View from the gallery
Islamabad—Just when we thought that Parliament was overly focused on the PTI/PAT hordes, Senator Raza Rabbani came to our rescue to put the ongoing political discourse in the right perspective.
Come on, guys, let’s not fool ourselves by talking about symptoms and not the larger malaise. Raza Rabbani had a whole list of ‘let's-accept’ confessions: Let’s accept that Parliament and politicians as a class failed to deliver basic social and economic issues. Let’s accept that all of this is linked to the larger civil-military tension where institution are undergoing realignment of sorts, which we need to sort out in a positive way. Let’s accept that people share many of the views expressed by the rioters otherwise we did not have to be worried about them taking over Islamabad.
The crux of his argument was: the issue is not the message but the problem lies with the messengers and the way they plan to execute it. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri can take the credit that at least they jolted politicians out of their slumber and talked about issues that got them public attention. Who would not want three meals a day, basic social services as education, health, clean water and justice at doorstep. But who would deliver this revolution. Tahirul Qadri definitely has no credentials as he can’t even contest elections because of his dual nationality. Even Imran Khan has people around him, the Tareens, Qureshis and Aleem Khans of the world, who are anathema to classless revolution. And it is not acceptable that people should bring about these reforms through streets riots and by acting as, in the words of Raza Rabbani, “puppets and proxies” of those who can’t throw out governments through the infamous Article 58/2-b of the Constitution. We’ve had enough of the overnight solutions through technocrats.
The problem is that Parliament and successive governments are also not delivering on basic issues. The Marxist in Raza Rabbani seemed to have woken up. He blamed it on the ruling elite that monopolized power. Rigging lies in our social structure where no poor person can think of becoming a parliamentarian. “We have to retrieve our basic rights from the ruthless elite,” the jiyala in Raza roared.
Raza needed to look at his PPP colleagues sitting behind him, quipped a colleague. He would have found the cream of our feudals, businessmen and super rich sitting around him. Some like Raza who made it to the top from the PPP ranks are very few. We are not sure if Asif Zardari will not replace him with Richie-rich in upcoming Senate elections as he is prone to outspokenness and independent ideas. Even Jahangir Badr who looked like you and I in 1980s gives billionaire looks in his branded suits and snake leather shoes. Where is democracy within their dynastic parties, one may ask.
It’s worse in the PML (N). Nawaz Sharif came to power because he gathered a stable of turncoat ‘electables’ from the same ruling elite. How can he expect them to work against their—and Nawaz Sharif’s--class by bringing about a revolution. After all, Nawaz Sharif is the beneficiary of the patronage system perfected by Shahbaz Sharif through ‘thana-katchehri.’
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was seen taking notes, which made us wonder if he had the capacity and will to makes drastic changes, let along bring about a revolution. Some say you can’t change your nature at 65. We keep our fingers crossed as we don’t know. What we know is: it can’t be done through archaic trickle down theories and better account-keeping of Ishaq Dar. Somebody needs to think beyond building roads and bridges—and soon.
Raza Rabbani painted a scary scenario that should have jolted his colleagues. He was right that Parliament may have won a battle by puncturing the PTI/PAT balloon but the war was on. Nobody should think that this will not happen a few months down the road if politicians as a class did not correct themselves. It was too early to discuss post-crisis situation as the crisis was not over. Only a united and empowered Parliament can save the government—provided it mend its ways.
For a start, the government needs to devolve power. What stops it from holding the local bodies polls? Shahbaz Sharif should curb his infatuation with political control and give way to social welfare through local tiers. As one of the key architect of the 18thAmendment, Raza reminded Islamabad’s obligation to give to the smaller provinces (50% share in provincial resources) what was promised in the new Amendment. He was right that this would empower Chief Minister Dr Maalick against the Baloch insurgents.
Imran Khan can take the credit that he introduced better democracy in his party and gave chance to sizeable ordinary workers to become parliamentarians. But he seems to lose that moral authority. Javed Hashmi had a point that he could not be overthrown as the elected PTI president and Imran could not overrule his senior colleagues like a dictator. But then we are stuck among a troika where a skipper aspires to run this country as a cricket team, a businessman runs it like an industry and an half-feudal is out (well, almost) after ruling it as a personal fiefdom.
It is only in such situations that characters like Tahirul Qadri excel. They have a solid critique but offer no alternates. The problem is that the generation that grew in Zia’s non-politicized society readily accepts their half-truths and quick solutions. Who wants to go through the rigmarole of contesting elections on their professed agenda and then reform the country. And there will always be takers in the establishment who will support such ‘technocrats’ for their petty gains. As if we have not seen the results of such experiments during the Musharraf time.
Sheikh Rasheed was still hopeful that the game was not over. “It’s just the first round,” he told me at the Parliament gate as he was leaving for the Supreme Court. I knew that a plan existed to welcome him with rotten eggs. Either the plan was postponed, cancelled or he caught the conspirators off-guard by appearing suddenly. Told you he was street smart. He knew that if he had given his resignation to Imran Khan it would have been accepted by now.