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Business of politics

The policy of reconciliation has been praised and denigrated in this country – praised as its promoters argue that it is designed to ensure the strengthening of democratic norms as well as to ensure unanimity of political opinion on how to deal with myriad socio-politico-economic problems facing the country ranging from terrorism to ensuring that military adventurism is a thing of the past to improving governance through greater accountability, an ingredient of true democracy; while its opponents argue that its implementation has invariably been focused on protecting the legitimate and not so legitimate political and financial interests of political leaders.

In the 1970s reconciliation manifested itself through political parties with diverse ideological and religio-political agendas teaming up to defeat the populist Pakistan People’s Party led by the charismatic Z A Bhutto – a reconciliation that lasted till the election results were out. The army dictatorships are marked by reconciliation defined as luring the political opportunists to provide legal cover to their rule, and PML as opposed to the PPP has traditionally had more than its fair share of such opportunists. In the 1990s, post-Ziaul Haq, the PPP together with the newly emerging PML-N, engaged in confrontation reminiscent of under-5 year olds vying for attention rather than mature leaders heading the federal and/or provincial governments; and the era limited reconciliation to forming alliances with the smaller parties to sustain a government either in the centre or a province.

The first time Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif decided on a joint front against non-democratic forces (read Musharraf) was the charter of democracy (CoD) signed on 15 May 2006. Clause 22 of the CoD committed the two parties to the following: “we shall not join a military regime or any military sponsored government. No party shall solicit the support of military to come into power or to dislodge a democratic government.” Another clause stated: “Truth and Reconciliation Commission be established to acknowledge victims of torture, imprisonment, state-sponsored persecution, targeted legislation, and politically motivated accountability. The commission will also examine and report its findings on military coups and civil removals of governments from 1996.” The Commission, unlike the one in South Africa, was not to focus on acknowledging politicians’ past misdemeanours/indiscretions, financial and/or criminal, but instead focused on a procedure for appointments of key figures in accountability institutions: namely consultation between the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. With only two major political parties in 2006 claims of muk makaa by Imran Khan post-2013 have merit.

Musharraf effectively nullified the CoD a mere fifteen months later through the passage of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) on 5th October 2007 granting immunity from prosecution in corruption as well as murder cases registered from 1st January 1986 to 12th October 1999. The deal was between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto allowing her to return from self-imposed exile without fear of being arrested upon arrival. The Ordinance was not the outcome of any desire on the part of the dictator to usher an era of democracy but was to defuse growing unrest in the country in response to his three flawed decisions with hind sight allowing one to conclude that it was the start of the end of his dictatorship: (i) the suspension of the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on 9 March 2007 evoking a lawyer-led mass movement for his restoration; (ii) the massacre on 12 May 2007 in Karachi that led to the death of at least 39 people from parties opposing Musharraf’s rule; and (iii) Condoleeza Rice, the then US Secretary of State acknowledged in her memoirs that she ‘toiled for many sleepless nights’ to bring Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto together. Though these memoirs post dated the promulgation of the NRO yet Benazir Bhutto reportedly expressed concern about the political fallout of the NRO, which was declared unconstitutional on 16 December 2009.

The Zardari years (2008-13) were marked by constant invocation of the policy of reconciliation with the stated objective of ensuring that the country’s politicians were on the same page to better tackle numerous issues facing the country. However a more pragmatic analysis may lead many to conclude that reconciliation during the Zardari years were the outcome of two prevalent factors. First, in 2008 elections out of total house strength of 307 elected seats PPP won 119, PML-N 89, PML (Q) 50 seats and MQM 25 seats. Or the PPP’s policy of reconciliation was critical in ensuring that the party did not face the prospect of losing a vote of no confidence; thus for the party to complete its five year tenure required an alliance with other parties even the PML (Q) termed qatil league by the former President Zardari. Other than an abortive effort to de-seat PML-N in Punjab and frequent rhetorical attacks on the PML-N leadership the Zardari years were marked by no proactive accountability inquiry against any parliamentarian by institutions that were under its control at the time.

Secondly, the establishment was headed by Kayani, a long time Musharraf loyalist and a known negotiator on behalf of Musharraf on the NRO. He was granted two extensions as well as considerable control on matters of interest to the establishment which no doubt played a critical role in the completion of PPP’s five year tenure.

Nawaz Sharif is dealing with a political paradigm vastly different from Zardari in two aspects. In 2013 the PML (N) won 188 seats, PPP 46 seats, PTI 33 seats and MQM 24 seats or the party had the numbers to abandon the non-binding CoD allowing the PML-N to proactively hold PPP leadership accountable for its tenure in 2008-13. However the country’s political landscape no longer had two national parties in 2013: Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf emerged as the third national party and its political fortunes rose not only in the PML-N stronghold in Punjab but also in MQM’s Karachi and ANP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PML-N leadership has post-2013 elections clearly favoured a policy of ‘reconciliation’ with the PPP as the two have a common history including army takeovers that may account for allowing the army latitude to take decisions in areas where it has an interest, and charges of financial corruption against their leadership, current as well as with over 20 years pendency in the country’s courts in some cases. The PPP during its tenure and the PML-N post 2013 have failed to proactively engage in holding the other accountable for corruption. And this has been achieved largely because the two parties, as per the CoD later enshrined in the eighteenth amendment, appoint accountability sensitive institutional heads including chairman NAB through a consultative process between the leader of then house and the opposition.

To further murky the waters for Nawaz Sharif during his current tenure the establishment has emerged stronger than during the PPP-led coalition government. While upon assuming office Kayani did take some populist decisions, for example, recalling serving army officials from civilian institutions yet he also took decisions that were severely criticised, including accepting two extensions, allowing Raymond Davis to leave the country, not allowing any army heads to roll for US marines Abbottabad mission or allowing corrupt retired army officials in National Logistics Cell to be punished. General Raheel Sharif in marked contrast is an extremely popular man and has reversed many decisions of his predecessors. In addition his actions in Karachi as well as in North Waziristan are highly appreciated by the public.

There is evidence to suggest that NAB actions at least as far as Karachi is concerned have establishment support and if as is a rising clamour the establishment begins to have a say in NAB actions in Punjab then the Sharifs are likely to come under immense pressure. While the first two years of the incumbent government did not lead to any scams in the media the situation has changed dramatically in recent months: LNG import deal as well as Nandipur have emerged as major scams which at best can be dismissed as gross incompetence and at worst as generation of massive kickbacks. Other power projects including setting up coal power plants in Punjab, where coal would have to be transported either from the port or from Sindh, defies economic logic. The natural PML-N ally given these scams is not the PTI but the PPP which may explain why action against Gilani is stayed though it is unclear whether or for how long the PML-N would be able to check NAB actions in Punjab.

Notwithstanding the policy of reconciliation the Sindh government has already reversed some of its controversial land allocation decisions at throw away prices though the PML-N has so far not focused on lack of transparency in its own shady deals. Reconciliation today is focused on riding out General Raheel Sharif’s tenure, recall Zardari’s statement that you will retire and we will be here for ever, however today’s civil society, social media as well as a citizenry with improved law and order may not allow the status quo parties to backtrack. Or such is the hope of the Pakistani public.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2015

Anjum Ibrahim, "Business of politics," Business Recoder. 2015-09-28.
Keywords: Political science , Political leadership , Political parties , Dictatorship , Democracy , Pakistan , US , NAB , PPP , CoD , PML-N , ANP , PTI , NRO , MQM