Giving credit to PPP government, being critical — by Munir Attaullah

The brutal fact, conveniently ignored by many, is that the price of the blowback from jihad and the search for glory — directly, as in the cost of current military operations, and indirectly as in an unfavourable investment climate — is simply unaffordable for a dysfunctional economy like ours

As a sometime commentator on our political scene, my task is an easy one: all I need do is to view developments from a relatively rational perspective. More often than not, the result is likely to be somewhat different from what passes as conventional wisdom and perceived reality in our Islamic republic.

Let me begin by adding my voice to that of others that the tabling of the 18th Constitutional Amendment is indeed an important achievement by our political class. It is a welcome display of political mellowness the cynics thought was quite beyond a normally squabbling lot, and is, I hope, a harbinger of a new maturity in those much reviled hitherto. The ‘bloody civilians’ are not that useless after all, as certain quarters would like to project them to be.

The committee members must all be fulsomely complimented for working quietly and assiduously, and in the right spirit, towards the completion of a formidable task in a short period of time. And did you notice the remarkable absence of the self-serving ‘leaks’ from the discussion chamber to the media that could so easily have vitiated a consensual atmosphere? Senator Rabbani, the chairman of the committee, deserves special praise for the astute and low-key manner in which he conducted the deliberations, and kept the members focused on the task they had been assigned by parliament. This is political work at rarified levels at its best.

But, above all, our thanks should go to President Zardari and the ruling party. Without the initiative of the government, and its complete commitment to the cause, such things simply do not happen. Let us not forget here all those brilliant analysts who dismissed as fantasy the possibility that the president was serious about his commitment to relinquish his powers and strengthen parliament. Any chance such geniuses will eat at least a small slice of humble pie publicly? Forget it man. This is Pakistan.

It is one of the supreme ironies of politics that major and far-reaching decisions in the larger ‘national interest’ (Ah! there is that much abused phrase again, so subjective yet so indispensable) are often brushed aside by the general public as mostly unimportant and of minor significance.

Here, for example, is a short list of some important political successes of the present government that are not given the proper recognition they surely deserve: the president provided the necessary leadership by being the first to courageously say openly that the battle against extremists was our war and needs to be fought; Gilgit-Baltistan has been given a measure of autonomy; there is the NFC Award, a prime example of the sort of inter-provincial harmony needed for the smooth working of a federation; the government has repaired to a large extent our tattered relationship with the international community and bought the desperately needed financial support for our battered economy; a promising start has been made to tackle Baloch grievances; and now there is the 18th Amendment that promises greater devolution of powers to the provinces.

And let us not also forget the personal forbearing example set by the president when it comes to dealing with political allies and opposition alike. Is this not the first government free from the taint of petty victimisation? Has the president not always counselled patience and restraint — and acted thus — even in the most trying of circumstances? Think of all the vitriol and calumny hurled at him by the PML-N leaders and large sections of the media. What has been the president’s response? Instead of paying back in the same coin, as is the usual practice in the land of the pure, he has admirably offered in return only an inscrutable smile and an enigmatic silence that only served to send his opponents — in true Pakistani style, and much to my amusement — into further paroxysms of unbridled fury.

But all these solid achievements are dismissed and forgotten in the easy clamour for ‘good governance’ that is currently so fashionable in our media. Apparently, repairing the rickety and dangerously crumbling structure of the house is of little concern in the popularity stakes if the lack of utilities and the quality of the furnishings do not allow for a comfortable life.

Certainly, we have every right to demand ‘good governance’ from those in power and be critical of perceived shortcomings. But, as always, the opinion makers have a duty to think clearly and not mislead the public through their own confusion, inadvertent or deliberate. Here, for example, is the current parlous state of the economy — the root cause of load shedding, price hikes, and unacceptable poverty levels — the result of ‘poor governance’ (for which the government can then be blamed), or is it the cumulative consequence of factors largely beyond the control of any government? Would we really be rid of these present economic afflictions if the current set of rulers were replaced by those who would give us ‘good governance’?

The brutal fact, conveniently ignored by many, is that the price of the blowback from jihad and the search for glory — directly, as in the cost of current military operations, and indirectly as in an unfavourable investment climate — is simply unaffordable for a dysfunctional economy like ours. As a nation, have we woken up to the fact that the stark choice between guns and butter cannot simply be wished away?

I often hear the lament by our great media populists that if only our rich could be compelled to pay their fair share of taxes, all would be well. No one will deny that that would surely help government finances considerably, but will it really solve our problems? I do not think so. For, our real economic problems stem from the harsh fact that there are millions upon millions of us who are economic ciphers in the modern world and that some 70 percent of our households (I believe) have an income of less than $ 2 a day. No matter how much tax you extort from the small percentage of the obscenely rich, it will always be insufficient to subsidise even the basic needs of such large numbers.

There is no escaping the only answer: grow the economy and provide productive job opportunities. It is said there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. Perhaps the brutal hardships our people are enduring currently will make them realise that whatever policies are a hindrance in the path of this sacred national objective must be firmly rejected.

The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit

Source: Daily Times



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