By Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, New Age Islam, Islamabad
20 May 2013
Elections in Pakistan are over. Almost all shades of political parties participated wholeheartedly. Like all political parties and groups with religious, sectarian, liberal, secular, ethnic, linguistic and nationalist political agendas, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban, the religious militants, also participated indirectly in a proxy manner through its supporters and directly through its bombing campaign. The mode of their participation aside, the reality is that they have performed very well in the elections.
In so far as the politicians and public is concerned, whether they realize or not, and despite their perpetual confusion, the fact is that now the election euphoria is over. All the hopes about a new dawn for Pakistan and a Tsunami which was supposed to sweep corruption and nepotism have vanished. For some, it is a new dawn for the nation; for others it is still a black dark night out there.
It is obvious that the musical chair of power was played according to its pre-written script. PML-N, a representative of the old aristocratic, dynastic , family and clan based political traditions, with a history of massive corruption, abuse of power, maltreatment of judges during their previous stints of power, has replaced Pakistan Peoples’ Party which itself surpassed all standards of corruption, political incompetence and bad governance. Thus, one problem was replaced by another. A grave realization for all the arm chair revolutionaries and desk top intellectuals, who incessantly predicted a new dawn, is that there is no new dawn. Those predicting a new dawn should now understand that change does not come through wishful thinking and erroneous rather misconceived analyses of TV anchors wildly expressing their prejudiced opinions on everything under the sun, which has become a typical characteristic of Pakistan’s unregulated and undisciplined private media.
PTI leader Imran Khan’s predictions of a Tsunami which would sweep corruption proved to be a minor flood that could not even breach the river banks. PTI performed rather well in KPK province but even there it is unable to form a government without coalition with Jumaat Islami and independently elected members. Nawaz Shareef, head of a family party, notorious for corruption and grave political follies in the past, has returned to power with a simple majority. The same nation which was crying out loud for being subjected to economic misery and political exploitation, when given a chance to rectify the mistakes of its past, has once again opted to commit the same mistakes by selecting the same old forces albeit different faces. There is no significant change and the nation has willingly accepted the old order.
This election has a few noteworthy points that Pakistanis have learnt nothing from their past and are still good at shooting their own feet; that their memory span has shrunk to amnesiac proportions and they seem to have no recollection of the past deeds of their exploiters; that every few years down the road they forget those who played havoc with their economy, law and order etc and like a forgiving mother, bestow their kindness upon them again and again; that they are quite happy with leaders who practice opportunistic politics, nepotism to the extent that their parties are managed by their immediate family members, and whose record in corruption and incompetency remains unmatched; and that they cry and complain of the misdeeds of their political leaders, however, in a masochistic manner, vote for them repeatedly so that they can rape them again and again.
Pakistan has suffered a lot due to extremism. It has become a fashion for the nation to criticize the ISI and intelligence agencies, RAW,CIA, Mossad and almost all the spy agencies under the sun, for harboring and supporting religious extremists in their designs to take over Pakistan, but the same people willingly elect the same extremists in polls. For instance, our newly returned members of parliament has many hardcore activists of sectarian and militant organizations who are well known for their violent backgrounds. These individuals were allotted party tickets by Muslim League Nawaz and other political parties. Election Commission ignored their past credentials and allowed them to contest elections. In a way this election was also contested in Punjab province only. Election in other provinces was contested under conditions resembling a battle field.
The present parliament is dominated by PML-N, primarily a Punjab based party with a nominal presence in other provinces. This is a rightist party which is enjoying the trust of extremist militant groups. These groups have whole heartedly campaigned for PML-N’s victory by ruthlessly attacking its potential political rivals and forcing them to abandon their political campaign. All the other secular and liberal political parties were brutally targeted in their areas of influence whereas PML-N was provided with a peaceful and terror free playground in their stronghold of Punjab. In return, PML-N expressed its appreciation by offering its political platform and by awarding tickets to pro-militant activists and facilitating their entry into parliament. There is no doubt in the fact that the election results are in accordance with the political agenda of religious militant groups. Those parties which were targeted during their election campaign with assassinations, bomb blasts and suicide attacks have miserably failed and those who were provided with a secure playing field returned to the parliament. The only exception being MQM which retained its position in Karachi despite incessant attacks by the militants.
Now, there are protest demonstrations in various cities against the election results. PTI is particularly active in Lahore where it is protesting against the alleged rigging by PML-N and in Karachi against MQM. Nothing will ever come out of such protests as nothing has even come out of such events. What remains as a political reality for the foreseeable future is that the national parliament is dominated by PML-N along with Punjab, the biggest province with maximum number of seats and KPK is dominated by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jumaat Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulama Islam (JUI). All of the three parties have a declared pro-Taliban stance and have contested elections on this agenda. Anti Taliban forces are licking their wounds and mourning their dead.
An important and interesting aspect of the post-election related situation is that there has been no terrorist strike by the militants. The question is why is it so? Have the militants decided to go for vacations and are enjoying their holidays or is it the fact that they are also celebrating the election victory of their supporters? It is for us, the people of Pakistan to consider. But have we ever considered such questions seriously?
In this scenario, the future direction of Pakistan shall be orchestrated by Nawaz Shareef whose two earlier stints as Pakistan’s premier and the follies he committed are not a distant memory at all. He is a confrontationist by nature and resisting the temptation to take a head on collision with state institutions will be difficult for him. Now, armed with a majority in both the national assembly at the center and provincial assembly in Punjab and while having a split opposition, it will be difficult for him to restrain himself.
The quagmire that he has to tread through in the context of economic challenges, the problems of foreign affairs and the expected mayhem in the post US withdrawal scenario will put him under immense pressures. This test of his leadership capabilities is not without its precedent in Pakistani political history. He has previously failed in such circumstances and had created situation for his eventual downfall. The question is whether he has learnt from his earlier mistakes? All of us would love to know that he has, however, old habits have a resilience of their own and my prognosis is not very positive. The real question, however, is have we, as a nation learnt, our lessons? My answer is a simple and blunt NO. We have not learnt, rather we have lost our capability to learn from our past. Unfortunately we have become a nation that has started to enjoy its predicaments and has become accustomed to humiliation. Logically and historically, nations with malaise such as these have been known to have doomed.
Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif is an ex federal minister of Pakistan and known human rights activist and specialist of Afghan and FATA conflict. He will be writing a regular column for New Age Islam.