“I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves.”
Pakistan is a country of diverse cultures and traditions but has been marred by military dictatorship in its short but eventful history. However, there has been a growing feeling among a vast majority of the people that Pakistani politicians have matured and will not play perilous politics. Initially the response by the political leadership was exactly according to the expectations of the people when politicians made it clear that they might have serious differences on various issues but they would not allow democracy to be derailed once again. They would stand united against anyone who tried to capture political power by dubious means. However, the prospects of good governance and alleviation of the problems of the people have failed to match their expectation which has created confusion and despondency. This creates conditions where the entire issue of democratic dispensation could become irrelevant.
The fundamental task before any democratically elected government remains improvement in the daily lives of the people. In Pakistan the problems have remained immense which did not allow the present government to move on according to its stated goals. It was also handicapped by the experiment of a coalition setup that by and large failed to sing in tune which was not beneficial for either the government or the masses. Now that the elections are drawing near politicians, with diverse agendas, have suddenly appeared on the horizon creating more confusion and despondency. Political leaders are daily issuing damning statements against their political adversaries without realizing the consequences that could threaten our fragile democracy.
The tussle between Pakistan Peoples Party and PML-N is a normal phenomenon because they are the only natural political adversaries. However, in case the heat generated by their rhetoric crosses the limits of decency and fair play, Pakistan should prepare itself for yet another military intervention. Politicians must remember that there is a limit to everything, even to absolute freedom in politics; otherwise, they would have to blame themselves and no one else in case they are made to sit outside the political arena. For example both sides are threatening to mount long marches against one another, a scenario that is not only frightful but could also come the collapse of political institutions and the economy. In case it is rhetoric they are indulging in, it could be overlooked, but even then should confine themselves within the norms of decency. Pitting the people of one province against the people of another province, it would have a catastrophic effect for the country.
There has been talk of civil war by certain politicians, without realizing the great folly of it. Pakistan is already in a state of war. Mounting long marches might not be viewed with kindness by the military establishment whose patience is wearing thin. On the other hand, a new political party enjoying the support of young men and women is also threatening to stage what it calls a devastating long march against both Pakistan Peoples Party and PML-N.-While it is normal for bombastic jargon to be used in any election year, yet if history is any indicator, the prospect of one group of people challenging their political adversaries on the streets do not auger well for the country.
It is expected that all political parties publicise their agendas and programmes of action for the good of the people before the general elections. It is equally important that these political parties engage in healthy debates with one another and desist from mounting personal attacks. Politicians must remember that there are formidable forces who are always lurking in the dark and who will not hesitate to jump in and seize power if they feel convinced that a suitable opportunity has arisen for them to sneak in. Previously also these elements succeeded because of the foolish attitudes of our political leaders who were left with no choice but to get together after they had been overrun by forces who do not believe in the will of the people. They had to struggle for a long period of time to restore normal conditions and restore democratic system. It will be a pity if they were to forget the great sacrifices made by them and their workers in the past to bring back democratic dispensation.
It would therefore be in the fitness of things if politicians instead of taking the route to self-destruction were to join hands to safeguard and strengthen the roots of democracy in the country. Nothing that tends to derail democracy must be tolerated. While no country can progress without difference of opinion, in a civilized society the views of the majority party are allowed to prevail; the opposition, however, holds the right to protest remaining within limits. It is expected that political parties would use prudence in settling their differences.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.