COMMENT: A plea for restraint —Mohammad Jamil - Wednesday, January 05, 2011

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In Pakistan, politicians have the tendency to take extreme positions that take them to a cul-de-sac. In the past, such attitudes resulted in the dismissal or removal of governments, as happened to the PPP and PML-N governments during the 1990s

Pakistan is facing multifaceted crisis and is passing through its most difficult period, yet our political leaders, instead of showing unity, are moving in divergent directions. To be precise, they are on a mutually destructive course. Could there be anything funnier than the show that the PML-N and MQM head honchos and their acolytes staged recently so enthusiastically? The leaders of both these parties have been talking about long marches and revolutions, though both parties are status quo forces and have the stigma of having been vaulted into power with the support of the military establishment. Of course, they had reciprocated the military rulers by helping them perpetuate their rule. However, at this point in time, when the country is caught up in the thorny thicket of difficulties and problems, even ordinary politicos would not think of making a call for street agitation. The military has indeed destroyed the strongholds of militants and terrorism has been reduced considerably (but it is still stalking the land), yet lawlessness is rampant everywhere and poverty, want and hunger are mowing down those living below the poverty line.

Yet none in the current crop of the nation’s political leadership is inclined to act responsibly. Either turf wars or sheer politics of power and pelf are consuming all their time and energy, while the country is slipping deeper into morass. The people are fed up with the internecine conflicts of the political parties and are disappointed over the ruling elite’s apathy towards their plight. On the one hand, the PPP and the PML-N are at loggerheads while on the other, the PML-N and the MQM’s top leadership and their acolytes have stooped so low as to use vulgar language against each other, dragging each other’s women folk into their war of words. In fact, top leaders of both the parties have spotted images and track records; both have been fugitives from the law. Altaf Hussain went into self-exile when the long arm of the law was chasing him for his alleged involvement in criminal cases. And Mian Nawaz Sharif could not bear the tribulations of prison life and eagerly fell in for an ignoble bargain and left for Saudi Arabia.

The people have witnessed the musical chairs of power politics Mian Nawaz played with the late Benazir Bhutto during the 1990s. The PPP, PML-N, MQM and PML-Q top leaders run their parties like personal fiefdoms. Inserting the clause in the constitution that gives unprecedented powers to the party head is reflective of their communal trait. Whereas they are on the same page on this count, they are at loggerheads on many other counts. There is always a difference of opinion between political parties, but the differences are narrowed down through negotiations. In Pakistan, politicians have the tendency to take extreme positions that take them to a cul-de-sac. In the past, such attitudes resulted in the dismissal or removal of governments, as happened to the PPP and PML-N governments during the 1990s. When in exile, the leaders of the PPP and the PML-N showed ‘unity in adversity’ and signed the Charter of Democracy. They formed a coalition government after the February 2008 elections just to part ways after a few weeks of this honeymoon.

Political leaders should know that the people are crying for food, jobs, schooling and healthcare for their families. There is nobody to listen to the impoverished, disenfranchised and enslaved people, especially in the rural areas. The signals coming from the streets are very ominous and troubling. There is a storm in the making. The leadership must change its course to pre-empt this storm; otherwise it will blow all over us and hurt the country as well. It is vital that both major parties rise above political exigencies and strive in unison to address the grave challenges faced by the country on account of security and stability; they should use their collective wisdom to strengthen the economy, create jobs, end corruption and collect revenues from the rich to give relief to the common man. Politicians should feel the pulse of the masses and synchronise their aims and objectives in line with the ground realities. They should reform their political agenda by showing what a change really means and how.

One can find many instances in history when nations confronted crisis or societies degenerated, and visionary leadership rose to the occasion to unite the nation with a view to arresting the decay and putting it on the path towards progress. Malaysia was a divided polity with conflicts between the Chinese and the local Malays because the former had dominated the economic scene. Malaysia is a multi-racial nation of 27 million where the Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic communities blend to form a fascinating and distinctive social mosaic. Former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahatir Muhammad, played a pivotal role in creating unity among the people with different nationalities by ensuring equal opportunities for all and socio-economic justice in society. If people from diverse cultures and backgrounds can be united, then why can Pakistan not do so too where the people from various provinces are natives and not aliens? In recent history, Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, floated the idea of national reconciliation. It should be borne in mind that this was reconciliation with members of the white minority rule that had committed atrocities on the black majority for decades.

Before his election as president, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress. He spent 27 years in prison, much of it on Robben Island, on convictions for ‘crimes’ committed while he spearheaded the struggle against apartheid. Following his release from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela’s switch from a policy of confrontation to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation helped lead the transition to multi-racial democracy in South Africa. Nelson Mendela was, indeed, a statesman and a visionary who could envisage that if he got rid of members of the then ruling elite, the nation would be deprived of talent, expertise and experience. In that case, there would have been a flight of capital, bringing the economy to a grinding halt. In such a scenario, Nelson Mandela would have been head of a failed state. Through patience and wisdom, not through anger and revenge, he helped improve the living standards of his people. He will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders in the world. He could have acted reflexively and banished his yesteryear enemies, but to achieve the broader objective of improving the lot of his people, he forgave them all. In Pakistan, leaders should also rationalise their outlook, show restraint and put an end to political hostility to take on the challenges facing the country.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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