Polluted?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

POLLUTED , pollutant, polluter. . . One size could well fit all when it comes to our political discourse and participation.

Take the party that holds central if not truly federal government: the PTI. The brand new party turned full-grown after 22 years of admittedly rather invisible struggle, which its voters looked to be a breath of fresh air—a purifying change from the recognizably polluted parties of yore. We can exonerate its leader from election rigging, but, depending on political inclination, not from availing its benefits.

He accepted some of the previously polluted and not just in forming the governing coalition. Perhaps in his own quaint logic his personal purity surplus compensates. Needful of undisturbed pre-electoral campaigning entrée and space in Karachi, he politely acknowledged non-Sindhi politicians he had previously badmouthed; and later sought support from disillusioned or exploratory walkaways from the PPP. One would not consider this in itself as soiling his hands: people can and do repent and reform. Points of view change. But then one would like to see the same courteous accommodation or pragmatism extended to well, um, name your own political choices.

Now three years into office, our country’s PM, endowed with much executive if not legislative parliamentary clout, performs rhetorically, meets his cabinet regularly. But the Leader of the House is not at home in Parliament.  Frequent resort to ordinance has unduly enhanced the president’s party utility. The unsympathetic say there is a distinct PTI contribution but it is a pollutant– malice, spite, accusation, incrimination and insult were not the sole staples of political engagement before. The opposition is also a major polluter in the toxicity of our political environment has put aside argumentation, given up on parliamentary effort and deploys the treasury’s bombastical viturepative diction.

The official business yet to be seriously addressed remains that of governance and administration. But that is the government’s remit, not the opposition’s. Atrophy and stagnation are also pollutants. Misjudgments, ignorance, arrogant inflexibility, indecision, inconsistency, do more than pollute slowly: their damage has an immediacy. So even though all endorse a World Cup 1992 triumph; hospital founding; that prowess does not fill the governance gap. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Disappointed and anxious Pakistanis ponder what might fill it. Reversion to the old but less incompetent, political pollutants? Cook up a new dish rather as the PTI itself was conceived? Or make do with a new utensil for a menu off the same page? Kitchen chefs and recipes change. Does the PM have a defiant will of his own as party leader, is he scripting in invisible ink, reluctant to cede first place in decreeing in-house changes, rejecting a turn of the page? Prolonged popular uncertainties induce national weakness. Possibly, emergent need to proclaim an emergency could soon suit everyone be they off or on the same page. For it is increasingly apparent that letting things slide, slip, or stand as they are, could be disastrous; and disaster management should avert disasters that are not acts of god.

When it comes to political disaster management we have a record. However, historical experience is cumulative and it is never exactly the same old record each time. The Ayub; Yahya; Zia; Musharraf; coups and emergencies had different after-effects and modes depending on the context of intervention and continuation of power. Popular reception of the rule of law and of the stick; the relationships between the establishment and the citizen; changes. The pattern of supreme courts pronouncing definitive judgement on the constitutionality of coups has mutated. As presently evident, former president General Musharraf can stay away and ignore the rule of law as easily as the man he threw out, the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Nor did General Raheel Sharif need to wait the requisite years post retirement before entering service in the near abroad. Indeed, his appointment was deemed a feather in Pakistan’s cap, so much for rules and regulations and proprieties when political preferences are in play for those who can indulge and determine them. In democracies that is supposed to be the electorate.

And that has not rejected disgraced parties and politicians or consigned them to oblivion as urged. Does it merit, and would it accept a rap on the knuckles for not honouring a single national political curriculum?

Perhaps the puzzlement is whether or not we need democracy. Juntas and oligarchy; professionals, technocrats, celebrated intellectuals, scientists, artistes, experts, these are the stuff of progress and informed decision in emerging economies, developing countries. Select don’t elect in the largely illiterate uninformed context of countries like ours.  And in the past what the democratic-minded call dictators have empowered themselves; unmindful of the narratives they concoct and the mindsets they do not entirely take away with them after practical political failure. It is not unfounded to suspect the PTI may seek to impose a one-party system. Democrats categorize that as civil dictatorship, totalitarianism or fascism. If Pakistan’s electorate was passive or malleable, negating or distorting democratic form or intent in selective interpretations and implementation of the supreme national interest, would have more chance of working than it does today.  An evident official diminution of democratic regard and sentiment in governance is affecting the people’s traditional esteem of all institutional authority not just ‘the system’. Best let the challenges to and lapses of incumbent governments and parties across the spectrum be overtly recognized and democratically addressed by all concerned before the electorate’s several very real grievances and alienations turn necrotic.