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Survival made difficult?

Lists down reasons which are causing trouble for the government

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, February 25, 2011

Is the PPP government a headless chicken or a drunk-with-power cock running amok, bent on steam-rolling all opposition to it? Is it committed to the interest of the country or biding time for its own interests? Before passing a judgment let us look at the three PPP stalwarts i.e. Dr Zufliqar Mirza, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Dr Babar Awan. If judged by their lofty and often inflammatory rhetoric, they come across much as an aberration to the democratic values and all reasonable norms of civility. These leaders constitute the core of a party that stands for liberal, secular and pluralistic values but their conduct betrays otherwise.

After spitting venom against the MQM for quite some time, Dr. Mirza, a master in vitriolic statements, recently appeared at the Nine-Zero, along with Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to signal “reconciliation” between PPP and MQM. 

On February 20, addressing a rally in Lyari, Dr Mirza unleashed a venomous attack on Nawaz Sharif and his party. “I am not a rogue, but I can become one for the sake of the country; the PPP can take any extreme action in the interest of the country and democracy” thundered the excitable Dr Mirza. He also warned of “horrible consequences” if any undemocratic tactics were adopted against his party, declaring that “we will fight inside and outside the legislature and even on the motorway”.

Following Mirza is another religio-political macho man Dr Babar Awan – a perfect personification of the cloak-and-dagger proverb who is always blowing hot and cold on the opposition. Evidently Awan led the PPP into retreat on the Blasphemy issue, leaving late Salman Taseer and Sherry Rehman at the mercy of religious zealots. 

Following the two gentlemen on their heels is Firdous Ashiq Awan – the new information minister – whose appointment probably manifests the decline and moral bankruptcy of Pakistani politics; somebody who never refrains from invoking all sorts of indecent innuendos in a bid to discredit her opponents, has now been elevated to a responsible position such as that of the information minister – a terrible affliction indicative of malignant intellectual decay.

Topping these leading lights of the PPP-led coalition is our prime minister, who is under the illusion that he is Pakistan’s Anthony Eden, and whose family loves to shop in London and Riyadh. His sons drive expensive sports cars “gifted by friends” and his spouse possesses an insatiable thirst for all material possessions that warm the hearts of women. On a flight from London, for instance, the first lady and one of the first sons carried upto 1000 kgs in excess baggage. Following refusal by the local PIA staff, the former managing director of that hapless institution instructed his subordinates to carry the excess baggage free of charge – a brazen abuse of authority and display of wealth accumulated through unexplained means. Another first son, Abdul Qadir Gilani is meanwhile embroiled in the Hajj and bullet-proof car import case as well.

The free junket to 450 journalists, politicians and other influential persons both in 2009 and 2010 in the name of pilgrimage is another illustration of the politics of patronage at the cost of precious taxpayers’ money. Free Hajj in fact offers another telling comment on how public representatives desecrate the trust their voters repose in them through vote.

All these instances, as well as the government’s continuous efforts to blunt Supreme Court’s anti-corruption drive, leave little doubt that the PPP is not interested in clean governance and the welfare of the people.

On the face of it, this is a government at war with everyone in addition to being at war with itself. And the Nawaz Sharif statement on February 2 makes sense. Sharif refuses to go hand in hand with the “corrupt government” any more and talks of a revolution, hinting therefore at early elections. 

And if in the coming days, Raymond Davis, the “CIA agent” who had been in contact with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists (according to The New York Times, Washington Post, February 21), manages to get off the hook under the clause of diplomatic immunity, the government will face an imminent storm and social upheaval, kicked up by all non-PPP forces combined. Most Pakistanis already smell a rat and Rehman Malik has added to those suspicions by claiming that Davis “possesses diplomatic passport”. 

And this also brings us to another complex matrix i.e. the state of government-military and the Pakistan-US relations. Any passage – that most Pakistanis might view as disgraceful - will not only further strain the PPP-Military relations but also accentuate the existing tensions with Washington. Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s “fall from grace” following his refusal to sign Davis into “diplomatic immunity and consequent freedom” ( Thomas Houlahan, The News, February 22) also underscores the strained relations between the Zardari-led government and the military. Zardari and his ministers appeared desperate to let Davis walk away with two murders but Qureshi refused. Zardari then punished Qureshi by throwing him out of the cabinet. And with this we get to another critical point; can a government dying to accommodate American pressure survive for too long? The US pressure in the case of Raymond Davis clearly runs contrary to all legal and diplomatic norms. It necessitated a subtle and dispassionate response, rather than intimidation out of Washington, and an out-of-way compliance by those ruling Islamabad. 

Qureshi and his secretary Salman Bashir as well as the military establishment stood their ground and refused to buckle under “financial blackmail” – as was being sounded out by many Americans and their Pakistani cohorts. It also rubbished the argument – peddled by many – that either talk of principles or ask for US money. These advocates have forgotten that asking for money does not necessarily mean shelving principles and morality altogether. The government now faces an uphill struggle to survive for the full term.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk