Politicians’ bashing is in vogue

One should not forget that it was politicians who created this country, gifted it with constitution and revitalized a demoralized nation that had faced a humiliating defeat in Indo-Pak war of 1971.

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By Abdul Sattar

Lambasting political parties seems to be in vogue these days. The anchors’ brigade misses no opportunity to defame the parties. To many, including many self-appointed analysts, politicians are the only evils that this country is facing. It is they who promoted nepotism, cronyism and favouritism. Despite being the champions of democracy, their party structures are devoid of democratic norms and traditions. It was their ephemeral political interests that have led to the rise of sectarianism and divisiveness.

Some of this criticism is valid but putting the entire blame on politicians for the ills of our society is not justified. After all, one should not forget that it was politicians who created this country, gifted it with constitution and revitalized a demoralized nation that had faced a humiliating defeat in Indo-Pak war of 1971. Politicians also carried out landmark legislation. They not only enacted pro-workers and women laws but also abolished some of the most  retrogressive pieces of legislations that were part of the constitution. The heads of political parties should also be credited for making the 18th amendment a part of the constitution which has closed all doors of unconstitutional means of capturing power.

Mainstream political parties in early decades after the partition are blamed for delaying the constitution-making but it was not only some of the politicians who hatched conspiracies against the holding of timely elections but civil and military bureaucracy also played a major role in ensuring the delay. Some elements within the state structure did not want Pakistan to hobnob with the Soviet Union that was attracting the attention of many newly-created states. They prevented Liaquat Ali Khan from visiting Moscow despite the fact it was the communist government that first invited the prime minister to visit rather than the capitalist America. So, to appease these powerful state elements that viewed everything through the prism of security, Khan had to pay an official visit to America. Now, the very elements blame US for the ills of Pakistani society.

If we study the policies of political parties in the early decades after the creation of the country, we would conclude that they reflected political acumen of the leaders. Popular political parties advised Pakistan against supporting two colonial powers of the past—the UK and France—over the issue of Suez Canal. They vehemently resisted the proposals of powerful elements of the state suggesting that Pakistan should be a part of capitalist bloc. Politicians were also not amenable to the idea of joining western military pacts or security agreements. Two politicians—Khawja Nazim ud din and Hussain Shaheed Suharwardi—were shown the door because they did not believe that joining capitalist camp or military pacts would benefit the country.

Those who advocated joining such pacts had to regret their decision. Their hopes were dashed when Washington did not come up with any help during the Pakistan-India war of 1965. But this is what politicians had concluded much earlier. They had made it clear to the civil and military bureaucracy that was effectively running the country that Washington was not trust worthy ally and that it kept its own interests above everything else. Such alliance created a debt trap for Pakistan, which we cannot get rid of even today.

Saner politicians also urged the military junta of Ayub and later Yahaha to change their policies towards the East Pakistan. But the two dictators would not pay any heed to such advice. One of them harbourded a deep grudge against the entire Bengali community while the other resorted to brutal tactics to crush a political party that had emerged as the single largest group in parliament during the polls of 1970. The demands of Bengali masses were not something that could not resolved politically. Had politicians been allowed to tackle the situation, the country would not have been dismembered.

Politicians once again warned General Zia against jumping into US-led war in Afghanistan. It was clear then and it is also clear now that Washington wanted to avenge on the USSR for her humiliating defeat in Vietnam. It was politicians who vociferously branded Afghan Mujahideen as US proxies. It was they who warned that Pakistan would have to face the brunt of Afghan war. Today they stand vindicated. A country that did not have even a single heroin addicted in 1970, is burdened with millions of people whose lives have been ruined by this gift of a dictator. The war not only burdened Pakistan with millions of refugees but it also led to the mushrooming of arms and drugs in our society.

This historical detail is not aimed at heaping eulogies at politicians. It does not mean to exonerate them from the blunders that they committed. It is true that the policies of military dictators led to catastrophic consequences but politicians instead of reversing such policies ended up promoting obscurantist elements through their policies. For instance, there is no denying of the fact that General Zia burdened the heart of motherland with the scourge of fanaticism and extremism but our politicians also appeased the same elements by seeking their help during various polls. For instance sectarian groups claim more than 50 MNAs and MPAs of mainstream political parties succeeded in winning the general elections of 2013 after they threw support behind these would be law makers. Shahbaz Sharif and Rana Sana Ullah openly supported such extremist forces.

During the 2018 general elections not only Shahid Khaqaan Abbasi went to solicit the support of a sectarian group in Islamabad but Asad Umer of PTI also did the same thing. Political parties made local arrangements with these sectarian elements. JUI allowed a known hate-preacher to join its ranks. PPP turned a blind eye towards the activities of a spiritual leader in Sindh who was accused of being involved in forced conversion of Hindu girls. For years it went on and the PPP did nothing. The strong protest from Sindhi civil society forced the party to expel that religious leader.

Similarly, it is wrong to brand all politicians as corrupt but it is equally incorrect to dub all politicians angels. Politicians tend to put all blame on establishment, claiming the allegations of embezzlement were a fig of non-democratic forces’ imagination. If that were the case then all politicians of the PPP would be described as corrupt. In reality some of the most vociferous anti-establishment PPP leaders never faced any allegation of corruption. In the same way some of N league leaders were never accused of embezzlement or corrupt practices. So, it is incorrect to claim that all allegations of corruption are part of a sustained smear campaign launched by non-democratic forces.

Politicians need to understand that through the delivery of services non-democratic forces could be weakened. They need to question as to why they failed to provide even pure drinking water during more than 18 years of democratic governments. They would have to admit that it was their mistake to pump huge amount into capital-intensive programmes at the cost of basic amenities of life. They pumped more than 1400 billion rupees (close to $14 billion) into roads, motorways, safe city projects and metro schemes but failed to invest in the crumbling social sector that directly affects millions of people. So, while some of the claims of politicians may be correct, they equally need to do some soul searching so that they could regain the lost trust of the people.