The national soap opera by Syed Talat Hussain - Monday 2nd May 2011

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INCREASINGLY, the country’s political scene is coming to resemble a mindless soap opera, whose trite characters stage much excitement at the end of each episode but whose plot and storyline never move forward.
The new arrangement between the PPP and PML-Q is the repeat of a show the nation watched long ago. This was when the ruling party was courting the N-League to ‘strengthen democracy’ and to ensure that the ‘system survives’.
However, the courtship with the PML-N did nothing for the country. It only enabled the PPP to get through three years in power. In the same way, the deal with the Q-League, while perfectly designed to serve bilateral interests, will do little for a country waiting to be governed.
This pessimistic view is grounded in several realities. The first reality relates to the calibre and potential that the new ally, the PML-Q, offers by way of governance skills. The party’s stint in power under the tutelage of Gen Musharraf was a hopeless one.
The economic boom, which its stalwarts are so fond of quoting to establish the blissfulness of their era, was just a temporary cycle inflated by massive infusion of foreign aid, heavy subsidies and a fortuitous spiral in the real estate business.
Moreover, even that temporary boom in the economy was managed by a team that did not belong to the Q League: it was the inner circle headed by Shaukat Aziz, an over-confident, manipulative banker, who reported directly to his patron-in-chief, the all-powerful Gen Musharraf.
The core of the Q-League never offered any special expertise in fiscal or administrative management; Musharraf used it as a protective political shield rather than as a source of running the country efficiently. And where the party leaders had matters in their own hands, say in Punjab, the economic situation was a mess marked by two traits — graft and overdraft.
Ironically, the PPP, which says that the new alliance is likely to improve the governance situation, always quotes the ‘Musharraf years’ as the beginning of disaster in every sector, including the energy sector.
The second reality about the partnership with the Q-League is that the problem of governing Pakistan is a direct outcome of the PPP’s inveterate incompetence, which no ally, even if it boasts of having wizards and miracle-makers in its ranks, can address.
The Gilani government cannot change its flimsiness into brilliance just because the Chaudhries of Gujrat have given them a several-point agenda to implement. The government has no serious focus on long-term challenges, nor does it have any sustainable vision to implement solutions.
There is an abundance of sincere advice about how to lift the country out of its present morass and to set the framework of long-term reform. The business community, individual experts, foreign donors, critics in the media, the Supreme Court judges, the opposition, old and new political allies, estranged party leaders like Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and recently even the chief of army staff all have rendered useful guidance to the government on how to get the national house in order, but to no avail.
Nothing has changed to inspire hope that someone in the government is indeed interested in lending an ear to the wailing crowd outside the palace of power. Many allies have come and gone but Pakistan has stayed marginally and poorly governed.
The Q-League’s entry will not make a difference.
But the most important reality to evoke pessimism rather than hope that a new tomorrow is born from the womb of the alliance with the Q-League is that this arrangement is not about Pakistan’s future.
The centrepiece of the alliance is not about piecing together an economic strategy to stop the meltdown and create jobs. Nor is it about fashioning national policy to deal with growing urban terrorism. It is certainly not about foreign or defence policy issues, or about social sector development. In short, it is not about anything that critically matters to the collective well-being of the people of Pakistan.
For the Q-League, the alliance, in its full bloom, can ensure several things. It may exorcise from the public mind the memory of its support to Gen Musharraf; reintroduce it to the mainstream of power from the margins of opposition; endorse the hold of the Chaudhries over the party’s rebellious individuals by further sidelining the dissident group; and give it access to funds and a say in postings and transfers in the critical districts, first for local body polls and then national elections.
Besides rendering many other benefits that come with power, the alliance, possibly, can also be useful to protect Moonis Elahi from being lost to the NICL scandal.
For the PPP, the perceived positives are many. The alliance reduces its reliance on fickle partners like the MQM; gives it hope of passing the budget in June; opens up the prospect of forming a government in Punjab and of splitting up the anti-PPP vote in the province in any future election; and, happily, adds another thorn in the side of the PML-N, which now has to worry about its political future rather than become a formidable challenge to the ruling party.
It could be that in the end both these parties would get something or everything from this arrangement. And if it doesn’t work out, they could part ways, and, depending on the circumstances, turn their handshake into a fistfight accusing each other of betrayal and playing to their respective constituencies. This has happened in the case of the PPP and PML-N, and there is no reason to discount the possibility of a quick divorce between these two as well.
But one thing is certain: the country is not getting back on the rails anytime soon. The PPP and PML-Q are cutting the deal for themselves. Governing the country better is a non-item on their agenda. The soap opera will continue.
The writer is a senior journalist at DawnNews.

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