Power plays | Pakistan Today

Power plays

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The government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is enjoying power. This cannot be said for the people whom he governs.

Power is what this government has been all about from the day it came into power. President Zardari is often heard talking about the strength of his government in terms of the number of high offices bagged by PPP. As he says, it is for the first time that PPP has its president, prime minister, speaker of the National Assembly, Chairman Senate. Power flows through these offices, goes the argument, and such power becomes a conduit for the accumulation of further power. The logic is linear while being circular: keep the reins of power in your hands, and use it to consolidate the power base through the use of – well – official power.

Hence the PPP’s desperation to control the Senate. Such a control would enable them to control legislation, thereby giving the PPP the power over lawmaking. Extend the argument further, and the next obvious power is the power over the constitution. While the PPP may not be able to amend the constitution, it would have acquired the power to block any constitutional amendments. That is still a lot of power to wield in a political system welded to the naked use and abuse of official power as a means to get more power.

While all this may be great for the PPP, it is terrible for Pakistan.

Here’s why: Machiavellian politicking is as old as Nicolo Machiavelli. The principles may still hold true after all these centuries, but the times have changed. Pursuit of naked power was an acceptable goal in itself in an era when men reigned supreme over institutions, and a king’s word was law. Losing power usually meant losing your head – literally. But then a strange thing happened. The art of politics evolved into the science of governance. Societies – especially in the West – matured as they passed through stages like the Reformation, Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Through war and revolution, and bloodletting and fratricides and through a ferocious battle of ideas, Western societies began to learn lessons and frame new rules of governing themselves. National and international institutions and structures began to take shape, giving birth to material and intellectual progress.

The pursuit of naked power as an end in itself began to be frowned upon.

But here in Pakistan we seemed to have missed out on these changes. The concept of power remains a medieval one. Zardari would have felt right at home in the court of Loius XVI of France or Henry VIII of England.

The result is painfully obvious. The PPP has a whole lot of power but precious little of governance. The party will succeed in controlling the Senate, but fail in controlling a sinking economy. Zardari and Gilani have succeeded in stitching together a solid parliamentary majority, but have failed in welding together a broken bureaucratic structure. They are able to stare down the military and judiciary, but still cannot put an end to torture and killing in police lockups.

Do they care? Is their vote bank threatened? Are you kidding?

It’s not really hard to guess why. The PPP power players will not suddenly turn into radical ideologues. They are hard-nosed realists who know very well what happens when they are on the receiving end of other power players. They get bludgeoned because naked power is best used as a blunt-edged weapon. They have swum through a river of fire to reach where they are, and the last thing they want is to be thrown back into the fiery waves.

Good for them. Bad for us.

The entire power paradigm in Pakistan is skewed. But power players are so firmly locked into it that no one dare tinker with it for fear of being devoured by it. And perhaps the requisite pressure to do so is also not there – yet. Such pressure is normally a result of an avalanche of ideas which in turn sketch out broad parameters for a new paradigm. Put simply, you need a Rousseau or a Voltaire to prepare the ground for a French revolution.

Is the groundswell there for a new paradigm in Pakistan? Anecdotal evidence may suggest so, but such evidence is usually flimsy. PPP is certainly not the lone player that pursues naked power. The land of ours is littered with big and little Caesars waiting to pounce on any opportunity for power play. The concept of power for public good remains a concept in Pakistan, finding mention in books and official documents. It has to take root in the public consciousness before it can translate into genuine pressure for reform.

Political change may happen overnight, but historical transformations take time.

The writer hosts a primetime talk show on ARY News. He has worked as Director News of Express News and Dunya News and Editor The News, Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @fahdhusain

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  1. Ali said:

    Wonderful article. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. And so was the last one. Really glad you found the guts to talk about the lack of accountability in media in the last article.

  2. asim said:


    1. "Political change may happen overnight, but historical transformations take time".
    For historical transformations you will have to take bold steps then benefits can be seen within a short peiod of time. This can not happen with the current definition of democracy.i.e rule of 1% .
    Historical transformations are bound to come once goals & objectives are clear.The committed leadership plays a vital role in this journey.

    2. Your argument " the power over the constitution"as goal of PPP does not convience me.
    PPP is doing whatever they want in present setup so why change constitution.?
    You think they will introduce the clause "Criminals & people with corruption allegations " are not allowed to rule pakistan or rule pakistan?
    There is unique moment in the history of pakistan now all top management executive of pakistani governement are criminals having served in jail. Look at the figures.
    president, PM, interior minister, governors etc all honored.

    I think PPP really needs to amend the constituition to accomodate them.

    3. Qustion # How the CJ interprets this form of democracy? Is this consistent with articles enshrined in the constitution? CJ knows the best LAW.(My assumtion)

  3. SHAHID said:

    I agree with this that real "transformation" will take time. With public awareness growing and people becoming aware of their rights it will, with the passage of time as democracy in Pakistan will be matured, become harder for political families to keep things fully in their hold like at present we can see President Zardari and Nawaz Sharif both are desperately trying to. Ultimately they are to give up. And they will have to. If they won't and will stubbornly try to stick to the status quoe they will fall down in the eyes of people. People wont vote them to power like they used to in the past or like powerful political families until now had this thought imbued in their minds that they (people) would. Sooner they know it better it would be for them.

    However, I have to disagree with this notion that "people" are not enjoying. Truth in my humble view is other way round. Growing number of people in Pakistan are embracing life in happier way then ever before. With economy growing -Pakistan -Al hamdo Lilha- has fastest growing middle class in the region. Poverty level is coming down though still there is need it's pace must be fastened. And that's where present Govt. lacks.


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