Mar 22, 2009

Friends in need

Punjab remains the centre of attention for the moment. The new alliances cropping up there could offer a clue as to what will happen next. Mian Nawaz Sharif has delivered what seems like an open snub to the Chaudhrys, with a meeting scheduled between him and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain postponed for a week. The PML-N chief however appears to have held an amiable meeting with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, as the race to form the next government in Punjab heats up. We hear that the PM and the president are pulling in opposite directions in this respect at least. While Mr Gilani favours friendship with the Sharifs, and is hopeful that the Supreme Court verdict in the review petition regarding the disqualification of the Sharifs could allow Mian Shahbaz Sharif to resume his interrupted tenure as chief minister, Governor Salmaan Taseer quite evidently favours a deal with the PML-Q so that the party can form the next government with the PPP. The PMl-Q seems willing to swing either way.The tussle is a sign of the wider battle. While the prime minster has made it quite clear that he believes a broad, national coalition is the only way forward, and has kept up close contacts with the Sharifs to achieve this, others who wield power clearly do not agree with him. A great deal of shoving and pushing is on. We must hope that the outcome is in favour of those who support the building of consensus. The instability that has existed for much of the past six months, combined with a global recession, has caused economic fortunes to plummet. Political uncertainty has also contributed to this.We need a long period of calm to re-generate and re-build. The best way to usher this in is to allow democracy to prevail. There is no doubt at all about the views of the people of Punjab when it comes to choosing their leaders. They made their opinions perfectly clear both at the ballot box and during the long march. This view must be respected. Efforts to manipulate events will only cause further damage. In this sense, the assertion by the Punjab governor that he has no plans to quit office is rather unfortunate. The fact is that Mr Taseer is today a figure who holds little respect and represents forces engaged in all kinds of attempts to subvert an elected government. He is, therefore, seen as a destabilizing factor. The forces behind him must recognize the need to put the interests of Pakistan above all else and to allow the wheels of democracy to roll freely without making efforts to jam them by continuing to reach backdoor deals.

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