‘No parliament, give me APC’
WHEN times are desperate, a picture of Mian Nawaz Sharif sitting next to Talal Akbar Bugti can be a source of some hope.
So can Mian Sahib`s call for a resolution of the Balochistan problem. This follows a series of urgent reminders about the precarious situation in the province by those who care but who may not quite have the PMLN chief`s position to launch an effective save-Pakistan campaign.
But while Mian Sahib is well placed to actually do something about it, his vows appear lacking in substance once we get into the nitty-gritty of it, into the never-ending cycle of what construes as politically correct for a politician at which point. Prima facie the PML-N has managed to show some intent. In Karachi last month, the party`s leader stood by Sardar Ataullah Mengal as the elderly Baloch launched a scathing attack on Punjabi involvement in Balochistan.
A backlash was but expected. Eyebrows were raised at the sight of a bona fide Pakistani politician`s hobnobbing with the rebels the sardars who when they are not making anti-Pakistan statements are holding up real development in their fiefs to prevent popular empowerment.
Some of the `mainstream` responses to Mian Sahib`s meeting with Sardar Mengal were similar to the kind of comments that an Al Jazeera feature on the `war` in Balochistan has elicited. The foreign hand was revealed, and a defence against the Baloch accusations about the `Punjabi army` was readily put up.
The good thingis thatthere was no dearth of people who were not only prepared to listen to what Sardar Mengal and others had to say, but who found reason enough to draw comparisons between Balochistan today andBangladesh four decades ago.
Many of the voices that have sought to capture the pain of Balochistan belong to Lahore and Punjab, two of the main accused in the case. But amid Pakistanis` frequent recourse to nationalistic chants to camouflage the complex that this country is made up of, is this big enough change?Good that Nawaz Sharif has finally managed to break the barrier that held him hostage in Lahore and Islamabad.
This marks the start of his rehabilitation as a national political leader. He has been on tour to Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, seeking to reorganise his party with an eye on the next election, and the opponents he would be fighting in these polls.
His is an expansive tour, yet, it seems that Nawaz Sharif is finding it difficult to outgrow his recent habit of looking at Pakistani politics from an antiand proMusharraf angle.
His campaign in Balochistan suffers a serious setback as soon as he declares it a crisis which had its seeds in the Musharraf rule.
Rhetoric follows: about an end to the military action in the province and a `joint strategy for bringing the people of Balochistan back into the mainstream` `We must address the grievances of the people of Balochistan because it is the need of the hour,` is the standard phrase with which he asserts his viewpoint, and from which emanates the idea of an all-party conference (APC) on Balochistan. ThePML-N intends to hold the conference in Islamabad soon after or before it has rid the country of its useless parliament, it doesn`t say.
Clearly, it is Nawaz Sharif`s turn to promote himself as the chain that links the Pakistani federation. The PML-N call for an APC conference is essentially a part of this strategy where Nawaz promotes himself as the only experienced politician with national appeal. It is an idea all politicians would be quick to hail and commit themselves to, which is far from saying that their get-together can have any kind of impact on the policies pursued in the troubled province.
The politicians` speeches and resolutions will have little effect until they are backed by or they force a change in the working of the security apparatus which defines Pakistan`s interests in Balochistan. So long as the politicians remain divided on the basis of their own positions on the chessboard in relation to the establishment, they will not have the capacity to develop a political consensus to force a genuine shift in policy.
An APC may well turn out to be a futile exercise because the politicians have done little to cross the old oppositiontreasury divide.
Mian Nawaz Sharif`s own actions betray the truth.
Away from Quetta he does not quite show the same kind of trust in the political solution by the time he reaches Karachi or appears before the judicial commission that is probing the memo issue in Islamabad.
It defies logic how a politician not averse to setting up military courts in Karachi can reasonably ask for the stoppage of army action in Balochistan an action that is officially justified by terming Balochistan a law and order issue.
Mian Sahib is aware of the requirements of staying in power, especially for a government as desperate as thePPP`s right now. He knows that he will never get an answer as he cleverly wonders aloud about the reasons why the PPP cannot openly share the reasons that turn a political government in Quetta into a lame-duck setup with few powers and no ability to end the insurgency in Balochistan. As an opposition politician, it suits Mian Sahib to be making all these positive noises, as has unfortunately been the case throughout Pakistan`s history.
In Islamabad following his Balochistan tour, the PML-N chief persists with his politically correct but politicianwary approach which finds him placing his faith in the judiciary to investigate the memogate affair.
It is not about whether or not his doubts about parliament`s sincerity, indeed its ability, are well founded. The point is what expectations can an APC on Balochistan or any important issue raise when the highest body that brings together the politicians parliament stands discredited in the eyes of many, including the APC`s protagonist? Makes no sense at all.?
The writer is Dawn`s resident editor in Lahore.