From politics of right and left to politics of right and wrong
Pakistan’s political situation is becoming more complicated by the day. From the efforts to unseat the national assembly opposition leader to PML-N’s mysterious victory in the Senate (Electoral Reforms Bill), clearly more is happening behind the scenes than before the public eye.
With the general election not too far away, this is also the time when parties mobilise to form alliances for the last stretch. As political developments unfold at a fast pace, DNA talks exclusively to Senator Siraj ul Haq regarding the Jamaat, its crucial swing vote capacity in the Lower House, and how political alliances are shaping in the run-up to 2018.
Question: Of late, PTI Vice Chairman and the party’s parliamentary leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been on a mission to unseat the leader of opposition in the national assembly. He met with you recently (Friday). Did he leave a happy man?
Siraj ul Haq: Yes, indeed, I had quite thorough meeting with Shah Mahmood the other day. Naturally a number of issues of mutual interest were discussed. One of them, as you pointed out, was the matter of the leader of opposition in the national assembly. However, I’m not sure if he left a happy man in the sense that you asked.
As I explained to him, JI has a very structured process of decision making. We will have to debate this matter, just like everything else, in our shura. We will debate the pros and cons and then come to a unanimous decision.
But I can tell you now that, personally, I do not believe that changing the opposition leader is going to change anything within the system. JI is an anti-status quo party. We believe the entire system needs to be overhauled and made more people centric. And changing the opposition leader does not achieve that aim.
Having said that, if Khursheed Shah is indeed de-seated, it will not happen without JI playing a central role in the process. Our four MNAs will be crucial for any swing vote.
Q: Once again, in the matter of the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017, we saw Senate mobilise to restore one, disqualified, man to the presidency of the ruling party. Also, how did PML-N manage to pass the amendment despite its minority in the Upper House? Can you help unravel the mystery, since you are a sitting senator as well?
SH: One of Pakistan’s biggest, and most persistent, dilemmas is that our politics continues to revolve around personalities and families. As always, I request all political workers in Pakistan to scrutinise all decisions of their party leaders. It is their democratic duty. They should not blindly follow the dictates of personalities and families that hold sway over most political parties. Furthermore, I believe that the time has come for Pakistani politics to move away from politics of right and left to politics of right and wrong.
Regarding the Senate vote on the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 amendment, I’d say it was the failure of the leader of the opposition in Senate, Aitzaz Ahsan, to handle the proceedings correctly that led to such an embarrassment for the opposition. Previously, Aitzaz was always very meticulous whenever any important bill or amendment was going to be proposed. But this time, not just us, but PPP senators too were left in the dark. I do not understand why this happened, but it clearly should not have.
Q: The time for appointment of chairman NAB is drawing near. Has the leader of the opposition contacted you, as an opposition party, for possible candidates?
SH: Yes the opposition leader did ask us for a name, but that is just a formality. If all parties forward names, there will be too big a list to choose from. That is why JI does not agree with the present system of appointing the NAB chairman. It would be far better if the opposition leader called a meeting of all opposition parties, who would then hammer out a consensus on one name. Then, the respected leader could forward the name to the prime minister.
JI has long suggested a far better system of choosing the NAB chairman. The CJ of the Supreme Court head a six-member committee comprising CJs of all high courts and they should choose the NAB chairman. Politicians and political parties should be removed from the process. NAB chairman is supposed to conduct accountability. As long as he is chosen by politicians, the process will always be doubted.
Q: It was hoped that the National Action Plan (NAP) – which was formulated after the APS tragedy – would finally remove extremist, especially banned, parties from the mainstream. Yet we see a lot of them re-appearing under different names, and some now also entering the electoral arena. Your comments, please.
SH: We are duty bound to treat all citizens of Pakistan according to the laws of our land and our country. We cannot, and must not, treat our people according to the wishes and whims of the Americans or the Indians.
If a party is willing to give up arms and embrace the democratic process, we should encourage its resort to the ballot instead of bullets. I believe, and the Jamaat believes, that should transformation should be encouraged. At the end of the day, we must appreciate and practice our laws regardless of people’s affiliations.
Q: PTI, your coalition partner in KP, has suddenly demanded snap elections, even though the general election is just around the corner. Are you going to be partners in this demand as well?
SH: It would have been better if Imran Khan had taken all opposition parties in confidence rather than taking his usual solo flight. Anyhow, Jamaat e Islami sees no reason to disrupt the electoral cycle, especially when, as you said, the general election is so close.
Firstly, it would achieve nothing of note. And secondly, it would give PML-N one more reason to cry martyr. JI always believes in the democratic process and that all parties should be allowed to complete their terms. Therefore we are not going to support their call for a snap election.
Q: Is JI mulling a pre-election alliance with any party, perhaps religious parties. NA-120 gave a good example of how the centre-right religious parties split the traditional vote, especially with JI performing poorly (only 592 votes). Your thoughts?
SH: We have learnt some valuable lessons from our long experience. One, political parties benefit whenever the religious vote is split. And two, the religious party voter is very energetic and disciplined. More often than not, these voters make the difference in crucial elections. So, naturally, we are in contact with religious parties but it is too soon to reach a final decision.
And you are right our performance in NA-120 was unsatisfactory. It is clear that the voters did not take us seriously and JI failed to mobilise its vote bank. Yet our party has a very strong self-accountability process. We are now using that process to pinpoint reasons for our poor show in the by election.
Q: PML-N seems pretty convinced of a deep-rooted conspiracy that disqualified Nawaz Sharif. Do you agree with their position? Yes or No?
SH: No. Their own actions have brought them where they are.