111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Politics of expediency

The deliberate hash of local government to reflect the diverse demographics of the ruling coalition, the PPP in the rural areas and the MQM in the urban areas of Sindh, the Sindh People’s Local Government Ordinance (SPLGO) was essentially a hybrid measure. The vertical integration of the local governments with the provincial tier was never resolved. It was condemned outright by Sindhi nationalists as a sell-out of ethnic Sindhi interests, and there was reaction even from diehard PPP loyalists in interior Sindh.

The MQM quit the coalition using as a pretext the release of PPP political activists from Lyari accused of committing heinous crimes. This caused no sweat among those used to the party’s frequent walkouts from the federal and Sindh governments over the past five years.

With less than four weeks left for the Sindh Assembly’s completion of its five year term the other political parties had reason to cry foul, alleging that this was a stage-managed ploy to enable the MQM to nominate the leader of the opposition, and usher in a friendly caretaker chief minister in ‘consultation’ with the PPP’s present chief minister in Sindh. Or is there more than meets the eye? That Governor Ishratul Ibad did not resign immediately added to the scepticism.

The PPP-dominated Sindh Assembly did not take even one day to overwhelmingly repeal the SPLGO, hardly four months after its inception. The fact is that the MQM bailed out Zardari politically by giving him a convenient backtrack to prevent Sindhi nationalists from using it as a potent election issue. Moreover, it even seemed possible that a restless PPP could implode in its own Sindh stronghold because of a rebellious Zulfikar Mirza.

To dampen his rabid ethnic fervour, Zardari probably made Mirza an offer he could not refuse. One can safely bet that SPLGO 2012 will be back in some form once the elections are over. For public consumption the former (and future) coalition partners kept going at each other hammer and tongs – the fine print probably not visible to party stalwarts lower down the ranks. The ‘fog of politics’ is far murkier than the ‘fog of war’.

PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif recently reposed full confidence in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). And why not? By vacillating about crucial issues till they have become ineffective because of the short time now available, the ECP has tacitly stacked the deck against those who could possibly replace most present legislators even if the next elections are genuinely free and fair. The elaborate mode of scrutiny of candidates under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution notwithstanding, Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim knows very well that detailed scrutiny is not possible in 15 days.

Regarding the ‘scrutiny’ by the ECP going on for the last five years, the very insistence about the short time period makes the process suspect. Incidentally, public officials all over the world must declare assets, but the Sharifs never question the ECP about Zardari being the only holder of public office in the world who does not declare his assets or sources of income.

Abiding strictly to the letter of the constitution, if not its spirit, it does not oblige Fakhru Bhai to ask such inconvenient questions either. According to declarations under oath by our parliamentarians, most are living below the poverty line; and this amounts to perjury. How many of those caught lying through their teeth under oath before the Supreme Court have been convicted by for perjury?

Discussing this curse in my article ‘True or false’ (September 2, 2000): “Most of our problems can be traced to the willingness of those under oath to tell lies with impunity, to forge documents, to erase, alter, deface, mutilate etc, evidence as may be required.

For personal gain, whether monetary or otherwise, false representation of facts and distortions, a gentlemanly phrase for ‘outright lies,’ is the order of the day. In the Oxford Dictionary perjury is ‘an act of wilfully telling an untruth when on oath.’ Simply put, a perjurer is a criminal and, in most countries, perjury carries exemplary punishment, painful enough for people to avoid giving false statement under oath.

On the other hand, our frustrated common citizen very rarely consents to bearing witness, for fear of being persecuted by the forces of evil.” The legal history of the developed world shows that the decline in corruption there has been commensurate with repeated convictions due to perjury.

Recalling the sorry history behind the bribery and corruption sustaining the feudal system in my article ‘The genesis of corruption’ (November 15, 2000), I wrote: “Uptil 1857, the British bribed their way into power across South Asia by seducing recalcitrant individuals among the close relatives/associates of various rulers.

After 1857, they created a new ‘loyal’ elite by distributing vast tracts of land that became theirs by default of having defeated the vestiges of the old Mughal Empire, generously gifting away land that did not belong to then in the first place. This new landed gentry owed their loyalty to the British Raj. Aping their customs and traditions these loyal feudals helped the core white British community of 300,000 civil servants, soldiers, etc., rule a vast country of several hundred million people.”

Quite a number of our politicians in Pakistan are for sale to the highest bidder. Asif Zardari is at his devious best exercising the politics of compromise, but it is in the politics of expediency that he has truly excelled, successfully clubbing together rural feudals, urban socialists and religious parties, along with political opportunists, despite vehemently opposing ideologies: a patented Zardari’s ‘horses for courses’ solution.

The people continue to suffer under atrocious governance, which is deliberately resorted to by the rulers in order to promote feudalism, and keep it alive, well and flourishing. The local bodies system, being the antithesis to feudalism, has no chance in this country. How can feudals ever allow the representatives of those they consider serfs to rule?

Gen Kayani has a dream – of free, fair elections. He must be commended for his strong belief in democracy and maintaining that it is “the prerogative of the people to elect competent or incompetent rulers.” His soldiers need to be commended for being blindly loyal to their chief who has successfully kept a corrupt government in power for five long years.

The last time an army chief ‘dreamt’ of free and fair elections – in 1970 – the dream turned into a nightmare for this country. The country as it then was ceased to exist the following year. Will history commend those in uniform today for ignoring the corruption rife around them, with politicians spending enormous amounts of illegal money thus acquired to win ‘free and fair elections’?

Rampant feudalism keeps us prisoners in the heart of darkness. The real question is whether those who should will ever see the light before this country plunges permanently into a dark abyss?

One can remain deaf and dumb for democratic reasons but closing one’s eyes to the rampant corruption that exists is going ‘above and beyond the call of duty’. Remember the saying in the army: ‘Better wake up!’

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

Ikram Sehgal, "Politics of expediency," The News. 2013-02-28.