A Rud­der­less Govern­ment

The Miracle - - Opinion - By: Zahid Hus­sain

THE spec­ta­cle of two old ri­vals greet­ing each other on the floor of par­lia­ment may not be worth notic­ing. But the hand­shake between Asif Zar­dari and Shah­baz Sharif in the house this week was more than just a mat­ter of cour­tesy. With the PML-N leader hav­ing been ‘nabbed’ and the noose tight­en­ing around the for­mer pres­i­dent from the PPP, the two op­po­si­tion par­ties now find them­selves pushed into a cor­ner. The hand­shake could be a pre­lude to a more ef­fec­tive al­liance against a fum­bling PTI govern­ment. The lat­est episode in the po­lit­i­cal soap opera is get­ting more thrilling with the op­po­si­tion go­ing for the jugu­lar. What next? In­deed, there is no im­mi­nent threat to the Im­ran Khan govern­ment, but a more stri­dent and united op­po­si­tion could fur­ther jolt a lack­lus­tre and in­ex­pe­ri­enced ad­min­is­tra­tion still try­ing to find a foothold. Al­though their top lead­ers are un­der a cloud fac­ing graft charges, both the PML-N and the PPP seem to have dropped their ini­tially cau­tious tone and are now chal­leng­ing the PTI govern­ment more force­fully. Zar­dari’s lat­est ha­rangue tar­get­ing not only the PTI govern­ment but also the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and the ju­di­ciary may be driven by his fear of be­ing in­dicted in money-laun­der­ing and cor­rup­tion charges. But it cer­tainly has turned up the heat. The wily politi­cian that he is, Zar­dari is try­ing to use a be­lea­guered PML-N for his own po­lit­i­cal chess game. The PM’s ap­proach to pol­i­tics and gover­nance is no dif­fer­ent from the short, T20 form of cricket. How­ever, it re­mains to be seen if the PPP leader can es­cape the ‘ac­count­abil­ity trap’ by up­ping the ante. His re­marks last week re­minded one of his speech some three years ago when he took on the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment fol­low­ing a crack­down on some of his clos­est as­so­ci­ates. He later left the coun­try and stayed away for more than a year. Zar­dari then tried to mend fences with the es­tab­lish­ment when the axe fell on Nawaz Sharif. It seems now po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent for both par­ties, trou­bled by a ju­di­ciary os­ten­si­bly backed by the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, to come closer. The PTI govern­ment’s own in­ept­ness and blun­der­ing have pro­vided them with an op­por­tu­nity to re­gain some lost po­lit­i­cal ground. Al­though the govern­ment has in­her­ited the eco­nomic mess, its in­abil­ity to deal with one of the most se­ri­ous eco­nomic cri­sis fac­ing the coun­try in re­cent years seems to have given the op­po­si­tion more con­fi­dence that the rulers could crum­ble un­der the weight of their own blun­ders. It may be an ex­ag­ger­ated es­ti­ma­tion but it is not com­pletely off the mark ei­ther. Par­tic­u­larly in Pun­jab, where the rul­ing party en­joys a wafer­thin ma­jor­ity, its gover­nance has added to the per­cep­tion of the PTI’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Im­ran Khan has even failed to con­vince his own party mem­bers that Pun­jab Chief Min­is­ter Usman Buz­dar, who never held any pub­lic of­fice be­fore, was the best choice to lead the ad­min­is­tra­tion in the coun­try’s most im­por­tant and most pow­er­ful prov­ince. His claim of Buz­dar be­ing ‘Wasim Akram-plus’ has ex­posed Khan’s in­abil­ity to see the dif­fer­ence between cricket and pol­i­tics. T20 cricket was not in vogue when Khan was play­ing, but his ap­proach to pol­i­tics and gover­nance is no dif­fer­ent from that short ver­sion of the game. Buz­dar’s per­for­mance in the past four months tells a dif­fer­ent story. Three power cen­tres — chief min­is­ter, gover­nor and speaker of the provin­cial assem­bly — have fur­ther com­pli­cated the prob­lem. The prime min­is­ter’s at­tempt to run the provin­cial govern­ment via re­mote con­trol has not worked ei­ther. The re­sult of re­cent by-elec­tions showed that the PTI has nor been able to im­prove upon its mass po­lit­i­cal sup­port in the prov­ince. The fail­ure in Pun­jab could cost the PTI power. In­ter­est­ingly, the op­po­si­tion par­ties are now us­ing Im­ran Khan’s own inanity of threat­en­ing to call early elec­tions. Ad­dress­ing a group of TV pre­sen­ters last month, the prime min­is­ter in­di­cated he could go for fresh elec­tions if his govern­ment were to be blocked by the op­po­si­tion. This is un­prece­dented talk for a govern­ment which has hardly been in power for 100 days. It re­in­forces the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion that Im­ran Khan has yet to get out of the op­po­si­tion mind­set. Such state­ments only add to po­lit­i­cal uncer­tainty and ex­pose Khan’s im­ma­tu­rity. In­deed, the op­po­si­tion does not take the threat of an early elec­tion se­ri­ously, but uses the re­mark as a po­lit­i­cal tool. It is not just about the op­po­si­tion join­ing forces and giv­ing a tough time to the govern­ment, it is the dis­ar­ray within that is also cause for se­ri­ous con­cern. Mat­ters may not point to the un­rav­el­ling of a frag­ile con­glom­er­ation of dis­parate po­lit­i­cal groups, but the lat­est de­vel­op­ment is omi­nous. The join­ing of the MQM and the Balochis­tan Na­tional Party (Men­gal) in the op­po­si­tion walk­out from the Na­tional Assem­bly this week, in protest against the non­pro­duc­tion of PML-N leader Saad Rafique in the house, is a sign of the grow­ing frus­tra­tion of the coali­tion part­ners. The pub­lic dis­sent of some cab­i­net mem­bers on the party’s Uturn on the chair­man­ship of the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC), ced­ing to the op­po­si­tion de­mand, is an­other ex­am­ple of dis­or­der. It is like a rud­der­less ship ply­ing tur­bu­lent wa­ters. An­other is­sue adding to po­lit­i­cal uncer­tainty is the fail­ure of the govern­ment to strengthen par­lia­ment. It is ba­si­cally the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the govern­ment to defuse ten­sions and make it pos­si­ble for par­lia­ment to fo­cus on leg­is­la­tion. On the con­trary, it is the PTI that has largely been re­spon­si­ble for the stale­mate in the house. It has wasted more than four months be­cause of its ir­ra­tional po­si­tion of not ac­cept­ing the leader of the op­po­si­tion as chair­man of the PAC. Fi­nally, it gave in to the op­po­si­tion’s pres­sure, but the dis­pute over the com­po­si­tion of par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees re­mains a cause of im­passe in the house. Now things have be­come more dif­fi­cult with the op­po­si­tion rais­ing the stakes. Its ini­tial stance of co­op­er­a­tion in run­ning the busi­ness of par­lia­ment smoothly seems to have changed with its new­found stri­dency. The op­po­si­tion par­ties are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the weak­ness and in­ept­ness of the rul­ing party. With no sign of the PTI govern­ment tak­ing a more pru­dent ap­proach or mak­ing an ef­fort to get the sys­tem to work smoothly, mat­ters are be­com­ing gloomier in the coun­try.

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