A mat­ter of pro­pri­ety

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - I.A Rehman

THE uned­i­fy­ing fare the coun­try's top politi­cians have been of­fer­ing for the past many days is no longer funny. Apart from caus­ing con­sid­er­able loss of time and en­ergy to the state and di­ver­sion of at­ten­tion from the peo­ple's con­cerns, it is un­der­min­ing the cit­i­zens' faith in the demo­cratic sys­tem it­self.

The lat­est fra­cas started when a JUI-F mem­ber of the fed­eral cabi­net pub­licly ac­cused a PPP min­is­ter of cor­rup­tion in the ar­range­ments for Haj and the lat­ter counter-at­tacked in the same vein. It is pos­si­ble that nei­ther of them was aware of the re­stric­tions on their free­dom of ex­pres­sion or the pull of sec­tar­ian in­ter­est in the lu­cra­tive Haj busi­ness was too strong to be re­sisted and the slang­ing duel con­tin­ued. The prime min­is­ter ap­par­ently did not take a se­ri­ous view of the scan­dal at is­sue and told the holy glad­i­a­tors to keep quiet and when his di­rec­tion was flouted he sacked both min­is­ters.

While the prime min­is­ter's de­ci­sion to dis­miss the PPP min­is­ter was a sim­ple, fam­ily af­fair, the fact that he had pun­ished his fel­low Mul­tani for dis­obey­ing him and not on any sus­pi­cion of wrong­do­ing did not bring him credit. But in the case of the other min­is­ter, coali­tion man­ners de­manded that the prime min­is­ter should have taken the JUI-F chief into con­fi­dence. If he did take that pre­cau­tion, Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man gets a neg­a­tive mark; if that step was avoided the prime min­is­ter was at fault. In the ab­sence of any firm con­ven­tions the cre­ation of a small body to re­solve any in­tra-coali­tion is­sues is ob­vi­ously nec­es­sary.

It is pos­si­ble that the PPP lead­er­ship thought the coali­tion part­ners' love of power would help it get away with uni­lat­eral steps, as had hap­pened be­fore, the last in­stance be­ing the nom­i­na­tion of mem­bers of the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on ju­di­cial ap­point­ments. How­ever, this time the gam­ble did not suc­ceed be­cause the PPP lead­er­ship failed to reckon with Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man's pro­fi­ciency in rais­ing the price of his sup­port to a be­lea­guered part­ner.

While the PPP lead­ers were busy paci­fy­ing the JUI chief, they were hit by an­other vol­ley of friendly fire, thanks to the new in­no­va­tion of giv­ing a min­is­ter or two at the cen­tre and in Pun­jab and Sindh the ad­di­tional port­fo­lio of mud­sling­ing at po­lit­i­cal ri­vals. Re­gard­less of the cor­rect­ness or oth­er­wise of his broadside against the MQM, the Sindh home min­is­ter's di­a­tribe ap­peared to be in breach of the coali­tion com­pact.

The rumour that the govern­ment had man­aged to fa­tally wound it­self caused a cel­lu­lar stam­pede. The PML-Q chief be­came ac­tive. Mian Nawaz Sharif dis­cov­ered Sar­dar Mum­taz Bhutto and the lat­ter was only too keen to fol­low the wind. And Mr Altaf Hus­sain not only ac­knowl­edged Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man's sta­tus as a po­lit­i­cal goget­ter he also recog­nised a long dis­pos­sessed cousin in Ja­maat-iIs­lami's Syed Mu­nawwar Hasan.

Fur­ther, Mr Zar­dari fi­nally replied to Mian Nawaz Sharif's let­ter and made the mis­take of re­leas­ing his mis­sile to the me­dia be­fore it reached the ad­dressee, thereby giv­ing a chance to Mian Sahib's ex­pert gun­ners to hit back with­out invit­ing any as­per­sions on their chief for re­tal­iati ng be­fore study­ing Zar­dari Sahib's plea.

Now, all the main ac­tors in this po­lit­i­cal pan­tomime are in­spired by the high­est con­sid­er­a­tions of pub­lic good. All of them are free from any am­bi­tion to bid for power be­fore a gen­eral elec­tion is due. They do not wish to harm the govern­ment at all. That is why many of them op­posed the re­formed gen­eral sales tax al­though they knew its merit. The govern­ment's crit­ics are so greatly so­lic­i­tous of its health that they do not wish to bur­den it with con­crete pro­pos­als for pulling the state out of the mire. The op­po­si­tion is in fact in a state of grief at see­ing the PPP's in­abil­ity to slow down its march to self-de­struc­tion.

How­ever, there are some old­fash­ioned democrats who can­not ap­prove of the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers' free­dom from the con­ven­tions of po­lit­i­cal pro­pri­ety. They wish to re­mind the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, es­pe­cially of the PPP and PML-N, of Point 25 in the Char­ter of Democ­racy which says: "(A) Na­tional Democ­racy Com­mis­sion shall be es­tab­lished to pro­mote and de­velop a demo­cratic cul­ture in the coun­try and pro­vide as­sis­tance to po­lit­i­cal par­ties for ca­pac­ity build­ing on the ba­sis of their seats in par­lia­ment in a trans­par­ent man­ner."

It is sug­gested that the first tasks of the com­mis­sion should in­clude ed­u­cat­ing min­is­ters in the virtues of si­lence and the value of at­tend­ing to their job in­stead of liv­ing in aero­planes. An­other task should be to teach elec­tive of­fice-hold­ers not to at­tack poli­cies they them­selves might be obliged to con­tinue on com­ing to power.

Ac­cord­ing to these old-fash­ioned democrats the democ­racy com­mis­sion should also help politi­cians in learn­ing the dangers of stick­ing to power in a sit­u­a­tion when pru­dence dic­tates re­lin­quish­ment of author­ity.

It is im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve the PPP lead­er­ship is not aware of the risks to the party it is gath­er­ing by pan­der­ing to the im­pos­si­ble de­mands of its coali­tion part­ners, un­less it has re­solved not to be a se­ri­ous con­tender in the next gen­eral elec­tion.The govern­ment has com­pleted more than half its nor­mal ten­ure and by de­lay­ing an hon­est stock-tak­ing, how­ever painful it might be, it will only in­crease its prob­lems. The terms of ref­er­ence of the pro­posed in­quiry should not be limited to an as­sess­ment of the chances of the govern­ment's sur­vival or the fu­ture prospects for the PPP or its coali­tion part­ners. Greater im­por­tance should be given to the ques­tion as to what and how much has been done to ame­lio­rate the lot of the or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

The govern­ment would be well-ad­vised against re­ly­ing on mea­sures such as the 18th Amend­ment to help it be­yond a cer­tain point. The amend­ment is in­deed a huge achieve­ment but the peo­ple who can ap­pre­ci­ate it and who feel hurt at the way vested in­ter­est has ob­structed its im­ple­men­ta­tion are too few to de­cide any party's po­lit­i­cal for­tunes.

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