Feb 28, 2009

Anyone in charge here?

Rather like a ship steered by a drunken captain, Pakistan lurches from crisis to crisis. But as it is overtaken by the latest storm, following the imposition of governor's rule in Punjab and the angry response from the supporters of the PML-N, it now appears that two skippers are vying for control of the troubled vessel. A visible gap has appeared between the stance of the prime minister and the president, and this means more weeks and months of uncertainty could lie ahead.Prime Minister Gilani has made it clear he disapproves of the sequence of events that has unfolded in Punjab. He had indeed taken a conciliatory line for several months, applying soothing balm to wounds caused by the barbs and jibes of Governor Salmaan Taseer, who had made the Sharifs his target since he assumed charge in the province. It is now safe to assume Mr Taseer has been taking his orders from President Zardari. It is a reflection on the state of affairs within our country that the prime minister was apparently kept out of the loop as key decisions following the Supreme Court ruling were taken. Indeed, he has said quite openly that the events were sad and that he was not consulted regarding changes in office bearers in Punjab, even though these were said to have been made on his advice. In his comments on the situation, Mian Nawaz too has very obviously singled out President Zardari for attack rather than the PPP as a whole.The real question is what, if anything, the man regarded as a puppet PM will do now. The president seems determined to take the path of confrontation. It seems likely his goal is a PPP government in Punjab bolstered by the PML-Q, with which talks are underway. The tunnel-visioned men who Mr Zardari regards as his closest aides seem not to see the immense damage this strategy is inflicting – on Pakistan, on Punjab and on the PPP. The PM meanwhile continues to emphasize he seeks national reconciliation and that he believes the SC ruling has destroyed all his painstaking efforts in this regard. There is conjecture he may advise the president to pardon the Sharifs, under constitutional powers available to him, and restore their government to power. As things stand at present, this advice seems unlikely to be heeded.The situation we face today is an outcome of the dichotomy of power in the country and the confusion over where it is centred. Pakistan, in theory, is a parliamentary democracy led by its elected prime minister. In practice, powers under the controversial Article 58(2) (b) give the president extraordinary powers over assemblies. The division we are seeing now shows the extent to which decisions have emanated from the presidency, how far people have been left out of this process and how undemocratic practices of the worst kind determine the course of events in our fractured nation. We do not know how things will end, but the outcome is unlikely to be good for a nation that has suddenly been plunged into still greater turmoil.

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