PENSIEVE: Government’s post-JUI-F options —Farrukh Khan Pitafi - Thursday, December 16, 2010

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It is any government’s nightmare to find two of its cabinet ministers fighting on this scale. Hence the wisest course of action was to sack both persons. That was done and now there are complaints about the decision

So the government is in thick soup again. With so many detractors and so much dislike, how could it not be? And of course its own follies cannot be ignored either. But the saddest part is that its detractors always manage to divert our attention from the core issues of national interest. For instance, the sad, sad politics being played out on the issue of the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) overlooks, perhaps deliberately, the fragile state of the national economy. There, after all, has to be some limit to opportunism. But the maddening cynic’s lurgy that has afflicted the media of this country has indeed started affecting the judgement of the country’s major political parties too. Apart from this affliction there of course is the concern to claim the maximum spoils of war. The smaller parties, thus far part of the governing alliance, have started feeling that the government may fall any day and everyone opposing it will most certainly be rewarded in the next elections. We most certainly will examine the source of this feeling but first let me talk about the anatomy of the current crisis.

We all know it started with the talk of corruption in the Hajj operations. While it is sad that someone as polite and tolerant among the religious leaders as Hamid Saeed Kazmi has been implicated in the scam, it cannot be denied that the talk of shady activities in the matter had started reaching our ears much before the Hajj. That does not mean that the JUI-F did not have its own axe to grind here. The ministry of religious affairs is a highly lucrative business. And not only that. The present conflict between the two parties or ministers can also be interpreted in terms of sectarian strife in this country. We all know that the JUI-F is a proponent of the Deobandi school of thought in this country. And Kazmi sahib we know does not only belong to the Barelvi sect but also has even survived a deadly assault on his life by the terrorists. And yes, apart from the ministry’s financial clout it can play a very crucial role in the Talibanisation of the country. We do remember that during the last tenure of Benazir Bhutto, the JUI-F by virtue of its presence in the government had played a pivotal role in the genesis of the Taliban movement.

But it is not my intention to portray one party as a band of heroes and the other as the enemy of civilisation. Not at all. There is no doubt that government business is not run the way it is being handled these days. Of course there are reports of corruption too. But does this mean that cabinet ministers should start fighting among themselves and take the fight to the courts? I think that Azam Swati had every right to question the alleged malpractices, but he should either have done it in cabinet meetings or then used someone other than his own person to fight for his cause in the media and eventually in the courts. It is any government’s nightmare to find two of its cabinet ministers fighting on this scale. Hence the wisest course of action was to sack both persons. That was done and now there are complaints about the decision. Not only that. The day the JUI-F decided to part ways with the government (please note it has not given up the Council of Islamic Ideology position), you must have seen the orgasmic screams of delight from some of the media men. I mean just because you hate the PPP government folks, does not mean that it is about to lose power or that somehow Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s party has become a crusader for just causes. It is purely and simply called realpolitik.

Now a word on the origin of the coalition partner dissent. Have you noticed that the two dissenting coalition partners, i.e. the MQM and the JUI-F, have both been considered close allies of the Pakistani establishment? Indeed during Pervez Musharraf’s tenure they both supported his government through their own methods. And they are now the PPP government’s partners. So is this the establishment’s no-confidence against the current leadership and should we expect the democratic system once again to fall apart? To me, while the defence establishment might be getting weary of the government, it is clear that the PPP has an effective track record of escaping such bottlenecks. You can compare the current frenzy with the media’s euphoria at the prospects of the prime minister being indicted in the contempt of court case. It is clear that the MQM and the JUI-F have their sets of demands. In the end it is about seeking the maximum share in the pie. Now I am pretty sure that the PPP leadership today knows how to convince the establishment’s whisperers not to convey destabilising messages to these two parties. The government can also fulfil the demands of these parties and woo them. But the actual question is if it really is worth it. In my humble view it is not. Granted that on the issue of agricultural tax the MQM has a valid demand. But the real demands of the MQM and the JUI-F are highly myopic and self-centred. Plus, even if the demands are met, like just happened in Maulana Sherani’s appointment as the head of the Council of Islamic Ideology, there is no guarantee that these parties will vote for the RGST in parliament and not demand more perks.

And this is the heart of the problem. If the PPP wants to stay in power, it will have to seek alliance with the parties that have bigger stakes in the system and a relatively cosmopolitan outlook. Only two parties with a presence in parliament qualify for this. The first is of course the PML-N. I know that it has a huge baggage and things between the two parties are complicated. But the PML-N alone is in the best position to comprehend the gravity of the national situation. Plus such a solution will strengthen rather than weakening the position in Punjab. The PML-N too is in power and its capacity to deliver in Punjab will essentially affect its prospects in the next elections. The second party is the PML-Q. Somehow we manage to forget that it is the third largest party in parliament.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at

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