Other side of a happy stalemate
THE short order has added greater purpose to politics in the country and in Lahore calls of long marches have been revived. The PPP has been forced by circumstances to earnestly renew its old accusations to match the PML-N’s.
The counter-allegations of corruption against the Sharif family have brought the PML-N clan to its feet and, amid some documents that seek to prove the innocence of the Sharif family, the angry chants blasting President Asif Zardari & Co have been growing louder. Yet at the end of all this swearing, this is not quite the return of the times as they existed a decade or two ago.
The Pakistanis’ ability to continue with the old routine has been compromised by a new way of life they have been introduced to in recent decades. Just how many times have Pakistanis voted for a candidate because they thought the candidate ‘deserved’ to rule more than out of a genuine hope for a representative who could solve their problems?
The people are more assertive today because they have been given a whiff of a new life, courtesy wide-ranging social changes that have taken place over the last couple of decades.
These changes, to some extent at least, preclude the Pakistanis’ enjoying a re-run of the malicious ‘1990s’ involving the same old parties or rivals. The people are not as uninterested today as they were back in the 1980s and the 1990s, the term ‘loyalist’ having lost some of its sheen amid the hopping around that the new realities entail.
Veterans of past wars have run out of patience or steam and newer entrants are not quite prepared to treat themselves as a unique case in the world forever requiring slow and steady progress aided by the same old faces. Some of them may subscribe to democracy but they are more likely to quickly reject the existing options and dismiss the whole lot of old politicians as a self-serving bunch.
A mud-slinging campaign now could prove counterproductive for both the PML-N and PPP; it is liable to paint old politicians per se in not so flattering colours and could stimulate the people’s search for alternatives in areas where they have or they believe they have a third option.
That may not quite bring an end to the mudslinging since the alternative appears to be as prone to following in the footsteps of the old practitioners. But as the old skeletons come out in the duel between the PPP and PML-N, it could strengthen the moral position of the new entrants against the old group.
The country is approaching an election, which may be another reason to advise the PML-N and the PPP to hold their horses for the time being. The big guns would want to conserve their firepower to be used in the rush for the polls.
So much of political energy has already been sapped by the tension between the two arms of the state. It has to be one of longest-running problems involving the judiciary and government in any country. This has taken care of full four years of our life, and we don’t even have a Gen Zia to blame it on. What we can do instead is to blame the media for its shortsightedness.
There are many who wish they had the full Supreme Court order in front of them rather than having to be content with a shorter version. But it is a wee bit surprising to hold the ruling responsible for adding to the already thick clouds of confusion that exist in the minds of Pakistanis.
This could alternately be a first, and not so small, step out of the thick marshes the tension between the judiciary and government has pushed the country into. There is no fast route out, even if tired souls want quick relief from the long battle that has occupied their minds at least since 2008.
The argument has been stagnant. A large number are so tired of the intense but monotonous nature of the issue that they are ready to accept any solution that emotionally relieves them and aids them in adopting new positions from here onwards.
This is how politics works. The war must be punctuated with small battles whose conclusions could in turn provide the political activists with evidence of at least some movement. This is crucial to keeping them on their toes.
In an instance where the bigger issue becomes so big that it conceals the smaller gains and losses along the way, frustration is an obvious outcome.
The knowledgeable are inclined to describe this lack of movement as a state of stalemate — a description that would alternately fit this country of fresh starts and false impressions of newly acquired maturity.
Not only that, they do not mind celebrating this stalemate as a sign of restraint on the part of the institutions. They are waiting for general elections — as if popular arbitration will resolve the matter for all times to come. It could do so if the affair had been specific to one political party, the PPP in this case. The step towards an exit from the marshes, however, leaves the larger question of who can hold who really accountable unaddressed.
There is plenty by way of conjecture on how the PPP-led government would have reacted had the prime minister been punished more severely than having to serve a 37-second sentence for disobeying court orders.
The inherent causes that could lead to similar situations in the future may require a debate more focused than a general election can ever offer. It could lead to a replacement of faces in the government and not necessarily to a new stance by the new government.
That aspect has to be taken up by parliament for the judiciary to then interpret. The celebrations surrounding the current stalemate will only be justified if it gives way to new, more clearly defined rules.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.