Words of caution

Editorial Board
Saturday, Apr 20, 2024

In his first address to the joint session of parliament on Thursday, President Asif Ali Zardari emphasized the need for political reconciliation, meaningful dialogue, parliamentary consensus and fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect – cautioning that we have little time to waste. Ironically, the president’s address was marred by a noisy protest in parliament by the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC). Despite the commotion in parliament, President Zardari made some important points regarding rebuilding public confidence in the parliamentary process, resetting the political atmosphere to attract foreign direct investment, and how terrorism is rearing its head again in the country. However, the joint session of parliament was not attended by the three service chiefs, Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM Ali Amin Gandapur. PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif was also not present. The absence of the services chiefs did raise some eyebrows.

The president’s speech was significant in many ways. By talking about political polarization and reconciliation amongst political stakeholders, the president has extended an olive branch to the PTI. This is not the first time the PPP or the PML-N have done this – offering reconciliation to the PTI. Both parties have learned this lesson the hard way, having witnessed the tumultuous politics of the 1990s and how the establishment used the two parties against each other for a decade, resulting in a coup where the two parties were left with nothing, and their leaders had to remain in self-exile. The Charter of Democracy (CoD) was the result of these lessons but was countered by the launch of Project Imran.

One of the more important differences between the ‘Purana’ politics and the ‘Naya’ politics in Pakistan could be that, while the PPP and PML-N did conduct opposition politics against each other, they didn’t convert politics into personal enmity. The PTI, on the other hand, has turned politics into a personal feud. The polarization as a result of the PTI’s politics is what has brought the country to this point as the hybrid system has strengthened into near-permanence. For a rest into representative democracy, all political parties will need to come together. At the moment, all political parties are in a race to please the country’s ‘powerful quarters’ rather than working together for the people. Some observers say that this is due to PTI founder Imran Khan’s rigid stance of not talking to his political opponents. It was a good opportunity for the PTI to form a coalition government with the PPP right after the 2024 elections but the PTI’s refusal to engage with PPP and the PML-N resulted in a stalemate. Even now, the PTI thrives in a politics of chaos and anarchy rather than dialogue and engagement, thus acting as an obstacle to a grand political dialogue. The party should pay heed to Zardari’s words of caution. Politicians learn lessons the hard way. It is not too late to hold a dialogue with the government and its allies so that parliament is strengthened, democratic procedures take precedence, and the people’s faith is restored in the electoral system.