The Zardari PPP has shown less commitment to tackling the chronic economic malaise: the deepening energy crisis, double-digit inflation, abysmally low investment and rising unemployment. Its social agenda — roti, kapra, makan (bread, clothing, shelter) — stands grounded
Last week, I analysed the PML-N’s politics using the metaphors of ‘dots of hope’ and ‘morbid haze’ to signify hope and despondency respectively. Today, I will focus on the PPP’s politics using the same metaphors, though building a seamless narrative of the PPP is rather unrealistic because unlike the Sharifs-run PML-N, the existing PPP has much metamorphosed under President Zardari’s no-holds-barred style of politics.
First, the dots of hope. Undoubtedly the PPP’s ultimate plume has been its secular and liberal politics. Ironically though, its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had expediently excommunicated a community of citizens, the Ahmedis, from Islam, and his political heir, Benazir Bhutto, also propped up and later legitimised the Taliban government in Afghanistan. But both were unquestionably wedded to secular and liberal values and tragically both fell victim to the very obscurantist and authoritarian forces that wanted to turn this republic into an absolutist Islamic emirate and a launching pad for the violent, Salafi version of jihad.
Indeed, from the dubious Pakistan National Alliance, which led to the fall of the elder Bhutto’s government in 1977, to the ongoing struggle between a liberal democratic Pakistan and a theocratic Pakistan, the PPP has been a bulwark of resistance to the conservative and authoritarian duo. The Zardari PPP has kept alive the liberal ethos of the party, though his detractors would claim that “he has no other option” given the US and establishment’s fight against Islamist terrorism, otherwise he would have also reneged on liberalism in the name of ‘reconciliation’.
Second, under the PPP-led government, the country has seen by far the most far-reaching constitutional reforms since the 1970s. As a result, the prime minister has become the pivot of executive power, parliament has regained its sovereignty, the judiciary is also reclaiming, though in fits and starts, its lost institutional moorings, and, more importantly, the administrative, legislative and financial powers have been devolved to the provinces, abolishing the concurrent list.
True, a real and effective constitutional democracy is still a far cry. Yet, once the initial rounds of institutional turf wars are over, the political system would find a lasting stability vis-à-vis the powerful institution, foreign powers and non-state actors. The telltale signs are already there. The executive-judiciary axes are beginning to conjoin, with occasional bouts of disruption; the defence ‘department’ is for the first time reeling from the combined judicial-public-media-political pressure due to its repeated security failures, persecution of media persons, and meddling in political and foreign policy issues.
Resultantly, the Foreign Office is coming out of the backwaters to which it had been pushed by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the armed forces. The US-led western alliance, the old guardian of our military establishment, is also betting on a democratic Pakistan, which it believes is the only thing that can tame the fury of religious schism and bigotry, here and abroad. Amusingly, the US continues to hedge on the PPP government despite the latter’s ‘image problem’ and inability to protect it from the mounting public and institutional pressures for US unilateralism and the unbridled use of drones in FATA.
Moreover, for all the ills and fissiparous tendencies, the ongoing democratic openness has brought home a universal realisation that no strategic agendas or narrow tactical moves can achieve efficacy or success without public support. It is this realisation that makes both the US and the establishment wary of the rising power of democratic institutions, media and public opinion. As a result, the PPP government has entrenched its position vis-à-vis the US and the military establishment, knowing full well that both need it in their respective interests.
Finally, putting aside the ideological imperatives, the PPP has ended ‘tribal politics’, initially mending fences with the PML-N, and now with the Chuadhries of Gujarat, its ‘sworn enemies’. This is realpolitik at its best. This alliance has not only drastically transformed the electoral and political landscape of central Punjab, the PML-N’s stronghold, it has also enabled the PPP to exploit the three ongoing spates: the US-GHQ, the PML-N-GHQ and the media-GHQ. Also, it is no more losing sleep over being bitten by its old bed bug, the MQM.
And now the morbid haze caused by the PPP’s politics. The PPP may have come out of troubled waters, but the country remains mired in a range of existential threats. Its policy and performance failures are many but only the glaring ones are discussed. ….