Categorized | South Asian Politics


Posted on 27 August 2014 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari


  The current political crisis inPakistanhas positive as well as negative aspects. On the one hand it can be argued thatPakistanhas a democratic political system where elections are held regularly and it is possible to challenge the sitting government on political grounds. The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz government led by Nawaz Sharif won the elections in May 2013 and established the government at the federal level and in theprovinceofPunjab.

 On the other hand, the working of the democratic political system often runs into serious problems. The quality of democracy has traditionally been poor and the complaints of unfairness of the elections are quite common. What has often landed Pakistani governments in trouble is their performance in terms of addressing the problems of common people.

 This applies to the PMLN government as well as the People Party’s government (2008-2013). The People’s Party government with Asif Ali Zardari as President and two prime ministers (Gilani and Raja Ashraf) ran into serious problems from time to time.

  The problems that threatened the People’s Party government in 2008-2013 have also created serious problems for the Nawaz Sharif government within 15 months of coming to power.

 The only difference is that political management by Asif Ali Zardari was better than by Nawaz Sharif. There were situations when the future of the People’s Party government became very uncertain.

 One prime minister was removed by the Supreme Court and the other managed to survive at the last stage. Fears were expressed with reference to the Memo Controversy (2011-1012) that Zardari would lose his Presidency. He managed to survive and completed his five-year term.

 There are strong doubts that Nawaz Sharif’s present government would complete five years and manage its affairs smoothly. The existing political arrangements face a strong threat of losing the grip over the affairs even if Nawaz Sharif survives the present crisis. He is expected to run into more difficulties even if he manages to continue for some time.

 What saved Zardari led People’s Party government from collapsing was a greater understanding of the troubled political realities and making adjustments with the political forces and the military.

The political approach was realistic and it did not get stuck with the issue of political ego.

Nawaz Sharif led a long march against the People’s Party government and Shahbaz Sharif threatened to drag Asif Zardari in the streets of Pakistan but Zardar played it cool and showed flexibility in restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in April 2009 in view of the Muslim League led Long March and the pressure from the Army Chief. He also managed the Long March of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri in January 2013 through political negotiations and accommodation.

 For the present political crisis inPakistan, it can be argued that two opposition leaders and their fifteen to twenty thousand supporters cannot be allowed to stage a Long March toIslamabadand dislodge the government. This will create a wrong precedence and no future government would be able to function inPakistan.

 The Nawaz Sharif government also got supportive resolutions from both houses of the parliament while Imran Khan and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri were threatening to overthrow the government. Some political parties also supported the government.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz group also invoked the support of hardline Islamic militant and sectarian groups that threatened to mobilize their madrassa students to counter Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri. If this dimension of sectarian polarization spreads,Pakistanwill face greater crisis which will create more problems for the Sharif government rather than saving it from the political pressure of Dr. Qadri.

 The basic differences between the People’s Party government and the Muslim League Nawaz Group government are how they managed it politically. Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif have run their governments as a personalized business company, relying heavily on their loyalists and family members that ignored professional competence and the experience of political conflict management. You can judge this by looking at the federal and thePunjabcabinets which included few leaders of political statures that enjoyed respect outside their party’s political circles.

 The Sharif brothers were less available to the parliamentarians than the People’s Party leadership. In fact, a large number of Muslim League parliamentarians are happy that the current political crisis has made the Sharif brothers more available to them for direct meetings. Previously most parliamentarians had to interact with the loyal bureaucrats of the Sharif brothers.

 There were corruption complaints against the senior leaders of both political parties. However, the Muslim League focused more on media oriented construction projects confined to a few cities and paid less attention to the problems that hurt the common people like electricity and gas shortages, inflation, price hikes and internal security.

A large number of the poor of different cities complained constantly about inflated electricity bill beyond their financial reach. The general assumption was that these high amount bills were meant to collect money from the people without any regards to their financial means. This problem was hardly addressed.

  The Nawaz Sharif government also undermined its relations with the military with reference to the case of General Pervez Musharraf, the GEO television issue and management of foreign policy issues that related to the military like the relations withIndiaandAfghanistan. The civilian government was not in favor of military action inNorth Waziristan. In the end, the Army went intoNorth Waziristanon its own and the Sharif government was left with no choice but to support it.

 We will continue to debate the reasons of the August 2014 crisis inPakistanbut the increased political division will make it difficult to make a realistic assessment.

 The pro Muslim League people accuse the military and the two political leaders of exploiting the situation. Others hold the poor governance and the arrogance of power on the part of the Sharif family as the main cause.

 However, all agree that the Sharif brothers had opened too many political fronts without addressing the problems of the common people. Like in 1993 and 1999, they overplayed their electoral mandate without realizing that winning an election does not give freedom to run the country to one’s personal preference.

Politics is working with other centers of power and listening to what people are saying beyond one’s loyal circles.

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