Long march?

Pakistan’s politics is full of absurdities. It bordered on the absurd when the Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif threatened to call a long march if the PPP government continued to make controversial appointments. Addressing a public meeting in Khushab, he also said that $60 million stashed in Swiss accounts belonged to the people and must be brought back. Stories of Swiss accounts and their link to the Bhuttos have become part of Pakistan’s political legend, but their reality has never been ascertained. There are several claimants to the money in these accounts; it is not known whether their owners are Pakistani nationals and if they are, their identity is yet to be established.
If we concede for the sake of argument that it is public money belonging to Pakistan, would Shahbaz Sharif like to account for the Sharifs’ assets abroad and explain how he and his brother, when the latter pays only Rs 5,000 as income tax, were able to acquire prime real estate properties worth millions of pounds in London? Is it not a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Regrettably, this attempt at assuming the moral high ground will not add anything to the credibility of the Sharifs. Indulging in this kind of populist politics is not new to Pakistan; however, it appears odd when those who have much to answer for themselves try to point accusatory fingers at their opponents.This spate of PPP-bashing has been unleashed by the appointment of a new NAB chairman. While the NAB ordinance states that the president shall appoint the chairman in ‘consultation’ with the Opposition leader, PML-N seems to think it has leverage against the government, since the former’s rejection of the proposed names for the post was not entertained. Law Minister Dr Babar Awan, on the other hand, says ‘consultation’ does not necessarily mean ‘consensus’. It may now be left once again to the courts to decide whether or not the government fulfilled its duty by completing the necessary procedure. Going by the dictionary meaning of the word, consultation may elicit differing opinions. The law, however, does not explain if it is incumbent on the government to accommodate the Opposition’s point of view.

This does not mean that the government made a wise decision by appointing Justice (retired) Deedar Hussain Shah. He may have a reputation for impeccable integrity and during his trial in the plane hijacking case, Nawaz Sharif may have expressed confidence in his impartiality. Nevertheless, his past affiliation with the PPP has raised serious questions. Was it politically astute to appoint such a person in the middle of all the controversy surrounding NAB and when the issue of NRO cases is before the Supreme Court for adjudication?

As for the PML-N-led long march on the issue, it is not every day that disparate public opinion converges on an issue. During the lawyers’ movement, an entire spectrum of opinion had a consensus on the single point that the sacked judiciary should be restored. It was this consensus that made that movement a success. It is doubtful if that kind of consensus exists on the issue of the NAB chairman’s appointment. If at all, the boycotting parties of the 2008 elections, i.e. Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, may find it opportune to exploit the situation to their advantage, since they do not have any stakes in this dispensation, but that smattering of support too may not be enough.
It is, thus, more of an empty threat on the part of Shahbaz Sharif, bent as he now seems on destabilising the government. PML-N’s policy flip-flops regarding the current set-up are beyond comprehension, when it has stated time and again that it would like the government to complete its term. PML-N would be well advised to adopt a consistent approach and not indulge in populist rhetoric – Dailytimes