Feb 3, 2009
By azhar aslam and shaista kazmi
Serendipity is an interesting word in English language, not least so because its sub- continental in origin. It is defined as ‘the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable precious or agreeable things not sought for’. About a year ago an opportunity was presented to the largest political party, PPP, when its unelected but unchallengeable leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. At a critical juncture, when fools amongst us thought the time had come for party to show maturity and sagacity, it did something that should stay as a blight of shame on it, by passing the chairmanship to a boy of 19 as hereditary mantle (except that there is no integrity, honour and conscience for these people to have shame).
Now Sharifs have been presented this opportunity. By being declared ‘disqualified’, they are now not eligible to be elected to an executive post, national or provincial. They are now ‘having to do politics’ from (a relatively strange and unusual) position, at least in Pakistan, of wise grand old men who lead but do not govern. Is this really bad for Pakistan or Muslim League? Are Sharifs able to see the blessing in disguise? True, one does politics to be able to govern, with the stated mission of serving people. But if you have been chief minister and prime minister and have been at it more than once, do you have to do it again? Do you have to do ‘Mugabe’? Can you not do ‘Mandela’?
It seems God has handed a golden opportunity to Sharifs to show magnanimity and sagacity and leave a legacy, which will not only outlast them but can outlast any other Pakistani politician’s legacy. As things stand however, it seems they have taken the bait and reacted according to the lowly standards of Pakistani politics. Two major parties of the country are now combating each other, paying no heed to the consequences.
Compared to the interest of the country, the moral, legal and political stance of both parties seems beside the point or irrelevant in the ‘large scheme of things’. Sharifs could have won an immediate moral and political victory and secured for themselves and their protégés a long term future by declaring to become grand old men of the party and run the affairs by (proxy) getting new leadership elected and approved. They could have come out in open and declared that they did not covet the chief- or prime-minsterships and were willing to serve their country from the side lines.
Actions and reactions of Zardari and Sharifs following the Supreme Court’s decision has plunged the country into a political chaos. This new confrontation has further kicked the fledgling and unstable democracy or little semblance of it, what we have. Fiercely provoked processions, angry mobs and rash political workers are setting private and public possessions on fire, ruining law and order situation and challenging the writ of the government or whatever is left of it. This perhaps may be seen as message for all the stake holders, that politicians in Pakistan are about to be fail, yet again.
In truth, the decision, on balance of probabilities may be a tad unfair. But then who said life was fair. Accusing President Zardari for his cunning, insincere and hypocrite policies, both the brothers have decided to fight for their rights. And true the President’s sudden and impetuous decision of imposing governor rule in Punjab and approaching Q league to try to establish a PPP government in Punjab, provide enough proof of his dictatorial approach. But can Sharifs not see an opportunity in this adversity? Will they lead the country back into the seesaw politics of 90s? Will they not realise that times have changed? Pakistan now faces bigger challenges and far more serious threats.
Certainly the priority issues are at the peril of being ignored once again. The current peace deal with Taliban in NWFP, economic and financial slow down, and external security threats, demand a very responsible leadership. There is an increased responsibility on the shoulders of all politicians, but there is a special onus on Zardari and Sharifs. Zardari has been very disappointing up to now. But Will Sharifs do the same? Will they not turn the tables and raise their stature when they have a chance?
Sharifs can save the federation by refusing the politics of reaction. They can gain an upper hand by becoming De Facto leaders such as Deng Xiaoping. They can set right; the 60 years of wrongs done by politicians in this country with this masterly stroke and lead the atonement. As a reward they can be not only assured a high place in the history, in the process they will set themselves a class apart. But will they look onto the horizon of the history or will they be blinded by the short-termism of Pakistani politics? Will they deliver where Benazir failed?