For five years we have had a popularly elected government, but has this made Pakistan a democratic society? Not in the least. Many still go about whining and wishing that a uniformed saviour or some mythical messiah would emerge and rid them of this chaos called democracy
‘Apart from the ad-hoc way PPP has managed the economy, its performance in the spheres of violence committed in the name of faith has been its other major failure’, says Nadeem Farooq Paracha.
Born in Karachi, Nadeem Farooq Paracha is a leading cultural critic and columnist. After his ‘O’ Levels from Karachi Grammar School (1983); he did his B. Com from St. Patricks Govt College (1987), and studied Political Science at the University of Karachi but couldn’t finish his MA (1989). He was active in student politics at college with Peoples Students Federation (PSF). Twice, he was arrested by General Zia regime. For ten years he worked with the Jang Group (first with Weekly Mag and then with The News between 1990 and 2000). Currently he is doing regular columns for the DAWN, Dawn.com, The Pioneer and Indian Express. In an interview with Viewpoint, he discusses the performance of incimbent PPP government. Read on:
What do you think have been PPP-led coalition’s major gains and major failures since 2008?
It's been a mixed bag. The gains unfortunately are little, but they are important in the larger scheme of things.
The passing of the 18th Amendment that gave the smaller provinces their due democratic rights to plan and implement certain key political and economic policies as they want. This was a major breakthrough.
It's still early days to give a judgment on the results of this initiative but the idea and principle behind the move is correct and timely.
What else? Yes, the triumph of the politics of ruling alliances, the sort that seemed to be an impossible task back in the 1990s.
And this totally boils down to Zardari's way of thinking. The way he has manoeuvred his coalition with some rather volatile partners, especially the ANP and the MQM, is admirable; a lesson especially for students of the art of clever Machiavellian politics.
Such politics, at least in a country like Pakistan, is now vital to ward off the many ever-present threats democratic set-ups have had to face from those who are always looking for reasons to step in for the so-called greater good of the country.
Zaradri, to tell you the truth, may not have been the most popular President or the most successful head of state, but it's just amazing the way he has twisted, turned and wriggled his way around and across a suspicious military, an overtly critical media, the jumpy opposition parties, a high-strung judiciary and, of course, the danger the state of Pakistan and its people constantly face from the Islamo-fascist terrorists.
However, when it comes to things like the management of the economy and the law & order situation in the major cities, well, for this government, there’s not much to write home about.
For first few years of this government one could sympathize with it because it came in when a military dictator had left behind a major mess. But it's now almost five years and the mess, it seems, is as bad as before.
On an ideological level, the PPP has been disappointing as well. Not because it should have begun to revive its mythical socialist past, but it should have at least stuck to being the progressive, if not entirely secular, party that it is.
The way its leadership seemed helpless and impotent during certain tragic episodes, such as Salaman Taseer's murder, was an extremely heartbreaking sight.
On a number of occasions it has been guilty of being soft on acts of violence and coercion committed in the name of faith. It just does not have any plan, or for that matter, any will whatsoever to address such issues. And that’s a shame because not only was the late Benazir Bhutto assassinated by these Islamo-fascist monsters, dozens of PPP workers have fallen prey to these elements as well along with, of course, over 40,000 Pakistani soldiers, policemen and civilians.
The national question in Pakistan is becoming acute, particularly in Balochistan. It seems instead of mitigating the Baloch grievances, the PPP government has provoked Sindhi nationalists by implementing a controversial local bodies bill in the Sindh province. Your comments.
The situation in Balochistsn is there for everyone to see and lament. It's now just too multifarious. I just can't see how at the moment any civilian government can put a peaceful end to it without first bruising the military's ego and then getting dumped in the process.
But Sindh, or the situation there, is nothing compared to what's been happening in Balochistan.
I personally agree with the PPP’s understanding with the MQM regarding the revival of the local bodies in Sindh. All politics of the future will increasingly be influenced by the urban centres. The PPP just cannot afford to let its influence continue to erode there.
And why on earth should the PPP care about what the Sindhi nationalists are saying and thinking about its alliance with the MQM.
The MQM has been a partner of the PPP in Sindh, whereas not only have the Sindhi nationalist parties remained tiny and splintered, recently many of them have even been desperately hobnobbing with exactly the kind of forces who in the past had been in the forefront of labelling Sindhi nationalist scholars and icons like GM Syed as traitors and applauded when the Ziaul Haq dictatorship launched a brutal operation in numerous towns and villages of Sindh in 1983.
The Sindhi nationalist parties must get out of their myopic mindset. They’ve become a glaring contradiction. They oppose the PPP and MQM calling them symbols of the Punjabi-dominated establishment, and yet don’t mind shaking hands with men like Nawaz Sharif!
I am not suggesting that Nawaz should continue being called a Punjabi oppressor, but an alliance between a conservative party like the PML-N and the Sindhi nationalists is rather oxymoronic!
And even if we minus a federalist party like the PPP from the equation, at this point in time, it’s actually parties like the Mohajir-centric MQM that can be a natural ally of the Sindhi nationalists.
GM Syed was quick to realize this back in the 1980s and, mind you, so did the MQM.
But, of course, many of us know there are still many in the establishment who are pulling the strings or at least manipulating the sentiments of certain Sindhi nationalist parties to make sure they remain opposed to the PPP and the MQM.
It’s about time that Sindhi nationalism should evolve into becoming Sindh nationalism in which progressive, liberal and secular Sindhi, Mohajir, Baloch and Pushtun political outfits and intellectuals, including the federalist PPP, become leading stakeholders.
