Troubling times

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The Supreme Court sending the NAB chairman Deedar Hussain Shah packing and the virtual breakdown of ongoing talks with the IMF for setting new benchmarks to revive the stalled $11.3 billion standby arrangement are not good news for the already beleaguered PPP government. Its talks with estranged coalition partner, the MQM, virtually deadlocked and having been already ousted from the PML(N)-led coalition in the Punjab, the PPP-led government is in all kinds of trouble.

The gunning down of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by Taliban militants and the ghastly murder of Salmaan Taseer just two months ago by his own guard both in broad daylight in Islamabad over their stance on blasphemy law have eroded the moral writ of the government. Its rather benign reaction to the murder of its top functionaries does not instill any confidence in the ordinary citizen about the ability of the state to protect him.

A spate of terrorist attacks in the past few days has manifestly increased the sense of insecurity already pervasive in the country. With the terrorists striking with impunity across the country, claims that the state security apparatus has any handle on their activities have proved to be hollow.

True, the Pakistan military through its concerted efforts had somewhat scorched the Taliban snake. But it is difficult to disagree with the top American Commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, that the fleeing Taliban have taken refuge in safe havens in North Waziristan. In the meanwhile, Pakistan has asked for more F-16 fighter planes from the USA in order to meet the elusive goal of defense parity with India.

In the face of all this, the Chief Minister of Punjab has thrown another spanner in the works. Suddenly PML(N)s much-touted ten-point agenda that formed the basis of negotiations with the PPP has been put on the backburner.

Now the mercurial leader of the Punjab wants an all parties conference to devise solutions to the countrys problems. A similar proposal was mooted by the President just weeks ago, albeit with slight differences, and rejected outright by Mian Nawaz Sharif. The PML(N) wants the army and the higher judiciary to be invited to the proposed moot.

This latest somersault by the PML(N) leadership is opportunistic politics at its best. Mian Nawaz Sharif, although originally a product of a military dictator, has been consistent in his abhorrence for the militarys role in politics ever since he was made to resign as Prime Minister by the COAS General Waheed Kakar. He has never been able to get along with any of the successive military chiefs during his two tenures as Prime Minister. Even his relations with General Kayani can at best be described as correct.

The PML(N)s latest stance negates the Charter of Democracy (COD) signed with much fanfare in London in May 2006 by Benazir Bhutto Shaheed and Nawaz Sharif. It clearly stated, Military involvement adversely affects the economy and democratic institutions as well as the defence capability of the country. It also suggested a new approach to curb Bonapartist regimes in the future. Various PML(N) spokesmen and apologists have clarified their leaders proposal stating that the party was not in favour of militarys role in politics.

No one can object to having meaningful consultations with the military on security issues and terrorism. In fact, to be on the same page on such existential issues is much needed. However to involve the military leadership in politics which it has till now studiously avoided will be a Herculean blunder on the part of politicians of any ilk.

One of the stalwarts of the PML(N) has supported the proposed conference in order to devise means to curb corruption. This is a noble cause as the malaise afflicts virtually all political parties with varying degrees. Even the PML(N) leadership cannot claim to be squeaky clean. How merely convening an APC and involving the army in the process can cure the disease, only its sponsors can explain.

It seems that the Sharifs in their desperation to regain their vote bank in the Punjab have decided to fire on all cylinders. The proposal to involve the judiciary in political matters is ludicrous and negates the very principal of independence of judiciary. It is sad that the proposal has come from PML(N) that rightly takes pride in being part of the movement for restoration of an independent judiciary and more specifically restoration of Chief Justice of Pakistan in February 2009.

The PML(N) government in Punjab has compounded its troubles by entering into a coalition with the so-called unification bloc, a breakaway group from the PML(Q). Horse-trading and backroom deals form the basis of this unholy alliance. Most of the members of the group want ministerial berths while a further complicating factor is that many of the members of the group apprehend that they could be disqualified under the Political Parties Act for switching from their original ticket.

This has not won the Sharifs any kudos who have consistently rejected overtures from the PML(Q) on the very basis that they were turncoats. Even in the CoD, the creation of the Kings Party by carving out the Patriots from the PPP and PML(Q) from the PML(N) has been condemned in unequivocal terms.

Both major parties, the PPP and PML(N), have failed to deliver and are in a deep political crisis of their own making. The clash between the federal government and the apex court is also exacerbating. The Court outrightly rejecting some of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission for the appointment of judges has put it on a collision course with the parliament.

The Supreme Court declaring the appointment of the NAB chairman illegal and the federal government reappointing him has further exacerbated the situation. The PPP using the Sindh card by issuing a call for strike across the province is an unfortunate development. It is obviously meant to imply that the Punjabi Judiciary is hounding a Sindh-based party.

The clash of institutions does not augur well either for the future of democracy or for national cohesion. There is an urgent need for meeting of minds to avoid this clash and develop a consensus on security, terrorism and foreign policy issues confronting the nation. A broad-based agreement on measures to fix the economy is also required. The leadership of both the PPP and the PML(N) should seriously examine the proposals of the other party for structured consultations in order to salvage the system.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today.