If there was any hope that the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharifs telephone call to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani may lead to rapprochement between the by far two largest political entities in the country, it turned out to be short-lived. The Shahbaz Sharif initiative didnt even help in fence-mending between the PPP and PML(N), and if anything the mistrust was enhanced.
For the PPP, the provocative part in the proposal was extending an invitation to the army and the judiciary to sit on the same table as politicians of all hues, according to the younger Sharif, to discuss the challenges faced by the country.
The proposal, sandwiched between Nawaz Sharifs call in November last to draw up a new social contract with the people through dialogue between the politicians and other stakeholders (again the army and the judiciary) and the PPPs offer of a round table conference, was contentious for the PPP on two counts. First, from the PPPs viewpoint, it was implicit in the proposal that the PML(N) thought that the army and the judiciary were on its side. Second, by including the two power centres, the PML(N) was ensuring that, if a deal was reached, these would act as guarantors.
Regardless of the need for the Pakistani state to have a new social contract with the people, if Nawaz Sharifs pitch could not find acceptance with the PPP and its allies only four months ago, Shahbazs initiative wasnt likely to be palatable now especially when the PPP has been thrown out of the Punjab government, replaced with the so-called Unification bloc, and threats of long march being hurled at its federal government.
Given the oblique manner in which things happen in this country, the PPP leadership may also have deduced that the move might have been sponsored by the quarters that these days seemed to be engaged in cobbling together an alliance of the rightist parties to pitch against it a la the four elections between 1988 and 1997.
(The hyper activity of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, the Pir of Pagara suddenly coming out of the closet and play the impeccable host to all sorts, even attempting to revive the talk of unification of the Muslim League under his banner, not point at attempts to bring another IJI into being?)
That part of our infamous history aside, the army with the agencies footprint so ubiquitous and the judiciary have already cornered too much space between them by stiff-arming the politicians. At the moment, the establishment already has the entire national security apparatus under its thumb, absolute control on tackling terrorism in the country and the most critical segments of foreign relations (strategic dialogue with the USA, and the policy on India and Afghanistan). That is not all. It also holds a veto over who will be the federal finance minister, thus having a direct say on the finances of the nation.
The pro-activism of the judiciary has focused on having hegemony on manning the bench, especially in its higher echelons. It accepted the parliaments sovereignty but only grudgingly. Rightly or wrongly, the perception of the federal government is that it is partial against it.
In this backdrop, the PPPs thumb down to the idea was more or less inevitable.
The PPPs concerns aside, is it not moot that the myriad problems that the country is now burdened with were in the first place the direct result of the military and judicial establishments intervention over the years in affairs that should have remained beyond the pale for them?
But could it be that this proposal was posed not to spawn a grander scheme of national resurrection but to find some face-saving resolution to the pestering issue of Raymond Davis.
With the US diplomatic pressure being brought to bear on the Punjab government these last couple of weeks, for Shahbaz Sharif there would be incentive in sitting on the same table with other politicians and the army and judiciary to facilitate the flight of Davis under one pretext or another with the dispensation under his watch absolved of all responsibility?
The PPP and the PML(N) recent falling out apart, the two largest political parties of the country working in unison is of critical import for the survival of the system. Particularly because, unless engineered, the next elections, whether this year or next, are likely to return them with more or less the same mandate. The solution to all that is wrong and iniquitous thus lies with the leadership of these two parties and not elsewhere.
The writer is Sports and Magazines Editor, Pakistan Today.