PPP is often supported by liberals on the pretext that it would protect women, minorities, and marginalized. One may point out certain measures taken by the present government to address the women issues or the grievances of the minorities. But at the same time, on major issues one finds PPP capitulating to religious right. Governor Salman Taseer’s murder is a case in point. Recently, Yum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool [Love of Prophet Day] was another gimmick to placate the religious right. Your comments.
Exactly. As I earlier suggested, apart from the ad-hoc way it has managed the economy, its performance in the spheres of violence committed in the name of faith has been its other major failure.
It is true that things like initiating military operations against Islamist militants in the north-west is still largely the prerogative of the army’s high command and that a civilian government can merely suggest things or remain unmoved until other political parties and the military too openly talk about such operations, mainly due to the bizarre nature of anti-Americanism in this country.
However, where the PPP-led government could have initiated some worthwhile action, it didn’t. Instead, quite like the government of the late Z A. Bhutto, it decided to simply capitulate in front of a violent and loud minority thinking that this minority will burn itself out.
It is surprising how an astute and sharp politician like Zardari failed to learn from the fact that Bhutto’s cynical appeasement of the religious right was one of his biggest mistakes.
Between 1974 and 1977 Bhutto Sahib continued to suck up to the religious groups thinking them to be nothing more than outfits having only nuisance value.
But all the while Bhutto was actually and unwittingly creating a platform for these forces to get fat enough to finally prepare the grounds for a reactionary military overthrow of his regime and ultimately for the man’s tragic execution.
To a person like me who was passionately involved as a college student in various PPP-led movements against the reactionary Zia dictatorship in the 1980s, it was particularly disturbing to see some PPP activists in the Punjab actually hailing Taseer’s murder!
I thought is this what my generation of young people got themselves flogged, tortured and thrown into jails in the 1980s? To see groups of PPP activists behave like all those nuts we were struggling against many years ago?
Fine, the PPP chickened out when the time came to openly condemn and act against an act of murder committed in the name of faith, it could have at least taken action against those party activists who were rejoicing Taseer’s death.
I mean, if the party can chuck out whiners like Naheed Khan and her hubby, why not these buggers?
MQM would. Like it did against Aamir Liaqat when he instigated violence against the Ahmadis.
I hope the party’s next generation of leaders keep this in mind before the party is reduced to becoming a more animated version of the PML-N. As in, a Sindh-based PML-N, conservative but democratic and, of course, having no balls to tackle issues like sectarianism and violence undertaken in the name of religion.
What an insult that would be to all those PPP men and women who were slaughtered by all sorts of reactionary forces during the Zia dictatorship and more so, all those who died in the suicide bombings aimed at the late Benazir Bhutto. And also, what an insult to the memory of the late BB, mercilessly killed by the holy brutes.
While it is important that PPP government will most likely make history when it completes it its mandated tenure April next year, however strengthening of democracy requires deepening of democratic practices in the society. The PPP record is poor in this regard. Local bodies’ elections were avoided. Elections on campuses for the student bodies could not be held. Unionisation was neither facilitated nor encouraged. How would you assess PPP performance in this regard?
Abysmal. One can sympathize with the government because it was kept busy playing the survival game by the usual suspects in the military intelligence, the media and the judiciary, but five years is not a short period for this government to have revived the processes and institutions that makes society more democratic.
They were just not interested. Democracy is not just about holding and running for elections. It’s not just about sitting on TV talk shows and fighting it out with belligerent anchors and opposition parties.
And even though things like the Benazir Income Scheme did benefit a number of poor people, you are right, what about so much more that is required from a democratic government to make sure that democracy takes root in a country like Pakistan.
For five years we have had a popularly elected government, but has this made Pakistan a democratic society? Not in the least. Many still go about whining and wishing that a uniformed saviour or some mythical messiah would emerge and rid them of this chaos called democracy.
It seems PPP improved relations with India and maintained a reconciliatory tone towards Washington in defiance of GHQ. The Memogate was perhaps an indication of PPP-GHQ rift over contested viewpoint regarding relations with the USA. How do you view PPP’s performance regarding foreign policy?
Cautious but on the right track. It stuck to its guns regarding Washington and Delhi, enough to finally make the military look at things the way they ought to be looked at.
After the Kerry-Lugar Bill fiasco and Memogate, both clearly instigated by certain myopic elements in the intelligence agencies and their mouthpieces in the media and politics, today the military is agreeing to toe the same line on foreign policy as the government is.
All this is rather impressive because it should be remembered that much of the foreign policy in Pakistan is dictated by the armed forces and not exactly by civilian governments.
But today we can see that the military is almost entirely prepared to heal Pakistan’s relations with the US and India, even to the extent of letting go of its disastrous and so-called strategic depth mindset in which it had invested a huge amount of ego. It’s the logical and sane thing to do.
We can not achieve anything in isolation and nor can India or the US achieve much in the region by isolating Pakistan. We are always this close to becoming another North Korea or Iran. Not a good thing at all. Pakistan is too vibrant and dynamic a country to be allowed to fall victim to paranoid isolationism. It’ll collapse from within. The centre won’t hold.
Do you agree that democracy’s best defence is better living standards, better governance, and more transparency compared to any dictatorship. By failing on all these accounts, don’t you think the present PPP government has in fact earned democracy a bad name?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier, even after presiding over a popularly elected democratic set-up for five years, this government has failed to convince a majority of Pakistanis that democracy alone is the best system for a country like Pakistan that has so much ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity.
There are still people out there dreaming of a messiah who’ll rule over them for as long as he lives. What a shame, indeed.
[Interview was conducted by Adnan Farooq]