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Sit-ins and political leadership

The recent Faizabad deadlock shows our leadership lacks the skill to formulate political options of merit

Sit-ins and political leadership

Islamabad and Rawalpindi were hugely impacted by the sit-in by followers of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) during the month of November 2017. When the negotiations did not seem to work and the compliance with Islamabad High Court orders to clear the roads and right of way became unavoidable, the government acted with its plan to use police action.

What followed was quite foreseeable given the numerical strength of protesters, scale of clandestine monetary support they enjoy and the fragile governance situation. Thus, Punjab and Sindh, alongside KP and Balochistan, faced the backlashes in the sporadic rise of sit-ins and demonstrations all along major urban intersections. But this is not the first episode of political or religious groups using sit-ins as a pressure political tactic (some even consider it as a strategy!) to meet political objectives.

The Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Awami Tehrik, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, Anjuman-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen and many other groups resorted to using this option for coercing the government to submit to their demands. Whatever the political (or perhaps quasi political) outcome of this standoff may emerge, few aspects of our political performance have become stark clear.

Most of politicians do not have a sound analysis on national issues to formulate a crisp and sound set of slogans that could become preamble of a political programme.

Our leadership, treasury and opposition, lacks the competence and skill to formulate political options of merit for the positive consideration of related stakeholders. And who can forget the movement generated by Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) to unsettle the government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 1977, which gathered momentum beyond the administration’s expectation in weeks. One is compelled to also remember the likes of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, though not a populist politician, but proficient in cobbling together alliances, manifestoes, and rallying points and compromise agendas in situations of political gridlocks.

The Faizababad sit-in offered the same challenge to the PML-N leaders to prove their worth beyond accusing the political opponents. Sadly though, none scaled up to the popular expectation of resolving the deadlock. Those who are harping about eradication of corrupt administrative practices and electoral reforms will certainly find it very difficult to lure the voters by offering old candies in any newly crafted wrapper!

The reasons behind this less-than-desirable performance of our political leadership are several. One, they have lost track of the pulse of polity they claim to represent. People of Pakistan want to know the package of hope politicians can muster and offer as a tangible option. What they repeatedly learn and observe is firefighting, be it the dengue crisis, climate change induced rain disasters, perpetually existing terror attacks or sectarian killings.

Two, politicians have become extreme cowards who do not wish to take any risk beyond status quo. None of them is prepared to emulate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who deserted the power echelon for becoming a populist leader at a time when he had no threats from the establishment.

Three, most of politicians do not have a sound analysis on national issues to formulate a crisp and sound set of slogans that could become preamble of a political programme. Look at the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf leadership which talks about lack of accountability and spiraling corruption ad nauseam but does not tread an inch beyond this line.

Four, no party has a workable solution to the countless economic woes of people and long term economic performance of the country. The present government is hell bent upon only doing the basics. It believes in borrowing, begging and fetching funds from donors, Chinese administration and the Arab world to ward away impending economic disasters.

Almost all natural disasters provided the government an opportunity to beg for more funds. The heavy spending on establishment, non-development heads of public sector and contractually conducted sectoral projects continue unabated. On a slightly better note, the PML-N is pro-trade and pro-business. However, its recent track record has been marred by diverting huge subsidies to the choice sectors only for petty political gains.

And five, the core matter of bolstering elected local governments has been staved aside by almost all the political parties. The previous People’s Party regime that championed 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill has worked hard to over concentrate political power in hands of a few provincial ministers and their invisible peers. The PML-N is allergic to discuss the merits of local government as it is termed a subject that will trigger further divide within the party ranks on the matters of ticket distribution. The PTI has let down people of KPK on this vital count throughout its years in power after the 2013 elections. And upcoming political forces are seemingly unprepared and confused to have a clearly derived opinion around this vital subject.

It is surprising to note that politicians, who claim to be ultimate democrats, wish to keep ordinary people deprived of the opportunity to elect ward councilors to deal with common issues of their daily lives. They also fail to answer us as to how new ranks in political leadership shall merge given the fact that no credible party elections are held. With centrally controlled oligarchies that the parties are, it is impossible to imagine leadership going beyond a few dynasties.

A cursory look at our national scenario shall inform that important rallying points are stark apparent. Making Pakistan a dependable context for business, trade and manufacturing, conserving farming by preventing impacts of disasters, reforms ensuring access to justice for all, radical changes in foreign policy to enhance neutrality and secure adequate space for independent decision-making, re-building educational and healthcare infrastructure, combatting terror and making polity capable and professionally-oriented, reviving local government towards a credible service delivery organisation, spreading direct taxation net around rich and powerful are few mentions.

Communication experts within the parties can transform commonly understandable rallying phrases, if and when their leadership agrees to it. Otherwise, the already feeble link between the voters and voted will dwindle and eventually sever.

And above all, the political strategists need to work out non-violent and non-disruptive ways of protest, and even pressurising. In the game of one party pinning down the other, the non-state actors gain the best deal.

Dr Noman Ahmed

Noman Ahmed
The author is Chairperson of Department of Architecture and Planning at NED University, Karachi. He can be reached at [email protected]

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