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The minimum Pak politicians must deliver

world Updated: Feb 25, 2008 22:31 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Yet again, the people of Pakistan have given their politicians a chance to govern. The numbers dictate a PPP-PML (N) alliance, with the onus squarely on PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to make the experiment work.

In October 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup, not many tears were shed by the people of Pakistan. Their understanding was that the PML (N) leader had done precious little for them.

By forcing the two main parties into an alliance (whose longevity will be an issue), ordinary Pakistanis have sent a signal through the February 18 elections that they want to strengthen civilian, constitutional rule.

As noted by historian Ayesha Jalal, a prime minister in Pakistan has to play the role of “leader of the opposition” vis-à-vis the army; an analogy that continues to remain valid in the country just as it was in 1988 when Benazir Bhutto became PM.

Politicians in Pakistan have messed up big time even as they were boxed in by aggressive military chiefs, who believed that they, and not civilian leaders, were more adept at running the nation.

Civilian leaders have been preoccupied with their egos, making money, thinking of themselves as invincible.

If they want to permanently keep the faujis away from the gates of power, then Zardari, Sharif and the Awami National Party’s Asfandyar Wali Khan, whose party has performed brilliantly in the Frontier province, must get their act together.

Many Pakistanis believe that a coalition arrangement will not work.

Given past experience, one can’t really blame them for such an assessment. But the situation demands a departure from the past, a new approach and new way of thinking.

The onus is on Pakistan’s political parties. After all the chaos of the 1980s and 1990s, politicians must assert themselves to build institutions, to restore constitutional rule and judicial independence. At the same time, they need to be careful about dealing with the army as an institution.

Clearly, all this hasn’t been done before. Yes, there are contradictions between the approach of the PPP and the PML (N) on what to do with Musharraf or how to go about restoring ousted Chief Justice Ifthekar Chaudhry.

All reports coming in suggest that Makhdoom Amin Fahim will be Pakistan's new PM. The onus will also be on him: how well he works the coalition and handles relations with Zardari as party boss and Nawaz Sharif as PML (N) leader.

Simply put, the politicians have yet another opportunity to democratically run Pakistan. In the past, their bickering and vindictiveness towards one another had strengthened the army.

On this occasion, no “cases” are to be opened — at least between the two main political parties. The leaders have to seize the moment, stretch their imagination of what is "doable" and, hopefully, set Pakistan on a democratic course.

It’s the minimum the people of Pakistan demand.