Pakistan: Politics without vision

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi

The latest reports on socio-economic development in Pakistan show that the percentage of the households living in poverty has increased, crossing the figure of 40 percent. If overseas Pakistanis do not financially support their families, the number and ratio of the population facing economic distress would increase. Some financial support to such people becomes available through individual and organisational donations. It may be mentioned that the Benazir Income Support Fund, a welfare project of the federal government, gives Rs 1000 per month to the poorest of the poor families. This gives them some hope to live.

It is not difficult to conclude from the above facts that Pakistan’s economy is unable to create enough job opportunities to enable half of its population to lead normal life with an assurance of some regular income to cover the bare minimum cost of food and shelter, not to speak of education for children and health care.

The major blame for this failure of the state and the government is on the political leaders and parties. Most political leaders make long and passionate speeches for improving the quality of life for ordinary people and often accuse their political adversaries of betraying them. They play up these issues merely as a propaganda tool against their rival political party or leadership rather than seriously making efforts for socio-economic development.

The political disposition and conduct of most Pakistani political parties and leaders is inimical to socio-economic development and human welfare. They are unable or unwilling to recognise that they are their own worst enemies because their politics is alienating the people not only from them but also from the democratic system. The ordinary people are losing hope in the capacity of the political leaders to improve the quality of their life.

Politics in Pakistan is detrimental to human welfare for three major reasons. First, most political parties and leaders lack a clear vision for the future. They talk in vague and general terms about the welfare of the people or make unrealistic promises for improving the quality of their life. For example, the opposition parties will promise to bring down prices of essential commodities without outlining the plan of action or measurers to achieve this goal. They never offer a new plan of action as an alternate to the ongoing policies. The focus is only on criticism. Currently, the people are fed up with electric power shortages and the federal government faces serious criticism on this issue. The PML(N) encouraged and led street agitation on this issue in Lahore and other cities but it has never given a practical plan of action with various steps clearly noted for overcoming power shortages.

Second, the political parties often find it difficult to function as a political machine for addressing the problems of common people. They experience factionalism based on differences among leaders, local rivalries and personalised management of the party by the top leader and his close associates. The party often functions as a personal fiefdom of the leader and dissent is not tolerated, although the dissenter may not be expelled from the party. The rise and fall of local leaders depends to a great extent on the party position of their mentor in the party’s national leadership. Internal party politics often makes it difficult for the party to undertake a dispassionate analysis of the problems and suggest practical solutions.

Third, the major political parties are engaged in politics of confrontation. The PML(N) and the PPP are not competing with each other for improving the quality of life for the common people. The PML(N) is trying desperately to pull down the PPP-led federal government. It also hopes that somehow the Supreme Court or the military or both will knock out the federal government. The PPP-led federal government is engaged in the politics of deflecting the PML(N) pressure and staying on in power. Its alignment with the PML(Q) and the MQM has strengthened the position of the federal coalition that also includes the ANP and some independent members. Most energy of the two major parties is being spent on this unfortunate power struggle. If the PML(N) stages a sit-in outside the President House, the PPP responds by doing the same outside the Punjab Chief Minister’s office.

Under the present political arrangements in Pakistan, all major political parties have to share the blame of poor governance. If the PPP is leading the coalition government at the federal level and in Sindh, the province of the Punjab is ruled by the PML(N). The performance of the Punjab government is no better than the federal government. Both have demonstrated a poor capacity of governance. However, both are engaged in a propaganda war of attributing failure to each other.

The PML(N) does not have enough votes in the National Assembly to move a “vote of no confidence” against the PPP-led federal government. It is endeavouring to launch street agitation to remove the PPP-led federal government. It does not want the Senate elections to be held in March 2012 because under the present political dispensation the PPP and its allies are expected to perform better. The PML(N) therefore wants to paralyse the federal government so that either it is removed or new general elections are announced which will postpone the Senate elections. It is also targeting the MQM. On October 13, the PML(N) activists picked up a brawl with the MQM members in the National Assembly.

It will not be an easy job for the PML(N) to ignite a nationwide agitation because it does not enjoy the support of any other party. No single party can start nationwide agitation. Recently, the Punjab government has attempted to win over the Jamaat-i-Islami by allowing its student wing to hold its annual three-day congregation in the premises of the Punjab University despite strong opposition by the University Administration. This was a Jamaat-i-Islami political show whose leadership obtained permission from the Chief Minister. The university had to be closed for one-day to accommodate the political meeting.

All political parties, in power or outside, should understand that their brute struggle for power is self-destructive for them and the future of democracy. Pakistan faces serious internal threats due to economic problems and internal insecurity. These two problems cannot be addressed by street agitation or by pulling down federal or provincial governments. The major political parties should work towards addressing these problems rather than pulling each other’s legs. All of them can lose in this dangerous game.

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