Pakistan’s politics on the wrong course

Talat Masood

We as citizens have every right to ask some basic questions from our political leaders and heads of political parties.

The question to the PPP leadership is: How is it that Mr Zardari continues to lead the party when he is genuinely so unwell? Why is he not abdicating the leadership or passing the mantle to many stalwarts of his party who enjoy a good reputation, possess leadership qualities and are well-educated? I could name a few but I am talking of principles and it is for the party to elect a new leader through democratic means. If there is consensus on moving on to a younger or middle -aged leadership, that too should be possible considering they have several able, energetic and clean politicians in their cadre.

If the party wants to avoid any rift and believes Bilawal the best choice considering the sacrifices the Bhutto family has made to lead, then the impression of duality of power between father and son has to be erased. Bilawal has charisma, education and with more experience, should do well. He however needs to run the province first to gain experience before leading the party.

The PML-N faces similar problems. Nawaz Sharif is suffering from a serious heart condition and it is not the same leading the party through remote control. Then there is an impression

— contrived or real — that there is a constant tussle for leadership between Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. It is clearly in PML-N’s interest to remove these doubts.

The politics of staying quiet for weeks and months by Maryam and then one day making an appearance in front of the accountability courts, making a fiery speech and then going quiet is not a sensible way of running the major opposition party.

Moreover, in the larger interest of strengthening democracy the party has to also look out for leadership outside the family. The PML-N too has several able competent and highly experienced politicians in the party. So, unless these major political parties seriously address the leadership problem Pakistan’s democracy will continue to weaken.

Even in the oldest and largest democracies like the United States and India, there have been dynasties in power like the Kennedys in the US and Nehrus in India, but through normal democratic process. If my assumption is correct the people of Pakistan will have no problem if any member of the family is elected as the replacement of either Asif Ali Zardari or Nawaz Sharif through honest and genuine party elections.

Pakistan’s democracy that is already emaciated cannot suffer from a leadership vacuum any more. Ironically, smaller political parties with the exception of JI, like the JUI-F, PML-Q and ANP are family dominated.

The PTI does not have a top leadership crisis but being an amalgam of senators and MNAs having migrated from different political parties, it has yet to fully gel. Then the disproportionate influence of advisers as compared to elected ministers in policy formulation and decision-making besides demoralising the party leaders weakens parliamentary democracy, and gives an impression of a semi-presidential system of governance.

Moreover, the parliament’s prestige and influence has taken a nosedive during the PTI in power. As was recently reported in the press that the ordinances promulgated by the government outnumbered the laws passed by the National Assembly during its second parliamentary year, which is indeed a sad reflection on our government and opposition leadership. It confirms fears that PM Imran Khan has scant respect for parliament and parliamentary practices.

The PM taking a highly confrontational position against the opposition leadership and political parties in parliament and in public is acting as another hurdle in parliamentary functioning. The fear is if it continues it will further strengthen non-political institutions. Moreover, the general impression is that the use of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and courts to hound mostly opposition leaders has had serious repercussions. It has created chaos in politics, undermined the confidence of the people in politicians and raised serious questions on the motives of accountability courts. There is no doubt corruption is rampant in the country and we need an organisation to act as a serious restraining influence on white- collar crime. But excesses and a soiled image of selective accountability undermine the very principles that were embodied in its creation. The other side-effect is that it generates a sort of sympathy in the public for the accused leadership and the political party.

Another obvious weakness in the political culture and ethos is underrepresentation of women in politics especially in an age when feminism is gaining momentum. Although they constitute 50% of the population, they face grave societal and peer pressures and injustices. This is reflected in the National Assembly and Senate, notwithstanding that there are few highly capable women legislators who stand out for their contribution in legislation and policy formulation.

Leadership failings and the overall systemic flaws in our political system have given the military and judiciary to expand the area of influence in policy formulation and governance issues. Apparently, their serious concern is that incompetence has led to fundamental interests of the state being compromised and they have to intervene.

In foreign policy and security issues the military continues to have a dominating influence. It is not surprising that foreign leaders frequently prefer interacting with military leadership.

With parliament’s power in decline, weak governance and ministers hesitant to take decisions, bureaucracy finds it difficult to function. Bureaucracy as an institution is in a disarray due to various factors. They fear that with weak political leadership their most honest advice or recommendation could be held against them. There have been cases where senior bureaucrats have been unfairly facing charges of corruption. More significantly, the need for application of technology in governance and to comprehend the rapid technological, scientific changes taking place in various fields require a greater level of specialisation and a different mindset.

Pakistan’s future would be greatly influenced by how our leadership jointly makes an effort to strengthen democratic institutions and culture.

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