term interests of the democratic project. Survival is the name of the game at the moment.

However, this is precisely the kind of political moment in which leadership can make a difference. President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif carry a heavy burden today, much like the one Benazir Bhutto and Sharif tried to shoulder in the 1990s but failed. The burden is to carry the democratic project forward and away from the interference and interventions of the army. Slanging matches and throwing fistfuls of mud at one another is not the way forward. Yes, Nawaz Sharif benefited from the patronage and tutelage of the security establishment. But since his return from exile, he has steadfastly and very believably maintained that the army’s influence in politics must be pushed back against. And for all the PPP’s schadenfreude at the moment, those with longer memories will remember that the PPP’s founder cut his political teeth in the country’s first military government. The central challenge, then, is the same for all political parties: to strengthen the democratic project against military intervention. The PPP, the PML-N, indeed all political parties, will benefit from rolling back the army’s internal predominance.

But how to do it? A truth and reconciliation commission, occasionally mentioned by the PML-N, would be a good idea. So was the Charter of Democracy, and a reincarnation of that platform today would be helpful too. Ultimately, though, the political class will only truly be able to exert control if it learns to govern better and challenge the army’s formulation of the national interest and national security in a more intelligent manner. But will self-interest prevail over the common interest?


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