OVER A COFFEE : Roshan Pakistan: the good, the bad, the ugly — Dr Haider Shah
Perhaps now we can hope with some degree of conviction that Pakistan
can enjoy uninterrupted democratic order and stability
The roads from Islamabad now lead us to ‘Roshan’ (Bright) Pakistan while from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa we are destined for ‘Naya’ (New) Pakistan. Personally, I cannot complain much against the new government as whatever I had been repeatedly pleading for in my earlier pieces has appeared prominently in the declared priorities of the government. Energy, Balochistan, the economy and extremism were identified as open wounds that need immediate and sustained attention of the new administration. Balochistan is bleeding due to militancy with three separate components of Baloch nationalism, sectarianism and Taliban activity. The gesture of allowing Baloch and Pashtun nationalists to run the government with the support of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is a positive one and has been applauded by friends and foes alike. Old wounds take time to heal but despondency has certainly given way to new born optimism. To what extent the new government in Islamabad and Quetta will be able to call the shots and enforce their will upon the law enforcement agencies operating in Balochistan is yet to be seen.
The sight of a civilian leader entering the National Assembly triumphantly to take oath as the new prime minister while the dictator that had arrogantly deposed him is holed up in a nearby farm house is itself enthralling for any democrat. A few years ago, the deposed Chief justice was brought back to his office. Now a deposed prime minister has returned. People’s power has done it again. Ascendency of democracy and rule of law seems complete. Perhaps now we can hope with some degree of conviction that Pakistan can enjoy uninterrupted democratic order and stability.
The good omens in the new political order have received the attention of almost all opinion makers. But some worrying aspects should not be completely ignored. For instance, just look at all main positions of power in the new set up. Prime Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, governors of four provinces, key cabinet posts, expected nominee for the post of president, chief ministers. It is a government of men, by men and for men. The prominence that Maryam Nawaz and Marvi Memon received in the last few months through to the elections not only added some youthful colour to the party but also raised hopes that in the Roshan Pakistan women would be seen playing an important role as representatives of half of the population. If they can hoist the Pakistani flag over Mount Everest, why can’t they occupy important slots in any government?
Though the prime minister’s speech was a sensible one, he came close to droning his economic revival agenda by flagging up drone attacks as a sovereignty issue without mentioning the need for reclaiming the ungoverned areas of Pakistan from the militants. By losing his pragmatic balance, Mr Sharif seemed to be slipping into the hands of parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). One sincerely wished that the prime minister had also given some indication about his plans to deal with the issue of militant extremism. He could have declared that all extremists would be given one or two months time to make up their minds for negotiations. In case negotiations failed to establish peace within the constraints of the constitution, militancy of all types would be eradicated from Karachi to Khyber. Mr Sharif could have shared this resolve. No doubt, the energy crisis merits the most immediate attention but there is no harm in arriving at a nationally agreed action plan on terrorism within a month’s time as a matter of pressing urgency.
Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP’s) Makhdoom Amin Fahim’s speech after Mr Sharif’s election as prime minster was tasteless as he tried to make an innuendo about the agencies’ role in helping the former return to power. Of late the PPP leaders have assumed an even more jingoistic role than parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami in condemning foreign powers and harping on national mythology around Thar coal, the Iran gas pipeline and Gwadar port. It had left Balochistan uncontested in the hands of the military establishment and seemed a willing follower in foreign policy matters. Why would then the agencies prefer a leader that proved hard to be controlled in the past? PPP will do itself no service if it fails to learn from the horrible five years of bad governance. A spree of visits of the chief minister of Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah, to police stations suggests that public statements notwithstanding, there is a genuine sense of emergency in the rank and file of the PPP. The party that once took pride in declaring itself ‘charon subon ki zanjeer’ (the chain that binds all four provinces) has shrunk to regional level in the 2013 election. The party has realised that if the PPP government fails to perform this time, the party risks losing ground in its stronghold of Sindh as well.
The PTI seems to have made a bumpy start. On women’s reserved seats, three out of four nominees happened to be close relatives of Chief Minster Pervez Khattak. This story was making the rounds in the social networking sites when Fauzia Kasuri provided further embarrassment to the party leadership. For a party that was marketed as a platform for justice and fair treatment, such episodes may have far reaching consequences. The murder of its MPA and bomb blasts have further put the party in the spotlight as it was the most vocal party supporting negotiations with the Taliban.
At the moment, for the PML-N the good overshadows the bad and the ugly. But in less than six months we would be in a better position to judge which political party has strengthened its position and which one has lost the momentum.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org