Mar 9, 2009

Troubled times

Even though efforts to ‘reconcile’ the PPP and the PML-N continue, it seems apparent that Mian Nawaz Sharif has now opted for the path of open confrontation. His charged speech in Lahore spoke of ‘revolution’ and ‘justice’ and of the manner in which he had been betrayed. Sharif’s harsh attack on President Zardari and his call on people to join the long march to Islamabad would suggest that there is now no going back from the brink. The success of the PML-N-called strike across Punjab, where almost all shops remained closed Friday, also indicates that many in the province have opted to put their faith squarely behind Sharif. In Islamabad meanwhile, it is reported that at high-level meetings, discussions are on about how to handle the protest planned by lawyers, which now has the backing of a major political party. Many fear chaos. People have begun stocking up on food items. All this is all the more alarming as it comes at a time when the dreaded tread of army boots can be at least faintly heard somewhere in the distance. The degree of concern over the situation is reflected in the comments made by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who in an interview in London urged Pakistan’s leaders to forge unity in the face of the grave security threats. Similar messages are coming in regularly from Washington. But given the point we have reached, it seems unlikely that any turnaround will be possible. The attempts to purchase political loyalties now in evidence in Punjab and elsewhere have added to the bitterness. While the PPP keeps up efforts to create calm again, perhaps because its short-sighted leaders are now increasingly panicked over what could happen next, the PML-N is no mood to stem the storm. And the president and his men, who first rocked the boat by failing to retain harmony with other political groups, must of course accept full responsibility for this.The question is what we are headed towards in the future. The signs are not encouraging. We have growing evidence of rage everywhere; the PML-N says matters will be decided in the streets and people are frustrated by the inability of those they elected to power just over a year ago to solve their most basic issues. The lack of stability damages almost every aspect of life. And while people are eager for it somehow to be returned to their lives, the risks are that any change that now comes will add to the crisis of a country locked in a desperate struggle to survive.

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