Vicious circle by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Since our independence politicians have failed to live up to the nation’s expectations. Their first failure was not being able to draft the constitution of the new state for nine years. This delay in laying the political foundation allowed nexus to develop between civil bureaucracy and military establishment to impose first martial law. India on the other hand promulgated their constitution within two years and laid foundations for solid political institutions. Since the first martial law no elected government completed its constitutionally mandated tenure until 2008. The only exception was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s first term even that was curtailed to four years because of early elections after promulgation of 1973 constitution. This provided a cover to the politicians that they are not allowed to lead the nation to build its political institutions. That cover is now blown as first elected government completed its tenure and the second government is on course to do that too. Politicians can no longer hide behind a military intervention to hide their lack of performance. The question then is what can be done to save the political order and improve their performance to deliver on good governance?

The important milestone to cross is to embark on the reformation of the parties. There have been calls from some quarters that MQM should be banned because of various allegations against them. I don’t think this would be a wise course. Choking voice of any community produce resort to extremism. MQM has many good qualities as well as some short comings. MQM, along with Jamat-e-Islami (JI) are the two parties that select their candidates from educated middle class that contest elections based on their ideology. It is true MQM has to reform itself to get rid of the militant and criminal elements from its ranks. Although they have failed in the past but they should continue expanding their reach nationwide for which they have to relinquish their ethnic manifesto and convert it into a national agenda. To implement these ideas the moderates and pragmatic leadership of MQM should take lead in reforming their party.

JI in the leadership of its Amir Siraj ul Haq is trying to develop itself as a center-right party on the pattern of AKP of Turkey. Siraj ul haq is facing resistance from its old guard in fully implementing its vision. As new members are added to their central executive body these reformist voices may gain more strength thereby reducing the hurdles. JI is also planning to expand its membership base to become a popularist party by adding more non-voting members that they call a mutafiq as compared to voting members that are called rukan. For the first time in its history JI is considering to allow non-Muslim to become voting members. In any constituency, especially urban centers, JI has a support of 3-5% in a constituency while they need at least 15% supporters in a constitution to gain more seats in first past the post system. The objective of increasing membership is to cross this hurdle in more constituency to increase number of seats.

Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) was well placed to develop new leadership and offer new politics to the nation. PTI should have made an attempt to contest elections on ideology rather than personalities learning from the approach successfully demonstrated by MQM and JI. But they seem to have abandoned this ideological orientation and are aggressively seeking to recruit former MNAs and MPAs from PPP, PML N and PML Q. This will damage the appeal of the party among its core constituency of educated urban class and moderates in rural areas. This strategy seems to be also out of tune with the trend in the nation that is demanding clean-up of political parties. PTI instead of leading this trend to entrench its image of a clean party has for some unexplained reason decided to align itself with the status quo which has alienated the nation because of lack of performance. The people that lost elections in 2013 because of their failure to deliver during the tenure of PPP are part of the status quo and may not generate parliamentary majority for the party that they are dreaming of.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) seems to be on a decline because of lack of creativity and performance in Sindh where it has ruled for last seven years. The reputation of Co-chairman Mr. Zardari as a supporter of questionable elements in the party is also negatively projecting the party’s reputation among electorate. PPP’s inability to offer creditable opposition in the center is another factor that is contributing towards disenfranchisement of its members. The party has a deep bench of astute politicians with good reputation including Aitzaz Ahsan, Jahangir Badar, Raza Rabbani, Makhdoom Amin Faheem and Sherry Rehman that can help the party find its feet on the ground and develop a reorganization plan. PTI poaching of its members in Punjab can be an opportunity for the party to develop new leadership that does not have baggage from the past and can resonate with its jiyala and party ideology.

PML N as a well-entrenched party in Punjab and running government in the center has the least incentive to reform itself internally. Its total focus seems to be on economic uplift of the country through signature projects of Metro Bus, motorways and China-Pakistan Economic corridor. Punjab is already one of the better managed provinces among the four and uplift of national economy will provide the party an opportunity to gain seats in other provinces. Decline of PPP in rural Sindh and political errors committed by PTI in KP will provide them an opening to gain some traction there. PML N also seems to have improved its working relationship with the establishment which is adding to their confidence that they will get another term at the ballot box in 2018.

There are many op-ed writer openly calling for General Raheel Shareef to use his political capital and emerge as a Pakistani De Gaulle. General Raheel gained confidence of the people through operation against terrorists and white collar criminals in Sindh. He is now the undisputed most popular person in the country. But it will be gross error of judgement on his part if he stepped out from indirect to direct role in governance. It will be a damage to the evolution of stable politics which is important for any country to survive in the long term and build a stronger nation. If he has any political ambition, a better approach for him will be to retire at the expiration of his term in 2016. By 2018 he will be eligible to participate in politics and can become a candidate for presidency if he maintains his public stature.

Evolution of political parties along with strengthening of the judiciary are two important condition for emergence of good governance in the country. There is now increasing pressure on political parties to reform. But there is no leader in sight among the higher judiciary that can reform that important institution. When the tenure of current Chief Justice expires in August that will provide an opportunity for the government to install a good judge that has a reform agenda to implement.

Pakistan as a nation is changing but its institutions are still governed with an archaic mind frame. That has to change for the progress to happen on the ground.

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