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Where’s our political wisdom?

The recent statement by former prime minister Imran Khan ruling out any possibility of forming an alliance with the PPP is being described by his detractors as a reflection of political shortsightedness.

His opponents assert that Khan’s smear campaigns against politicians in the past are one of the factors that caused his downfall. They believe that his rhetoric against the political class of the country isolated him, and when he was ousted from power, it was widely celebrated by political workers of different parties.

Khan’s critics claim that his policy of adopting a hard line against fellow politicians always boomeranged on him. In the past, Khan called Chaudhary Parvez EIahi “the biggest thief of Punjab”, but the political dynamics of the province forced him to nominate Elahi as Punjab’s chief executive. He also maligned Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid and asserted that he would not even offer him the position of a peon, but political circumstances made him go against his claim, compelling ‘the Great Khan’ to offer Sheikh Rashid the crucial position of the interior minister in his cabinet. A number of other politicians who were described by him or his party as corrupt were inducted into the PTI and, in some cases, were doled out important government and party positions.

Analysts say that in politics, there are no permanent friends or foes. Therefore, one should be cautious while criticizing his/her fellow politicians because today’s enemies could turn out to be tomorrow’s friends. They think that the PTI founder’s recent statement is politically immature because the incarcerated leader has been in hot waters for several months now while his party has been under a ruthless crackdown that has created immense difficulties for his workers.

In such a situation, a wise politician would want to look for allies instead of creating more enemies and that too by rebuffing the offers of those who are ready to voice concerns over this crackdown and sympathize with the party that is under brutal repression.

Given the fact that Chairperson of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been holding out an olive branch to the PTI for some time now, Khan’s response has come as a surprise for many political observers. They question the rationale of this statement, asserting that if Khan does not want to reciprocate the PPP’s positive gestures because the party is believed to be corrupt, why did he enter into alliances with other political parties or individual politicians who carried a dented reputation? They believe that if the PPP wins a significant number of seats and tries to form a government, it will definitely need allies. In that situation, Khan’s party might be in a position to bargain and get its genuine grievances addressed. They advise Khan to figure out whether it is the political class that is the real enemy of democracy or some other elements who have always called the shots behind the scenes.

There are other political commentators who believe it is not only the PTI that has been demonstrating political shortsightedness but almost all political parties of Pakistan lack political acumen. Prominent columnist Suhail Warraich has also accused all political parties of doing a great disservice to democracy by hobnobbing with the country’s powerful quarters. He especially targeted the Jamaat-e-Islami for becoming what he called a B-Team of General Zia. Warraich has also been advising the PML-N to be reconciliatory towards other political forces. He advocates for a fair and transparent election and cautions against pushing any political party, especially the one enjoying immense support of people, against the wall.

Warraich and other political commentators’ criticism of political parties is justified. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, when one political party decides to challenge the status quo, there are always other parties that are ready to serve non-democratic forces. In 1988, an alliance of various political parties fiercely opposed the Benazir Bhutto government, going to the extent of running malicious campaigns against her. Later it was the late Benazir who launched long marches and agitations against the elected government of Nawaz Sharif.

It is claimed that the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Altaf-led MQM also supported non-democratic forces to destabilize democratic governments. The late chief of JI Qazi Hussian Ahmed was accused of not only damaging the policies that were meant to normalize relations with India during the decade of 1990s but also providing much-needed relief to the late Parvez Musharraf who was looking for legitimacy after toppling an elected government in 1999. Fazlur Rehman was accused of being an accomplice in this; another JI leader Sirajul Haq was also criticized by his political opponents for approaching the Supreme Court over the issue of the Panama Papers that ensured the ouster of an elected prime minister.

For years, the MQM kept paralyzing Karachi, with the party’s founder urging patriotic generals to take matters into their own hands. He also facilitated Musharraf and threw his political support behind the general by holding massive rallies in his support. Despite his rhetoric against the powers that be, he enjoyed cordial ties with them during the rule of Musharraf.

Political parties in the West and other countries side line non-democratic forces by throwing their support behind people’s agendas. The bourgeoisie in Western Europe became powerful after extending some concessions to the working class. They improved the living standard of people, providing them with free education and decent housing besides making quality medical treatment accessible to all. The emergence of a welfare system in Europe was one of the factors that helped democratic forces in Western Europe and other parts of the world defeat monarchists, the clergy and other non-democratic forces.

In the case of Pakistan, no democratic party wants to serve people in an effective way. All of them want to facilitate only the super-rich. No party has spoken against $17 billion subsidies that are doled out to the country’s elite. For our political parties, over 60 million poor, 25 million out-of-school children, 80 per cent of people without access to pure drinking water, and millions of homeless do not exist.

Manifestoes released by political parties clearly indicate that the country’s political class is devoid of political wisdom. It wants to challenge the mighty non-democratic forces of the country but is reluctant to work with over 224 million people. It wants to be in the good books of stock exchange speculators, construction tycoons, car import lobbies, textile monopolies and conservative traders that have always welcomed every non-democratic move since the creation of this country.

If political parties really want to win the battle against non-democratic forces, they will have to turn Pakistan from a national security state into a social welfare state. They will have to come up with a concept of a state which is like a mother treating her children with affection and love, especially those who are the most vulnerable, including those living in the peripheries.

Abdul Sattar, "Where’s our political wisdom?," The News. 2024-02-01.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political dynamics , Politicians , Fazlur Rehman , Gen Musharraf , Pakistan , MQM , PTI