Some political reflections

Today’s column is little more than a hotchpotch of tangled reflections. Has this not been a politically eventful year, in more ways than one?Adding them all up, the question I ask myself is this: is it only my personal impression (possibly biased) that — taken cumulatively and in historical retrospect — 2011 may well be seen later as a watershed year in our history? My fuzzy logic leads me to say “yes”. But for a meaningful answer I must hope the struggle and discipline involved in translating thoughts into coherent written words will provide a much needed measure of clarity.But first let me launch into my customary digression. Regular readers will know my distaste (to put it mildly) for all the simplistic moralising that is such a characteristic feature of our public discourse (particularly on TV talk shows). So bear with me while I deal with two such examples. Both have always been quite popular with those who seek intellectual ballast not by cogent reasoning but by quoting aphorisms. The irony is that the aphorism they often choose is demonstrably false.How often have you heard people say, in the context of fixing the blame for all that ails our country, “There is an old Chinese proverb that a fish rots from the head down”? For starters, the origin of the phrase is probably not China. The best research would seem to trace the phrase most probably to Imperial Turkey of some three centuries ago, from where it spread to nearby Europe. What lends veracity to this claim is that dozens of European languages (even obscure ones) have some version of this saying in their language.

Secondly, biologically speaking, the phrase is simply untrue. The internal soft organs — particularly the guts that are full of bacteria anyway — are the first to go. Scientific illiteracy then produces the confusion between rotting and the stink of rotting, for the obnoxious gases from the belly have nowhere else to get out except from the open mouth. Ergo, the head is the culprit.If this indeed is the case then does the example quoted not in fact prove exactly the opposite: that poor leadership is wrongly blamed for the stink emanating in reality from the ‘guts’ of the state (or the organisation)?And finally, if I am permitted a little crudity, what if I was to reply to the argument with the rejoinder: ‘Let us not talk dead fish but living humans instead; does all the faeces not originate in the belly and exit downwards? Where does the head come into this?’

The second argument I hear often is that bit about ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. But is that really so? Does it not all depend on how different people decide differently what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’? How about the Chief Justice (CJ) ‘wrongly’ (in my opinion) taking suo motu notice of this and that ‘wrong’ in order to arrive at the ‘right’ result? Or, our parliament, under severe pressure of a public opinion ‘wrongly’ demanding self-destructive actions, chooses to ‘wrongly’ pass unanimous resolutions (‘wrongly’ because every fool knew the government was never going to implement them) in order to arrive at the ‘right’ result: i.e. both pacify the public and yet not do that which would do us irreparable harm?

So, I put in a plea to IK and miscellaneous TV worthies to spare us such spurious analogies. And, not expecting anyone to take these quibbles too seriously, I return to my main theme.Here, the first curious thought that dominates my thinking is a confirmation of how brilliantly prescient most of our all-knowing political analysts really are. Most of last year, with guns blazing, they were gleefully predicting the imminent fall of the government (in many cases with actual dates). In the early months of the year the great consensus was there was no way the government would be able to pass the budget.

And what happened? Put simply, they badly underestimated Mr Asif Ali Zardari yet again. Could it be that he knows more about the practical nuts and bolts of his craft — Pakistani politics — than all our armchair political theoreticians? Could the fact that he goes about his business patiently and quietly, and without much fuss, fanfare or bombast, have anything to do with his success? This is what I wrote of him in a column in 2004: “…As the political drama unfolds in 2005 and beyond, you can bet that his consummate conciliation and persuasive skills will be amply on display…” And again in early January 2008 I had this to say: “…For he is, by instinct and intuition, a political animal par excellence, as anyone who has had an opportunity to interact with him closely will readily testify. Nor does he lack experience of the heavily mined jungle that is our political landscape” (‘A merited rise’, January 30, 2008, Daily Times). Should we then not ask how seriously we should take the pronouncements of such analysts — who are also the self-appointed authentic voice of the awam — when they put forward mid-term elections, etc, as the solution to our woes?

Yes, I know of the Harold Wilson saying that ‘a week is a long time in politics’, and all it implies. But the cobbling together, and then keeping that coalition intact somehow (even by dubious means if need be), is basic to our desperate current need for political stability in polarised, divisive, and difficult times. And elections in the short-term will not, in my opinion, produce a more stable coalition government.On the other hand the president seems to have adroitly laid a solid foundation for electoral victory in the next general elections, and a good working majority thereafter. But there is still much work to be done if the plans of the coalition partners are to reach fruition. A good beginning will be if the dissidents in the PPP wake up to the realities, return actively to the fold and not squander a golden opportunity to win a second term in power for the party of their choice.

I say this because the surest and long lasting changes come only slowly over time, with many a disappointment in the short-term. Yes, even after more than a decade of the new millennium has passed, much of my hopes for the country remain unfulfilled. But let us not lose sight either of the progress we have made. Sure, the army remains the most powerful political party in the country, but it is now unlikely to ever again rule directly. And there is little doubt that in due course (but gradually) that institution, for all its powerful role and voice in state affairs, will have to toe the civilian line. Where the PML-N leads now, others will surely follow in due course.And when two well-known journalists from opposite ends of the political spectrum — Hamid Mir and Ejaz Haider — supported bravely by most others journalists (many of whom are now quite willing to openly talk of what they have suffered) openly question the often dubious and sordid doings of our security agencies, another vital Rubicon has been crossed. Go on friends! The time has also come to publicly expose those black sheep in your own ranks who give your profession a bad name by acting as paid apologists.Yes, 2011 has been an eventful year so far, in a positive sense. And there is every reason to believe the resulting democratic gains are both irreversible and a platform for further progress. – Dailytimes – Munir Attaullah