The general impression in the media about Monday’s meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and the PMLN leader Mr Nawaz Sharif was that it broke no new ground. One TV channel was so upset that it called the meeting a “zero”. It is true that nothing radically different was visible — after the meeting — in the past tenor of the PPP-PMLN relationship. It would be interesting to find out what the media wanted the meeting to achieve.
Some anchors could not hide the fact that they had nursed negative expectations from it. They wanted Mr Sharif to challenge Mr Zardari and put conditions before him that would end the latter’s alleged dominance in the country’s governance and possibly get from him a credible pledge about sacking a number of ministers. The anti-PPP media did not spell out what it wanted from the meeting of the two party bosses, but they kept talking about the “unconstitutionality” of the NRO, corruption in the government and a sell-out of national honour to the US while accepting the Kerry-Lugar law.
For them the meeting was a damp squib. They, and the “guests” they brought to the talk-shows, kept “advising” Mr Sharif to stand firm and say no to Mr Zardari on all the three above-mentioned “national issues”. The more passionate of the critics relied on the “suffering of the people” at the hands of a government that could not resolve the power crisis, failed to carry out the Supreme Court orders to provide cheap sugar to the common man, and was impervious to people committing suicide. They wanted Mr Sharif not to cooperate with Mr Zardari but to deliver a Darwinist coup de grace to a government they thought was too weak to last.
The meeting delivered nothing of this. What it did deliver clearly was an assertion by the PMLN that it will not participate in the collapse of the political order created by the 2008 elections. It did not discuss the NRO which is sub judice and in the cognisance of the parliament. Mr Sharif did not ask Mr Zardari to get rid of the governor in Punjab or to say no the grant-in-aid coming in from the US, because of which, together with the IMF assistance, Pakistan’s economy still enjoys a measure of international trust. There was however a discussion of the removal of the 17th Amendment disabilities through the 18th Amendment which the parliament is already seized of.
All kinds of “conspiracy” theories flew around. Politicians who specialise in reading the tea-leaves of Pakistan’s meta-history said that both the big parties had once again decided to take dictation from America and line up together to welcome the US Secretary of State Ms Hilary Clinton whose forthcoming visit will hand over the next bit of the American agenda in Pakistan. The absence from the meeting of Mr Shehbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was interpreted in the same context: they were punished through a blackball for having gone and met the army chief who was opposed to American aid.
The biggest item that has infused the paranoid aspects of the Pakistani state and has surfaced once again — the expected American attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities — was also not discussed. After all the hype created by the media and those who influence it, Mr Sharif thought it was not necessary for him to put Mr Zardari on notice on the subject. The Americans are supposed to be beefing up their diplomatic facilities with mercenary soldiers to make a dash for Kahuta to steal the bomb.
What Mr Zardari has achieved by inviting Mr Sharif to Islamabad is a reiteration from the latter of his resolve not to topple the government before its term. What Mr Sharif has achieved is no major shift from the political stance that has made him the most popular politician in the country. Those who think that he should do what most ordinary politicians do after becoming popular — rock the democratic boat and unleash all sorts of undemocratic forces — have been disappointed. (Daily Times)
A positive sign
Wednesday, 28 Oct, 2009
No breakthrough in Zardari-Nawaz talks No breakthrough in Zardari-Nawaz talks That the meeting between President Zardari and Nawaz Sharif did not yield any breakthrough is being seen as a sign of failure in some quarters. We have a different view. Held in a congenial atmosphere where hawks such as Chaudhry Nisar of the PML-N were excluded and where controversial subjects such as the National Reconciliation Ordinance were avoided, the meeting demonstrated a much-needed maturity among our political leaders that has not been in evidence lately.
By now, the primary political disagreements between the PML-N and the PPP are well known: the PML-N wants the anti-parliamentary presidential powers enshrined in the 17th Amendment revoked and the bar on a third-term prime minister removed, while the PPP argues that partners such as the ANP and MQM need to be won over by the PML-N for a constitutional amendment package. Add to that the reluctance, as some believe, of President Zardari to give up powers he currently enjoys and it is easy to see why there has been an impasse for several months now.
But concentrating on the differences between the two parties can lead to the mistaken conclusion that they are inevitably on a collision course. There is at least one important point of agreement between President Zardari and Mr Sharif specifically and their two parties generally: the need to protect democracy against extra-constitutional forces. In this regard, it is significant that in the wake of the army’s public objections to the Kerry-Lugar bill, Mr Sharif has elected to meet President Zardari. That it was not just the two leaders but high-powered delegations from both sides that met on Monday has sent an unmistakable signal: the politicians want the space to sort out their disagreements for themselves. This is how it should be; keep the channels of communication between the largest political parties open at all times and present a united front in the face of unwanted interference from the non-parliamentary forces.
Nevertheless, we also feel that the PPP and the PML-N need to strike a deal on the constitutional amendment package sooner rather than later. Political instability is an unfortunate fact of life here, and the longer the matter is drawn out, the more it will encourage mischievous elements outside the PPP and PML-N and hawks within to goad the leadership of the two parties onto a dangerous path of confrontation. While meetings and summits are good, they also need to yield results. There is agreement on the broad parameters of constitutional changes; President Zardari and Mr Sharif need to compromise on the peripheral issues for the sake of the bigger picture.