ANALYSIS: Politics of reconciliation —Anwar Syed - Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The PPP has the mandate to govern the country. Governing requires protection of the citizen’s life and property and delivery of the basic amenities of life and services to him. The PPP, it seems, does not want to fulfil this mandate

Ever since President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani assumed their respective offices, they have been claiming that they wish to pursue the politics of reconciliation, that they want to carry all political forces in the country along on all major issues of public policy. They have not done so in their actual practice. Their allies in their coalition governments, the JUI-F and the MQM, have complained from time to time that they were not consulted when vital decisions were made. One may wonder why Mr Zardari and Mr Gilani want to make this claim at all. Why do they want to take everybody along? They assert at the same time that they cherish democracy.

They do not seem to be aware that democracy expects the majority in parliament to govern, and it assumes the presence of a minority that may choose to function as an opposition to the government of the day. Needless to say, the opposition’s understanding and prescriptions concerning various issues will be different from those of the government. Issues will be brought to parliament where they will be debated, put to a vote, and settled. Debate is a vital part of the democratic process. Not only does it lead to wiser decision making, it educates public opinion on issues to be settled.

Debate is an alternative to the use of physical force for having one’s point of view prevail. Tolerance of the opposing view and its proponents is one of its prerequisites. It comes with higher levels of intellectual attainment. Tolerance of the dissident was not uncommon in antiquity. It decreased and then almost disappeared during the Middle Ages. Catholics, encouraged by the Pope and his cardinals in the Vatican, and sponsored by King Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Spain, killed every Protestant they could lay their hands on in Spain and France. Protestants and Catholics killed each other for more than a hundred years in Ireland. Jews and Catholics were persecuted in the US until the beginning years of the 20th century.

Intolerance of opinions other than one’s own and resorting to violence against the dissident have been on the increase in Pakistani society since the beginning of General Ziaul Haq’s regime in July 1977. These leanings subsided a bit during General Pervez Musharraf’s rule but they have come back in full swing since the PPP’s return to power in March 2008. A few weeks ago Salmaan Taseer’s own security guard, in collusion with four of his co-workers, fired more than 20 bullets into his body. He committed this gruesome murder because the governor had referred to the man-made law that prescribed the death penalty for anyone who had allegedly uttered something unflattering about the Prophet (PBUH) as a “black law”.

More recently a younger brother of Justice Javed Iqbal, a senior judge of the Supreme Court, killed his parents in Lahore. Every day in the city of Karachi several persons are killed because the killer does not approve of their ethnic or religious identities. Witnesses to these murders are reluctant to testify in court because of the fear that the accused or their agents would kill them.

Returning to the matter of reconciliation, it may first be noted that the PPP has the mandate to govern the country. Governing requires protection of the citizen’s life and property and delivery of the basic amenities of life and services to him. The PPP, it seems, does not want to fulfil this mandate. Allegedly it wants to use its position of authority and power to make as much money as possible, by means fair or foul, for its leading men and their friends. It also protects such of them as have been accused of massive corruption.

Mr Nawaz Sharif has been changing his mind with regard to the present government. He declared many times and unequivocally that it is both incompetent and thoroughly corrupt. But he does not want to do anything to secure its dismissal. He offers the specious reasoning that its destabilisation might jeopardise the current democratic system. He implies that there are anti-democratic forces lurking here and there and that they might seize the country if the Zardari-Gilani regime were made to fall. There is only a very remote possibility that this scenario will materialise. The greater likelihood is that that if the present government is voted out of power in the National Assembly, the next largest party in the House, which is the PML-N, will be invited to form a government. If it is unable to put one together, the National Assembly will be dissolved and new elections called. None of this would be a catastrophe or even a minor tragedy. The comings and goings of assemblies and cabinets and the holding of elections are standard operating procedure in a democracy. They do not disrupt the system, which remains in place. If anything they may serve to strengthen it and move it towards maturity.

More recently (January 26, 2011) Mr Sharif has taken a long step towards reconciliation. He has made the astonishing statement that the present government must not be removed either by mass action or through constitutionally approved parliamentary procedures. He wants us to believe that its removal would be dangerous for the country in its present circumstances. We know what the present circumstances are: the present government is corrupt and incompetent, and partly as a result of its policies the economy is down on its knees. He has not explained in what way its removal would pose any credible danger to this country. It is hard to understand what has persuaded Mr Sharif to assume the role of this bad government’s protector and preserver.

It is wrong of Mr Sharif to ask the people of Pakistan to suffer pervasive governmental corruption and incompetence for two more years. They have given him the mandate to oppose this government, and he should do an honest job of honouring it.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics

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