Jan 7, 2010

Planned hype

Dr Masooda Bano

The crisis mode created around President Zardari's speech has an air of planned maneuvering around it. Zardari is not without his weaknesses but the air of tension being created after his speech on the second anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's death is highly exaggerated. Commentators are arguing that he is putting the country at risk by entering into a confrontation with the US and other institutions of the state. They are not holding back from making all kind of personal comments about him too. However, what is becoming more clear in the process are two critical issues. One, it is not just the governments but a large number of the Pakistani commentators who are quite comfortable with the existing alliances and do not want them disturbed. Two, there is a systematic effort at disrupting the democratic process once again. Both issues have serious implications.

There is nothing in Zardari's speech that is not part of the popular belief. If he hinted towards the role of US in weakening institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and argued that Pakistan won't be allowed to reach that stage while talking about the forces within the state, which are out to destabilise the democratic process, the question is what is so shocking about it. Anyone who engages with the ordinary public on these issues knows that both are popularly argued positions and many within the masses actually want the government to keep a distance from the US. The movement for reinstatement of the judges removed under the Muhsarraf rule was proof of the public demand for a clear delineation of authority and responsibility among the institutions of the state. There are few, apart from those directly benefitting from the military coup, who today would approve of another military intervention in the democratic process.

Yet, when the president has tried to take an open position against undue interventions by the US and military, the so-called Pakistani intelligentsia has started to issue crude commentaries. To require the president of the country to act responsibly and not issue ultimatums that can put the country at an undue risk is one thing, but to start to ridicule the country's highest office holder for expressing views, which actually are reflective of the mood of many in the public, shows a biased assessment of the situation. The mood being created by these commentaries is to make the president look so irresponsible that another military intervention seems justified since there are little chances of the president being impeached in parliament. PPP's concerns that there is a planned campaign at the movement against the president and democratic system thus is acquiring greater weight.

The issue is not whether Zardari is clean or corrupt; the issue is whether or not he heads the PPP that won a major public mandate to run the affairs of the state. To make demands on the government and to deliver on basic public needs is a legitimate demand. However, to start a campaign to derail the democratic process by initiating a campaign against Zardari should have no support. This country stands at the brink of disaster because of the repeated military interventions displacing democratic governments. Then, in order to build international legitimacy, they put their obedience at the service of foreign powers. No western government is able to win undue concessions from Indian politicians, yet the military generals ruling Pakistan sell the people to western interests without giving them a trial in the country and allow all kinds of interventions in Pakistan to secure their own rule.

In a country with such an entrenched military and intelligence system, if a civilian president is finally willing to talk against military intervention and the US, the commentators have the responsibility lend support to the civilian institutions rather than creating grounds to justify another military intervention. An independent media that wants to be viewed as part of civil society and has public credibility cannot afford to support a sustained attempt at marginalising a civilian president vis-à-vis the military agencies.

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