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Respect the game

Hindered perhaps by a combination of external factors and self-censorship, we have been using sports analogies for a while to explain the nature of politics at play in Pakistan.

Borrowing from cricket, we have often demanded, or lamented the absence of a ‘neutral’ umpire in this empire. There are also a set number of rounds in professional boxing where either a boxer is knocked down or dominates a round but each game is limited to a maximum number of rounds allowing each player equal opportunity to land better punches.

Football or soccer, as one may like to refer to it, also has set phases or sequence of a play. While the volume of possession is measured and remains an important part of debate, each match is divided in two halves and an interval – though the phases of play range from transition to build-up, progression, attack to defence and defence to attack, etc.

Our politics and players in the field of politics might follow one or the other model of attacking or knocking down their opponents, but the game has remained suspended in a perpetual transition. Every now and then one or the other political party claims, or is made to claim, victory but neither the referee nor the parties truly respect the game. Democratic governance, therefore, remains an episodic activity and reflects the sad reality of how the governing elite have failed to grasp the requirements of change management with the goal of transformation.

That is the crux of our issues. The lack of understanding and the resultant inability to learn, grow and evolve.

Respecting the game would require playing the game by set rules. It would also require discipline, the lack of which ironically earns politicians the traditional scoff. But discipline is required not just by one or the other party but for all stakeholders that must condition themselves to submit to rules. The obvious set of rules are those defined by the constitution but which are disrupted at every stage. Just because one stakeholder calls the key shots and comes out and brings one or the other on top every now and then has not translated into any victory, evolution or transformation for Pakistan. Without playing the game as it was intended to be played, it is played instead for petty agendas and short-term gains. Little surprise then when the flawed intent yields such narrow results.

It is often questioned, and for good reason, why political parties choose to play a skewed game time and again. An issue that might have been pondered over by Mr Nawaz Sharif today or by Mr Imran Khan earlier just as by players of varying popular support base across the country today or yesterday. However, there is little in the public domain to suggest that the apparently faux soul-searching has gone beyond providing disingenuous and fait accompli answers.

If fait accompli is to be accepted as the premise of all political contestation, it would logically mean the leading players having made their peace with the ‘efficacy’ of the prejudiced process. But if that is to be accepted, why is it that every elected leader leaves the elected foray fighting?

Was the fear of this familiar and foreboding incursion into his future electoral domain behind Mr Nawaz Sharif’s public, though veiled, cautioning against it in his arrival address? That might as well be why he meaningfully quoted Ghalib. But for reasons that he has apparently chosen to justify as righting the electoral wrong done to him, he has for now accepted the flawed field and decided to forge ahead and lead his party to contest an election the results of which would be called into question. A short-term gain is again guiding a national leader to make an astounding choice regardless of the larger cost to an already overstretched, accident-prone and broken system of governance.

Even though implementing and following fair rules of the game is the foremost requirement for political parties to stop the rot facing Pakistan, it is not the only lesson political parties need to imbibe.

In a familiarly dysfunctional manner, political parties have again started going through the motions of preparing their respective manifestoes in a mockery of the grassroots and continual process they are supposed to adopt in honing their policy choices when elected into government.

But key structural reforms required to turnaround the economy, rebuild society and a universal application of rule of law are clear already. What is required by parties is to give this agenda their firm commitment whether in office or in opposition. A reform process that demands sacrifices from the other while hedging own bets has caused the systemic havoc we witness today. Pakistan cannot afford more of the same behaviour from each stakeholder.

While parties seek electoral mandate somewhat as their divine right, it is also clear that when elected to power, each party has to prioritize fitness for office over loyalty. Finding familiar solutions to endemic problems has in fact landed Pakistan into deeper troubles before. Dodging the loyalty bullet would help parties self-examine and introspect the quality of available leadership within their ranks. The constitution has provided workable options for seeking, retaining and utilising expert help from outside in nearly every case, be it inside parliament and provincial assemblies or in federal and provincial cabinets.

Parties need to reinvent themselves from family and friendship closed clubs to effective organizations that function efficiently to translate policy into required actions without wasting precious time and resources. This cannot be achieved without envisioning a present and future that actively elicits, involves and engages the young people in planning, decision-making and implementation processes. Without facilitating active and meaningful engagement of the youth in our political process, parties keep rehashing a warped political reality whose demise is imminent.

The celebrated founder of humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers, has argued that unconditional positive regard by a therapist towards a client is the key to bringing effective and positive change. His theory is centred on the principle that human beings have a self-actualizing tendency and a desire to fulfil their potential that is best achieved through non-judgemental and non-directive support.

Applying this to Pakistan’s de-facto realities may show that blame-game has failed to produce any lasting solutions to our worsening problems. Perhaps an organic dialogue is the only way forward where every stakeholder willingly joins to acknowledge ground realities with a desire to move forward towards establishing a set of fair rules of the game.

Aasiya Riaz, "Respect the game," The News. 2023-11-19.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , Politicians , Parliament , Nawaz Sharif , Imran Khan , Pakistan