Mar 25, 2009

Second time round

The PML-N chief has offered a new era of cooperation with the PPP, provided that the Charter of Democracy is implemented. Following a briefing by the prime minister, the president is reported to have welcomed the offer and appears willing to set up a new effort at coalition with the Sharifs. Mian Nawaz Sharif has informed a general council of his party of his plans. We must hope the deal between the two parties, the second time round, works out better than what happened in the past. It is widely rumoured in Islamabad that considerable pressure has been exerted by key powers to ensure the current deal goes ahead. It will be the responsibility of all those involved to sustain it.While coalitions between parties that, on some issues at least, hold diametrically opposite ideological views, are not easy and perhaps not even always desirable, the fact is that for the moment the crises faced by Pakistan dominate everything else. We have received a new warning from a senior US official that the state may be only months away from a catastrophic collapse. This may be an overly melodramatic depiction of things. But the fact is that the situation in Pakistan is undoubtedly nightmarish. The state has lost control over law and order. Large swathes of territory lie in the hands of frenzied militant armies. Many believe agencies form a kind of 'rogue' state that exists beyond the control of the regular state of Pakistan.There are other crises too. The fact that so many people lack any kind of access to even the most basic needs of life – food, housing, clean water, healthcare – is perhaps the most pressing of these. The two major parties, as they embark on their new experiment in cooperation, must make solving these problems a priority. They will be able to succeed though only if an environment of trust and understanding can be built. The terms of past agreements must be respected for this to happen; these include an end to the potentially destabilizing article 58(2) (b) of the constitution and to the kind of unsavoury attempts we have seen over the past few months to intervene in the working of a provincial government and to unseat it through what many see as underhand actions. The President is expected to address a joint session of Parliament soon. We must hope he lays down the backdrop against which the second phase of national reconciliation is to take place. We need a clearing of the doubts that still linger so that this time round, the spirit of cooperation that is being established can prove to be a real success in solving the myriad problems that Pakistan.

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