Mar 14, 2009

Widening concern

The government is coming under increasing pressure from the international community to break the political deadlock and resolve the issues that have struck a blow to a democratic political process. One of the recent statements on the ongoing tussle between President Zardari and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif comes from Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). He has said that Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani remains “committed to a civilian government” and will not take over like his predecessor, General (r) Pervez Musharraf did in 1999. Mullen said he was “extremely concerned” over the political situation in Pakistan and that US officials were closely watching the lawyers’ protests. British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has been equally active in trying to bridge the gap of differences between the two main political parties of Pakistan. He talked to PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif over phone and discussed with him the political situation. The other day, US Ambassador to Islamabad Anne W. Patterson also said that US wanted to see strong democratic institutions in Pakistan. Patterson said this while speaking to Nawaz Sharif at Raiwind. Patterson made a lot of sense when she said that all democratic forces of Pakistan should work jointly to strengthen democracy in the country. Patterson warned that non-state elements could take advantage of the prevailing political situation if it does not improve. The concern shown by official representatives of the US and UK is understandable in the context of the volatile situation and a history of army intervention in Pakistan’s politics at the time of political uncertainty. It is time for the leadership to learn their lessons in the backdrop of our recent and not-so-recent political history. Only early last year, in a defining political development, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari had met in Lahore and had made a pledge to work together in the parliament through a coalition government. It is true that both the PPP and the PML-N have a history of acerbic political rivalry in the lost decade of 1990s but the bitter fact was supposed to have been relegated to the dustbin of history and a new beginning made after the February 18 elections. The political consensus reached in the charter of democracy (CoD) constituted the crux of the democratic political discourse in the country as it evolved in the post October 1999 years. The simmering discontent of the PML-N against the PPP government finally came out in the open with the statement of Nawaz Sharif who termed the present democracy no different from a dictatorship. Nawaz’s charge-sheet against the PPP government included the dangling Sword of Damocles on parliament in the shape of Article 58(2)b, absence of an independent judiciary, and government’s caving in to the international pressure on matters of national interest. Things went out of control after the Supreme Court’s verdict that disqualified the Sharif brothers. Now the PML-N’s criticism is directed against none other than the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. However, both the leaders should understand that the worsening law and order situation is in nobody’s interest and would further worsen the political and economic situation. They should show some flexibility in their respective positions and act in the larger interest of the country. At this critical stage whosoever takes the first step towards reconciliation would earn gratitude of the nation. On his part, President Zardari should come forward as a symbol of country’s unity and ask Nawaz Sharif to help him steer the country out of the present crisis.

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