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The best government

If the federal law minister is to be taken at his word, the Swiss authorities are not going to reopen money laundering cases against President Zardari. This may be either for the reason that these cases have become a past and closed transaction under the Swiss law or because Mr Zardari, being the head of a state, enjoys sovereign immunity. Indeed, a big cause for jubilation for the countrymen, as our beloved president will not have to face a trial offshore!

However, we’re such an unfortunate nation that we always have a fly in the ointment and good news seldom comes to us without a tinge of apprehension.

In the instant case, the possibility is that the same cases may be revived once Mr Zardari vacates the office of the president. In view of this and taking into account the tremendous services rendered by Mr Zardari, this writer is of the humble view that the former may be elected president for life, so that the sword of Damocles hanging over his head in the shape of graft cases – both at home and abroad – is removed once and for all and he continues to steer the ship of the state for years to come.

The president has a long list of contributions to his credit – not only to the nation but also to the art and science of government. Enumerating the same is beyond the scope of this write-up. Therefore, only a few of these can be referred to.

The country we live in is full of fools, who labour under the delusion that a political setup is a contrivance for achieving some collective objectives, such as robust economic growth, a high standard of living for the masses and, at the very least, protecting the life and liberty of citizens. A government has to be judged not by its form but by its performance.

In particular, a popularly elected government ought to work for the greater good of the people. Mr Zardari, however, has turned all such ridiculous notions on their head and conclusively established that democracy is an end in itself and not a means towards an end; that the-be-all-and-end-all of a government is to complete its tenure; and that the political system reaches its nirvana the moment a political party is elected to power.

Subsequently, what it does and what it fails to do is beside the point. Following Mr Zardari, we can all say, of course with apologies to the poet Robert Browning, that “An elected government is in office, all is right with the nation.” Therefore, let no one pass any judgement on the acts of the government. Let no one question its misdeeds and bad governance. Let no one suspect its intentions. For that will amount to conspiring against democracy.

Policymakers and political economists all over the world, particularly in the west, have locked horns on the size of the government: whether a big or small government is in order. The neo-liberals argue that the least government is the best government, because it allows the market mechanism to work itself out unhindered paving the way for rapid economic growth. The counter view is that the government should lead the efforts for socio-economic development, because left to itself the market will end up in failure.

However, both neo-liberals and their opponents agree that the government must be effective. It goes to the credit of Mr Zardari and the party he heads that they have made it loud and clear that the best government is neither slim nor fat, neither small nor big, but one that does nothing – a laissez-a-faire government, so to speak.

People may face a choice between starving and selling their children. Poverty may drive them to kill themselves or others. Gangs and mafias may run rampage and cartels may rule the roost. The economy may go downhill. Public sector enterprises may be on the brink of collapse. State finances may be in straits. Industries may be forced to shut down. Energy shortage may assume dangerous proportions. But the party in power is only supposed to twiddle its thumbs.

For when it comes to addressing public grievances, inaction is this government’s greatest virtue. By all means, the world has a lot to learn from us.

A few years back while she was facing money laundering cases in Geneva, it dawned upon the late Benazir Bhutto that more than anything else the nation was in need of grand reconciliation. Fortunately, the then President Pervez Musharraf, cornered by the lawyers’ movement, shared her vision and the two translated the same into the famous National Reconciliation Ordinance, the jewel in the crown of both the establishment and the popular leadership.

That said it’s easier to begin a long and difficult journey than to complete it. Our hats off to Mr Zardari for taking the policy of grand national reconciliation co-started by his spouse to its logical end. The manner in which he has cobbled together the ruling coalition testifies to his statecraft.

On top of that, he has let it be known to the world in so many words that a country’s survival and salvation, progress and prosperity, consist in religiously following the policy of reconciliation, in agreeing to let bygones be bygones and in casting off from a people’s collective psyche the tales of massive loot and plunder by the high and mighty, which of course have no correspondence to reality. While cynics may put his reconciliation policy under question for the reason that it has made the nation worse off, their view hardly matters.

Politicians are notorious for turning back on their word. They promise the moon to the people and in the end even take away whatever the poor have. That said it goes to the credit of Mr Zardari that he has been as good as his word. He has demonstrated how promises should be kept and deals honoured. The only condition being that things should be done in their own good time. One doesn’t become guilty of turning back on one’s word merely because one is playing for time.

Alas, Mr Nawaz Sharif failed to discern this and parted ways with Mr Zardari! The two leaders have much in common: both are known for their unflinching commitment to democracy and uncompromising contempt for despotism. Both were wronged by dictators, have rendered enormous sacrifices for the cause of democracy and have high stakes in the continuation of the democratic process. Both believe in the rule of law and look down upon abuse of power. The only difference is that while Mr Zardari has the patience of a saint, Mr Sharif is wont to jumping the gun.

The Constitution of Pakistan debars a person from holding the office of the president for two consecutive terms. It’s unfortunate that, while the 18th Amendment removed the restriction on serving as prime minister thrice, it didn’t touch the condition relating to the office of the president. This only brings out the selflessness of Mr Zardari, who was in a position to get the constitution amended to his heart’s desire. However, in politics it’s never too late. Let’s hope and pray that the PPP returns with a two-thirds majority and makes its supreme leader president for life.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. com

Hussain H. Zaidi, "The best government," The News. 2013-02-18.