Political impatience

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Political myopia and impatience are leading the government and the PML(N) towards confrontation that could bring the house crashing down on them. As the two abandon the negotiating table and prepare for a full scale war, they forget that they are thus jeopardising the national economy and putting the political system at risk.

Agreed that the PML(N) is an opposition party and as such has to keep the government on its toes, expose its excesses and bring its acts of commission and omission under critical focus. For this the legitimate place is the Parliament where the party should argue its case and indulge in protests on the floor of the house. It is also within its rights to use the media for criticising government policies and winning over the public to its side. Finally, it can expose the governments failures during the election campaign.

Inspired by the ongoing protests in the Arab world which have already brought down two autocrats, smaller opposition outfits in Pakistan are nursing the illusion that they too could perform a feat of the sort through street agitation. Failing to enter Parliament after boycotting the 2008 elections, they now find the streets the only play where they can hope to find allies.

They are now pipe dreaming about storming Islamabad through million marches. Presumably some of the hotheaded elements in the PML(N) have also started thinking in similar terms. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has given out indications that make one suspect he too favours an onslaught on the government beginning with marches reminiscent of the 1988-1999 era.

Impatience has been a major bane of the political parties in Pakistan. While they can wait for a decade for a military ruler to leave, they start getting fed up with elected governments within a couple of years. It is maintained that the ruling party is a security risk and Pakistan would be destroyed if it is not immediately removed from power. Political opponents are treated as personal enemies. The politicians blood starts boiling when they hear the name of a rival.

The talks between the government and the PML(N) have led to the acceptance of some of the demands put up by Mian Nawaz Sharif. A decision to cut the size of the cabinet has been implemented. A parliamentary committee has been nominated to take up the issue of an independent Election Commission. An agreement has been reached to recover loans from big defaulters.

It is surprising on the part of a mainstream party who has every chance to be in power through elections to think in terms of indulging in agitation that can only damage the economy and create conditions favourable for the offstage players waiting in the wings to take over.

The economy is already in a bad shape, the inflation graph is constantly on the rise and there are no jobs for people. The government finds it difficult to control the budget deficit. Instead of the administration digging in heels over reforms it should have welcomed the PML(N) initiative to jointly defend the commonly agreed-upon policies.

A recourse to agitation would further cause deterioration in the economy making the task of any government, PPP or PML(N) to improve the living conditions of the people increasingly difficult. The only way to bring the country out of the doldrums is through cooperation and joint effort on the part of the two parties: If they fail to do this, the country would face bankruptcy.

The PPP has however agreed to reforms only reluctantly and after dragging its feet. Its leadership continues to delay matters, some of which could have been resolved much earlier. This is happening despite the government being badly in need of the PML(N)s help to bring the economy round. The support is vital to contain the current years fiscal deficit at 5.5 per cent which could otherwise cross the eight per cent mark by the end of the year. The government also requires PML(N)s cooperation in persuading the provincial governments to create a cash surplus of Rs100-120 billion out of additional Rs300 billion transfers under the new National Finance Commission Award.

The government and the opposition have to realise that their failure to display flexibility could cost the country heavily. Few would be willing to forgive these parties if their infighting was to bring back military rule which people have got rid of only after great sacrifices.

The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.