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Time Out

PM Ms Benazir Bhutto has recently offered unconditional cooperation to the Opposition provided they agree to give up confrontational politics. She seemed to be generally mystified as to what the Opposition hoped to achieve by pursuing its present course of agitation, forgetting her own trailblazer role from Day One of the Nawaz Sharif regime in bringing down the then elected government. On the other hand, saner elements within the Opposition have counselled their own leadership to avoid the roller-coaster road of opposition for the sake of opposition lest it became a violent confrontation fatal for democracy. Even if the government of the day is brought down, what is the surety that it would be replaced by another democratic alternative? Such a situation would be tailor-made for adventurists and/or their frontmen third forces. The same day that platonic thoughts were being aired about by the PM, the residence of Mushahid Hussain was being raided to apprehend that famous “terrorist”, Khalil Malik, who going by the number of policemen employed for the operation, seems to be a combination of Carlos and Pablo Escobar with a little bit of Che Guevera thrown in for good measure. Since our agile policemen had scaled the roof of his house to take up position for several hours, one can well understand the trauma of the whole episode for Mushahid’s family. Not to say that the beating up of Azhar Sohail, Editor of Daily Pakistan, by his own staffers, which had occasioned this ham-handed retaliation, was anything less unsavoury. However, one outrage cannot be set right by another, except of course if civilization degenerates back to medieval feudalism with its Machiavellian overtones.

One must stop here for an instant and reflect, all three, Mushahid, Khalil and Azhar, are well-known journalists but of these Mushahid and Khalil belong to the PML (N) and Azhar seems to be fairly partisan for the PPP. If the views and expressions of the members of the fourth Estate are to be confronted with bully tactics that resemble the workings of a fascist state, then what are we descending to as a country? The whole purpose of democracy is freedom, of which expression has a primary pedestal. This incident is especially unfortunate because it is during Ms Benazir’s last rule that the Press came to enjoy almost unfettered freedom, one of the reasons for her popularity with the Press is because of this fact. Expression may not be the sole prerogative of the literate but this does so happen to be more often than not, literacy being a prime requisite for democracy. Moreover such actions lead to reaction and one does not know where it will all end. However, for the sake of democracy, such obnoxious incidents need to be investigated thoroughly so that the culprits who are responsible for perpetrating them are brought to book or at least focussed on for the sake of our society. Separate inquiry teams should reach independent conclusions so that no one dares to take the law into his (or her) own hands, whatever may be the reason.

The Prime Minister must be taken at her word and confrontational politics must be avoided by the Opposition. However, quid pro quo requires that the Government of Pakistan (GOP) must also stay its hand in raising the temperature of the country to a point that the raging fever cannot be controlled except by Army icepacks. We are at this time beset by many problems that require a bipartisan approach, both in the internal and external sectors. It also requires a modicum of credibility, not of the kind that the President seems to be doling out presently. Given the extent of our troubles pending and in the future, resorting to beating up and harassing media-men gives the impression that both the sides are engaged in a game of monopoly rather than the serious business of State where the government must govern but the Opposition has to perform in a mature fashion to provide checks and balances to prevent excess and corruption. At this time, on the one hand the Government is stymied from fulfilling its proclaimed agenda for the good of the people became the Opposition is resorting to agitational politics instead of giving cogent arguments in their prime responsibility of accountability. On the other hand the government seems determined to give no quarter as it drives to Opposition into a corner. The result is that the wholesale plunder of the country is in the offing under the garb of democracy. If the Opposition would function as it should, bringing evidence about misdemeanour to the attention of the government without politicising it and thus avoid eroding its own credibility, this unbridled loot cannot take place. By default the Opposition is abdicating its responsibility to the masses they are pledged to serve in thus letting the government off the hook. This allows rank criminals to use politics as an added camouflage for their misdeeds. Such is the Catch-22 that we are enmeshed in due to the immaturity of “hawks” within both the political factions who serve ego in supersession to the national interest.

The raid on Mushahid’s house was symbolically an attack on the independence of the fourth estate, a dire warning of things to come if corrective action is not taken by both the political parties. This was only the crowning piece of a bad week for Pakistan’s democracy beginning with the confusion and pandemonium in the NWFP Assembly, followed later by the violent scuffle in the Sindh Assembly. While things in NWFP seem to have settled for the time being, Karachi is a disaster waiting to happen. The first shots were fired in Jacob Lines and were followed by the violent incident in Baldia. Our external situation with India in the East as well as the deterioration of relations with the Afghan Government in Kabul is alarming. Most of the supporters of the previous communist regime were the Hazarajats who are centred in Kabul and the area around it. Not a day has gone by without the stoking of feelings against Pakistan, a strange way to express gratitude for this country’s travails because of uninhibited support to its neighbours. Kashmir remains a live problem with India steadily increasing the violence level against the majority Muslim population. Notwithstanding PM Ms Benazir’s eloquent presentation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Pakistan had to defer its Kashmir Resolution L-40, what to talk about getting the Commission to censure India for her transgressions in Kashmir as our rhetoric once claimed. This raising of expectations domestically overwhelmed the limited gain of focussing of international publicity on Indian atrocities. On the other hand India has been quite successful in disseminating disinformation about the “failure” of Pakistan’s initiative thus undercutting our credibility and position. While Kashmiris are dying, GOP and the Opposition are engaged in their version of Nero’s fiddling.

The economic situation is not a happy one either. This is not due to any bad policy that the Ms Benazir Regime may have been saddled with because of any inadequacies in Mian Nawab Sharif economic policies but is the carryover from the period of Ms Benazir’s Long March of November 1992 culminating in the called-off second Long March of April 1993 which pulverized economic activity in Pakistan. Agitational politics encouraged by the conspiracies hatched by GIK in the Presidency created an insecure economic environment which effectively derailed the economic thrust that Nawaz Sharif had built up due to massive denationalization, disinvestment and deregulation. For the present GOP to call on the present Opposition to shun confrontation may be rather strange given the fact that their own legitimacy is the end process of a subtle destabilization campaign that was abetted and aided by the Establishment. This nation has not been able to re-build the economic momentum of 1991 and early 1992 through one daresays that Ms Benazir’s regime is trying hard. A glimmer of hope is seen in the boom of the stock markets. Another vote of confidence has been the release of the long awaited IMF funds as well as the pledge of Consortium Aid, a necessary medication that has terrible lingering after-effects for future generations with respect to the repayment of debts. For the common man, the price spiral has meant increasing misery and privation. To complicate matters, our main cash crop, cotton, has been subjected to massive pest attack besides suffering from paucity of rain. This has caused a massive downwards spiral downstream affecting a wide swath of the population as industries have either closed down or are running at extremely low output. All this has been further accentuated by the low level of water in our main reservoirs of Tarbela and Mangla, with massive loadshedding in our immediate future as a definite certainty. The lack of power this summer (and well into autumn) will further stunt economic growth.

President Farooq Leghari recently pleaded for a bipartisan approach to national issues. The President is right, for starters he should set a personal example by being careful about his own credibility when his demeanour seems to be partisan about the PPP even as he is professing his neutrality. In the final analysis what is required is a one-on-one meeting the PM and the Leader of the Opposition sans aides (and hawks). We peaked in economic woes when the man who was to bring us economic emancipation was in power, whatever may be the reason. Unfortunately when the lady who is considered the most powerful exponent of foreign policy that Pakistan has ever had now finds herself with her feet being cut from under her. The lesson here is to pull together in the national interest, for each to put into a common pool his/her greatest strength for the good of the country. God knows, this country needs a respite.

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