Two years ago – February 2008 – Pakistan began its transformation to democracy with a general election that brought Benazir Bhutto’s PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) into power. The party decided to continue its policy, introduced by its slain leader Ms. Bhutto, of reconciliation with all political players. It formed a coalition government with its rival and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz) in Punjab province, ANP (Awami National Party) in NWFP province, and MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement) in Sindh province. PPP also decided to share power with those parties in the center and the idea was to create a powerful democratic government alliance that can address all the challenges faced by the country after a decade long dictatorship.
Reconciliation allowed, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, there to be a unanimously elected Prime Minister. Seats in Senate were also distributed amongst the parties according to the strength of their mandate in the National Assembly. It was unprecedented in Pakistan’s history that every party’s mandate was not only respected but many of the major ministerial positions were given to the smaller coalition partners and the opposition parties.
This unique grand coalition government used its strength to drive Musharraf out of power and resign from the Presidency. Soon after Musharraf’s resignation, PML-N and PPP alliance started to fall apart. It was considered an unholy alliance of a rightist PML-N and a Leftist PPP. The differences in ideology and manifesto along with issues related to constitutional reforms and reinstatement of judges caused a lot of friction between the two. Analyst believe that it was enmity for Musharraf rather than willingness to work together that brought the two parties together. Or some say it was PML-N’s shortsightedness, as it did not only heat up the political temperature, but hurt the chance for the democracy to flourish.
PML-N’s hawkish politics after the separation from alliance changed the whole political environment. What was seen as a real change in Pakistan’s democratic history soon turned into a political chaos. Thereafter PML-N joined the lawyers movement to reinstate the deposed judges and demanded that it be done instantly with an executive order. Ignoring the parliament they went straight to the streets to march towards the capital and force the government into accepting their demands. An infant media started portraying this as a revolution; the things started to look bad, Pakistan’s democratic future bleak, and the government seemed powerless. PML-N, playing its usual reactionary politics, brought the system to the brink of collapsing. The government at-last reinstated the judges, following its policy of reconciliation, though on the PML-N’s terms rather than its own. PPP’s government could have utilize its majority and its executive muscle effectively to resolve the issue at an earlier stage. Perhaps being out of power for fifteen years and losing its leader had made the party quite vigilant.
War on Terror
The coalition government of PPP began to put itself at a weaker position by agreeing – contrary to its political ideology – to have a dialogue with the taliban. The hawkish right-wing opposition, overwhelmed by its victory in judges restoration campaign, kept pushing PPP’s government further to the wall. PPP, not realizing the strength of its mandate, let media and right-wing parties dictate the policies. Luckily the dialogue with taliban failed as the militants, who had entered Swat, started making mistakes. The militants, who had moved closer to the population centers, were now in the eyes of the camera. Their true image was exposed as the video of flogging a young girl was televised around the world. The rightist parties toned down their rhetoric – as the taliban leaders started to denounce democracy and judiciary – distancing themselves from the policy of dialogue with the militants. Government finally reconciled at its own terms and ordered the army to conduct successful operations in Swat and surrounding areas. Effectively managing the conflict, government was successful in clearing the area from the militants and returning the internally displaced people back to their homes.
Kerry Lugar Bill
PPP’s authority was challenged when some of its own coalition members started to part themselves from the Kerry Lugar bill. As US and Pakistan were getting into a new era of partnership through an aid package by the US congress, the political parties along with media and military generals exhibited their contention over the language of the bill. This brought PPP on a defensive, its leaders clueless and defenseless to the pure absurdity of the opposing parties’ arguments against the American bill. The opposition ran out of rhetoric, media lost interest, and the debate faded away.
Reconciliation is not always a zero-sum-game, as it was proved by the coalition government in passing the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. It was a huge step in resolving most of provincial conflicts and financial problems. Many previous governments had failed to formulate a method that will be acceptable to all provinces. PPP-led government managed to get this passed with consensus and reconciliation between all players. This was one time PPP showed its leadership and political strength, to achieve one of the most important benchmarks of its manifesto.
National Reconciliation Ordinance
The politics of reconciliation seemed to have failed once again when the issue of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) came to the table. The Supreme Court had allowed the parliament to revisit all ordinances promulgated by former President Gen. Musharraf during his term. One of the ordinance was the NRO, which PPP’s wanted parliament to pass. It seemed as if the PPP-led government had enough votes to pass it, but the tide turned as MQM decided not to back PPP on passing this legislation. Not learning from the past, PPP failed to reconcile with its coalition partners or even use political arm-twisting to get this important legislation passed. Obviously it was short-sightedness on the part of MQM, but they were not the ones facing a political loss. Failing to take an aggressive stance on their policy and following a weak strategy caused PPP to lose a vital political battle.
PPP is said to be more effective and better organized when in opposition than when it is in power. This is proving to be true, as we see the party not fight for its stance, nor use its political and executive powers effectively, and act apologetic on many major political issues. As the government will be facing many tough issues in the future; such as local body elections, constitutional reforms, law and order situation, and economic policies. They must use reconciliation, and the political strength that comes from the mandate given by the people, to resolve all these difficult matters. The leadership of PPP needs to realize that it is the one running the country and it will be them who will be answerable to the people in the elections three years later. The government needs to start running the country on their terms not the opposition parties’ and definitely not the media’s. It is PPP’s prerogative to make the policies, for which it should use all its political and executive strengths, not getting dictated by other parties in the alliance or the opposition. Reconciliation is not the ultimate solution, or a silver bullet, the government in power will not be effective in governance unless it uses its strengths to maximize its political goals and follow its manifesto for which it was elected.