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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dirty politics at cost of Pakistan

Prospects of anti-MQM operation turns into anti-ANP crackdown; By Shaheen Sehbai

The way monumental and far-reaching structural changes, like creating new provinces or playing around with the local bodies or appointing and dismissing commissioners, are being handled by President Zardari and his tricksters, reminds me of the one-man, one-day rule of the lucky street urchin-turned king [Bacha Saqqa] who changed the currency in Kabul to leather chips for just one day. 

In the last few days, the PPP and MQM have been fighting it out in the public and making deals in private but in the process the entire process of serious and crucial decision-making has been turned into what the Kabul urchin did, a farce of the first order. 

Instead of dealing with issues so that stability and credibility creates confidence in governance, the outcome is that national matters are being handled and used as bargaining chips for petty short-term gains. When I wrote a piece before Zardari took oath as the president, I had exactly this kind of situation in mind. I then had fears that the capacity of Mr Zardari to handle such matters of State was seriously in doubt. To recap, this is what I wrote on August 29, 2008: “The key concern in the security establishment is not why he is doing it but what he is doing. The Army pulled out of all political matters, to a great degree if not altogether, in the hope that politicians would collectively put their heads and wisdom together, reach consensus on critical security, economic and political issues quickly, frame policies accordingly and provide clear guidelines to the Army to implement these policies. 

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made it clear a number of times that the Army was ready to take orders from the politicians provided they own the policies and share the credit or discredit of success or failure. But instead of getting all the political parties together to address the very sensitive and highly critical security and economic issues, Mr Zardari’s hit and run style of politics has splintered the political spectrum in a way that a Pandora’s box has reopened; all small-time political actors and jokers have overnight become holders of immense political clout and even the balancing power, blackmailing and horse trading rates have skyrocketed and in this mess, the urgent need to address the issues has been ignored.” 

The events of the recent past, and the way matters have been handled for the last 3 and a half years, have proved this but the fear is that as the end of the present government term is fast approaching, the desperation to micro-manage the political system is increasing and there is hardly anyone who is watching the immense negative impact of these hit-and-run policies on the macro level. The PPP has been living on tricks, of all kinds, with all its friends and foes. Good cops and bad cops have been assigned for each party. While one set of leaders crosses all limits of decency to attack and trash partners, another set bends backwards to appease these angry friends. Yet there has to be a limit of tricks that work and now it appears the bag is empty. So now the bribe that is being offered is tinkering with the system as per the demands of the junior partners. This has its fallout. Already a vast majority of rural PPP is up in arms at the way PPP surrendered, using Babar Awan, a non-Sindhi, as the signatory of the surrender document. Nationalists are screaming and diehard PPP workers are publicly airing their dissent. ANP, the other PPP partner in Karachi, is feeling like a used piece of trash can and has refused to accept the overnight PPP-MQM deal. How this anger is translated into ground reality is to be seen but overnight the prospect of an operation against the MQM has turned into an operation against the ANP and the Pashto-speaking Karachiites.

Likewise is the situation in Punjab where the Seraiki province is being tossed around as a football with Babar Awan going to the extent that before August 14 the nation would be given a big, happy news. But no one is bothered that once the principle of creating smaller provinces out of big ones is accepted, what would be the overall impact on the country and whether we are prepared for this major system change. For instance while Seraiki and Hazara are two new provinces that the PPP would like to create, how can it stop division of Sindh and Balochistan? Sindhi nationalists are already accusing the PPP of accepting a de facto division of the province by enforcing two different systems of government, each suiting the local warlord. If this is not the opening of a Pandora’s box, what else would be?