An unenviable balance sheet
SOON it’ll be time if it isn’t already for the balance sheet of the present government’s “unprecedented”, five-year term in office to be prepared.
The Pakistan People’s Party will claim that though it didn’t win an outright majority in the last election, it was able to complete a full term primarily due to its policy of reconciliation which meant it took a diverse bunch of allies along.
Let’s look at what this reconciliation delivered to the people whose issues seem to multiply with every passing day. For a professional like me whose income reflects nearly three decades of experience, how someone gets by on Rs10,000 or even Rs20,000 is unimaginable.
But ask people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi and large areas of Balochistan if survival against the backdrop of spiralling inflation and falling real incomes was the top issue for them. Most likely they’ll shake their heads and mention the ever-present threat to their lives as their top concern.
One can say that where this policy of reconciliation brought together the governing coalition and the opposition in terms of their legis-lative priorities, some of the compromises made reflected extremely questionable governance.
This was evident in the continuing downslide in law and order till the situation started to represent utter chaos where each day one managed to stay unscathed by violence was a day to celebrate.
Two compromises in particular will be judged very severely, even harshly by history: the first that rendered the police force in the country’s thriving commercial capital subservient to multiple (and often very narrow) political interests. It was all but paralysed and became largely ineffective.
Where this allowed the governing coalition to strengthen its perceived hold on the streets and neighbourhoods, it also served as an umbrella under which criminal gangs of every description also mushroomed and are now running amok in Karachi.
Today if Karachi paints the saddest picture it ever has in its turbulent and bloody history, one can safely say the largest share of the burden must fall on members of the coalition because of their abject failure in looking beyond their narrow self-interest.
The second big compromise whose echo we’ll continue to hear for years, and one earnestly hopes there may still be time to repair the damage, was how the PPP-led government capitulated to the army’s thinking on Balochistan.
The window dressing, the so-called Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan, manifested itself only in some leaders’ garages at their Islamabad and Dubai homes where an even greater number of expensive motorcycles, cars and SUVs were seen to be parked.
No attempt was made to ensure that funds earmarked for some of the most backward areas of the province delivered development where it was desperately needed to assuage the pain of the people who had had to bear the brunt of the security state’s wrath.
Neither was any effort initiated to at least try and find out if the Baloch separatists’ demands and violent campaign were a mere expres-sion of their anger at events leading up to Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing in 2006 and beyond or actually a non-negotiable quest for independence.
Either way an effort at dialogue would have at least established to the ordinary Baloch the coalition’s earnestness in resolving their issues. Instead, the centre’s point man Rehman Malik continued to parrot the GHQ’s line on Balochistan.
And since this point of view blamed the whole mess on “foreign interference” there was mostly one preferred way to deal with it: brutal force. Disappearances continued unabated; tortured, tormented bodies continued to be dumped.
Perhaps the most horrendous part of the security policy in Balochistan was the alleged subletting of the kidnapping, torture and kill effort to a number of “private militias” who, evidence suggests, started pursuing their own little vendettas as well.
Sectarian carnage was only a matter of time as the state seemed to suggest that it was fine to carry arms, break the law, kidnap, torture and kill people as long as this wasn’t in aid of the Baloch separatist cause — a myopic policy which, in fact, is doing exact-ly what it was supposed to prevent.
The government and the opposition often say with a degree of justification that their record of legislation represents a sterling example of cooperation in the national interest. Indeed the National Finance Commission Award and constitutional amendments enlarging provincial autonomy fall here.
As does the amendment restoring parliamentary democracy to the country; but as was discovered when the issue of dual national legislators came up, perhaps as much thinking as was required didn’t go into drafting the legislation which parliament so prides itself on.
And don’t even ask the people of KP, whose blood sacrifices in the battle against the murderous Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan are without precedent in Pakistan’s contemporary history, how they view parliament’s legislative record.
Surely, they’d be right in asking when Pakhtuns were dying in their thousands why did parliament wait till the final fortnight of its existence to pass a tougher anti-terror legislation. Couldn’t this have been done earlier?
Who doesn’t have instant recall of that famous quote from France’s wartime (First World War) prime minister Clemenceau: “La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaries.” (War! It is a thing too serious to entrust to the soldiers.)
But in our case the politicians are equally to blame in constantly dithering over how best to deal with this existential threat to the country. The military may have been reluctant to move against the militant sanctuaries but no clear directive was given by the government either.
Blundering generals, dithering politicians, tyrannical anchors/journalists have all contributed to the mess we are in. Without exception all of us have been found wanting.
One can only hope the caretakers, despite their limited mandate, try and restore the writ of the state and the election delivers a clear mandate so tough decisions are facilitated rather than slaughtered at the altar of “reconciliation and compromise”. This seems an imperative for Pakistan to survive.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.