by Ameer Bhutto son of Sardar Mumtaz Bhutto
Given the repeated sellouts and betrayals of politicians masquerading as awami leaders, it is a miracle that Pakistan has not only survived but still holds the possibility to flourish, given some measure of integrity and honesty in those who haunt the corridors of power. But though the country has somehow survived this mess, the price it has had to pay is debilitating regression, to the point where the economy, civic facilities and infrastructure, peoples’ wellbeing in the form of employment, law and order and opportunity, our foreign relations, national sovereignty and indeed the binding glue of nationhood stand corroded to a point of acute crisis.
Incompetence rules supreme in Islamabad. Those who hold the destiny of 170 million people in their hands can not even read a simple written speech. Gone are the days when a leader would address the nation live on television and radio. Now all speeches are pre-recorded and edited to prevent leaders from making fools of themselves. But when they can not escape having to make a live speech or choose to ad lib, their calibre and worth are immediately exposed, even though they hide behind portraits of Shaheeds to bask in borrowed glory and legitimacy. Zardari, in his address to the joint session of parliament, expressed the desire to give autonomy to Balochistan. Why just Balochistan? Have Sindh and NWFP not been clamoring for autonomy as well? Someone should have explained to him that provincial autonomy can only be granted by means of a constitutional amendment, which would apply to the whole country and not just Balochistan. He also talked about his administration’s respect for the freedom of the press and media. If such is the case, then did Geo Television go off the airwaves during the days of the long march by its own volition, causing Sherry Rehman to resign? Zardari has taken Orwellian doublespeak to a whole new stratosphere.
In his speech, Zardari asked the Speaker to form a multi-party committee to implement the Charter of Democracy. Was such a committee not formed last year? It churned out countless drafts of constitutional amendment packages without producing any tangible outcome. If the government is really serious about the Charter of Democracy, it can be implemented without much fuss or delay. Forming more committees is only a ruse to buy time and divert attention. Zardari also claimed credit for the restoration of the judiciary as a fulfillment of Benazir Bhutto’s promise. Was it part of her promise to renege on signed and much publicized commitments to this effect, avoid restoring the judges for a whole year on lame pretexts, sabotage the long march by use of Section 144, deploy tankers to block all major highways, use baton charges and tear gas and arrest thousands of people and finally, grudgingly restore the judges only when there was no other way out after the men in boots declined to help out and America threatened to cut off aid? Are we to expect the same modus operandi in Zardari’s fulfillment of all Benazir’s promises?
The problem goes deeper than just mind boggling incompetence. There is a comprehensive lack of will to do anything about the serious crises engulfing the nation. Precious little has been done to alleviate the burdens of the people. In his speech, Zardari announced a number of public welfare schemes named after Benazir Bhutto. But what became of the schemes announced a year ago bearing her name? The much trumpeted Benazir Income Support Scheme has yet to be implemented and has led to massive corruption. Those who were promised employment under the Benazir Youth Development Program are protesting in the streets because they have been kept in the lurch for too long. The government has even failed to give the people security of life and property, the hapless Sindh Home Minister admitting defeat saying that as soon as the authorities recover some abductees, more get abducted. The culture of resignation on failure is unknown to the rulers.
To further compound their failure, this government has indulged in reckless abuse of power to secure its own position, the imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab being the most brazen illustration of this. Our biggest tragedy is that we never learn from our mistakes of the past. In any case, the altered situation in Punjab has transcended the discontinuation of governor’s rule or even the restoration of Shahbaz Sharif’s government. The long march proved that there is a need for a fresh appeal to the electorate for a new mandate in Punjab because the present assembly does not accurately reflect the will of the people. If anyone wishes to contest the assertion that PML(N) now commands virtually unchallenged support in Punjab, let them prove it in the electoral arena. Let the people have the representation to which they are entitled.
The long march mobilized the nation like it had not been mobilized since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s movement in the late 1960’s that toppled two military dictators. The restoration of the judiciary through people power was no less a revolution than Bhutto’s. But a captive judiciary was not the sole crisis facing the country. What about the implementation of the Charter of Democracy? What about the repeal of the 17th Amendment? What about the restoration of honest ideological politics based on firm principles in which political commitments are indeed as sacred as ayats of The Holy Quran? Is all this any less crucial to the survival of the state than an independent judiciary? With an impassioned nation marching on the Capital to set right the wrongs of the unpopular rulers, here was an opportunity to jettison all the cancers that afflict the body politic. But, inexplicably, this was not done. Just as the lawyers’ long march two years ago missed an opportunity to achieve their objectives back then by failing to stage a sit in, this long march too left the task incomplete and delayed the inevitable. The prime minister and Zardari have given fresh assurances that the Charter of Democracy will be fully implemented. If such assurances held any water, the long march would not have been necessary. Such assurances were trumpeted a year ago as well and inspire no optimism for the future. All these promises do is create a sense of déjà vu as the nation seems destined to re-live 2008 all over again and, sooner than the last time around, arrive back at the same juncture where another long march becomes unavoidable to complete what was started on 15th March 2009.
A prominent feature of the Obama administration’s new Pak-Afghan policy, on which the present rulers are pinning their hopes for survival, is a U.S. resolve to wipe out the perceived Taliban sanctuaries in NWFP and Balochistan. This has been repeatedly emphasized by White House Special Envoy Richard Holbrook and a number of senior Obama administration officials. This translates into not only increased drone attacks, but also direct U.S. military engagement in Pakistan, which President Obama hinted at during his election campaign, particularly in his televised debates with Senator John McCain. A Pakistani government that has lost its anchor in the people, to the extent that its ministers and assembly members can not make public appearances without being humiliated even by their own angry party workers who feel let down and abandoned by their leadership, and is increasingly dependant on American support for survival, will have no choice but to concede more and more national sovereignty to enable the achievement of American security objectives on Pakistani soil. Given this government’s hopeless incompetence and ineffectiveness, the Americans will soon see the futility in propping up this regime, as they did in Musharaf’s case, and it is bound to suffer the same fate. But by then national sovereignty and interests will have suffered yet another blow.
In his book ‘Freedom and its Betrayal’, Sir Isaiah Berlin poses the question why should the people obey the sovereign. There is consensus, generally, that obedience to the sovereign is necessary for the common good and that disobedience is justified when survival is at stake. A sovereign who has no intention of living up to his commitments, fails miserably to provide security and succor, damages state institutions for the sake of personal political interests and barters away national sovereignty has no right to expect obedience or support.