Published On: Sat, Feb 16th, 2019

Playing politics with the system

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FG.jpegBy Faizah Gilani

Parliament in Pakistan resembles current affairs shows aired on prime time, with people screeching on the top of their lungs, trying to prove a point. This is how the debating culture has evolved in to over time, and it has become so firmly entrenched, it is unlikely to change. But it is also very unfortunate. Parliament is where real issues should be raised and debated. Sadly, we are beginning to see Parliament turn in to a punching bag, with the platform being used solely to settle scores and belittle each other. Of course, it is natural for tempers to flare up and individuals can find themselves exchanging a bit of banter. The best example of this is the political set up in the United Kingdom, where Members of Parliament (MPs) often use the opportunity to take digs at each other. It can often become noisy, sometimes over the top. But there is a line which is never crossed. We do not see MPs using abusive language towards each other or hurl personal insults. But this is what we have been witnessing in Pakistan over the years and it appears to be getting worse. For this, everyone from government and opposition, to the media, are responsible.

Ministers have developed a habit of yapping on at length, without any real reason or rhyme, just to vent out and target individuals. Some PTI (Pakistan tehreek e-insaf) ministers are infamous for over the top rambling and aggressive tone. No surprises that this includes the young outspoken Murad Saeed, and the very blunt Faisal Vawda. But of course, this is not to suggest that the government is solely to blame for the breakdown of Parliamentary etiquettes, although one would expect the government to set the right tone. But opposition is no less. With the constant use of the phrase, “selected Prime Minister,” that too from seasoned ministers, the opposition is equally guilty of turning Parliament into some sort of circus. Very recently, Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif used the opportunity to hit out at Prime Minister Imran Khan, with the use of some unnecessary and petty digs.

And a recent development has threatened to create more unrest within Parliament, even potentially threatening to hinder how it functions. Shahbaz Sharif is not only the leader of the opposition, he is also PAC chairman (Public Accounts Committee). And this is despite NAB cases of corruption against him. The government had initially allowed Shahbaz Sharif to hold the position but are now demanding for his removal from the post. Their reasoning comes off the back of Aleem Khan’s recent arrest and resignation from the position of senior Punjab Minister. Sharif, facing similar charges, has attended PAC’s meetings. On paper, it is straight forward. Shahbaz Sharif faces corruption charges and unless his name is cleared, the morally correct action to take would be to step down from the position. This is what one would expect in any democratic set up. However, the democratic set up in Pakistan is complex and neither smooth sailing nor entirely democratic. Calls from the government for Shahbaz Sharif to step down makes sense, expect for one thing – why did the government allow him to take it up to begin with?

The corruption charges have been ongoing. It is nothing new. And yet PTI seemed comfortable to go along with it. But the sudden change in their stance and the forceful approach that has been taken up raises some doubts and question marks. Critics and even opposition members are seeing this on a more personal level, than anything else. There also appear to be divisions within PTI over the PAC position, where some feel that Shahbaz Sharif as Chairman would not make much of a difference, whereas others strongly oppose it. There might be two camps within the party, but the opposition is very clear on its stance. Both PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) and PMLN (Pakistan Muslim League Noon) have warned of a strong reaction if Shahbaz Sharif is removed from the position and have in plain simple words warned the government that opposition would not allow parliament to function, in the event of Shahbaz Sharif’s removal. Senior and seasoned PPP member Khursheed Shah recently reiterated the opposition’s warning of bringing parliament to a halt. It is interesting to note how both political parties have joined forces to stand as a towering wall in front of Imran Khan’s government. Up until yesterday, PPP and PMLN were at loggerheads and ready to drag each other by the collar. But today they stand united. This is politics, where there are no friends or foes – just opportunities. And both PPP and PMLN are doing exactly what any opposition would do. They are trying their level best to ensure that nothing is smooth sailing for the government. However, it is rather disappointing to see PPP, the political party that has always stood in favour of democracy and a stable system, suddenly ready to sacrifice the functioning of parliament for Shahbaz Sharif’s PAC position. One can understand why PMLN is taking this stance. It is natural for them to defend their party leader, and present this as a matter of principle. But PPP ready to bring down the system just so that Shahbaz Sharif remains on his post, is quite astonishing.

Of course, it is not that simple. Let us not forget that there is no love lost between the two parties, and their union is simply a matter of convenience. However, it is unfortunate that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, generally regarded as politically calm and composed, is willing to sacrifice parliament over this issue. Self-proclaimed champions of democracy are now the ones ready to ditch it, over political point scoring. Pakistan is in a crucial phase in this point of time, and there is a lot at stake both domestically as well as internationally. Pakistan is finding itself in a rebuilding stage, trying to fix a fragile economy, grappling with social issues, as well as finding its footing on the international arena. Things have not been easy for the country and current state indicates a bumpy ride ahead. The last thing Pakistan needs is a lockdown of parliament, and a non-functioning system. Some voices from within PTI have argued that regardless of Shahbaz Sharif’s fate as PAC chairman, either way, the opposition will not allow things to function smoothly.

This might be the case, and it might hold some truth. But it does not mean that such a risk should be taken. Recently an attack on India’s army base in Indian Occupied Kashmir has once again flared up tensions between Pakistan and India, with Narendra Modi threatening Pakistan of severe consequences. And with upcoming elections for India, let us expect tensions to rise over this incident. Here is hoping that the opposition does not play politics at a critical time when everyone is desperately needed on the same page. Chairmanship for PAC is not as important as Pakistan’s future, its national security. Political parties will always play politics, that is their job. But somewhere a line must be drawn. No politics should be played with the stability of the nation. Shahbaz Sharif and co have every right to complain and protest what they feel is injustice towards them. But they must refrain from deliberately damaging the system and halting the proceedings of parliament, and the government will have to show some flexibility as well. Because at some point, both the government and opposition are going to have to sit down shoulder to shoulder and communicate over several issues. Times ahead for Pakistan are going to be awfully tricky.

 

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