Many are the things that man Seeing must understand Not seeing, how shall he know What lies in the hand Of time to come?” —Sophocles, the Greek playwright
“That moment will never come. The moment to give yourself to your art (dreams, political ambitions, public welfare plans) is now.”
Prime Minister: What Pakistan needs is a Soft Revolution – but I will come to that a little later in this column.
First, let me go back a little, though not too far, to December 27, 2017, to your interview with Nadeem Malik on a Samaa Television Talk Show.
It was a pleasure to watch you: a confident, calm, calculated, articulate, decisive-looking and well-prepared Prime Minister responding with assurance and personal conviction to the questions asked while sitting comfortably in your own private home in opulent surroundings and explaining to the nation your government and party’s political ideological premise and discourse in the prevailing critical circumstances. It was, indeed, a good performance. In my professional capacity and analytical judgement, Prime Minister, you appeared to be a person in complete control of yourself. Indeed, your articulation, optimistic attitude, controlled behavior and ability to communicate effectively must have been noted and admired by many of the listeners.
However, as a common citizen of this country, among millions of others, I am encountering several conceptual difficulties in understanding the full extent of your ideological paradigm explicitly stated in the said interview. Consequently, many questions come to mind and need to be raised for clarification purposes.
It is obvious that you must be aware that any statement made by a sitting Prime Minister is attributable to his/her government and ruling party’s ideological doctrine. A sitting Prime Minister’s statement is a policy statement, a blueprint of its ideological platform and overall indication of its political management, direction and modus operandi. That, in itself, is a settled issue.
It appears that in the December 27th interview, you were of the absolute view that the Superior Judiciary of Pakistan, while delivering its legal decisions, should take note of political implications that might be involved in cases regarding the country’s political elite, suspend the Rule of Law and defer the principles of dispensing absolute Justice, and carefully determine, prior to their judgments, the likely behavioral responses of the accused ruling elite. This is an incredibly amazing perspective coming from a sitting Prime Minister who is responsible for the full and complete execution of Rule of Law in the country. Allow me to say that this position does not deserve merit or acceptance on the basis of moral-ethical fundamentals of any legal system. Judicial systems all over the world deliver justice based on evidence; they don’t deliver “compassion” to the ruling elite for their alleged corruption, political mismanagement and unlawful behavior with the excuse of maintaining national “stability.” Imagine the chaos that such a doctrine would cause in a democratic society. In fact, such a political doctrine would unquestionably accredit 16th century royalty status to the so-called ruling elite of the 21st century. Is that where the 21st century democratic Pakistan should be heading?
Prime Minister: You seem to blame the Pakistan Superior Judiciary’s recent decision against the ex-Prime Minister’s disqualification as the cause of the prevailing political confusion and crisis as well as political instability in the country. Allow me to observe that that too is an incredibly flawed political view. Only last week, for example, in our neighboring country, India, an immensely popular leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav, was sentenced by an anti-corruption court to a 3 ½ year imprisonment for fraudulently withdrawing nearly $140,000 from the state treasury. India and the State of Bihar, where Yadav was once Chief Minister, faces no instability or crisis because of the court’s legal decision. In the Philippines last week, President Duterte terminated a senior government official on the charges of making 24 foreign trips in 2 years, and the President told his nation that this person was the 11th official to go because of corruption. The Philippines is not undergoing any kind of political instability due to this action. This week, South Africa’s lawmakers will deliberate on a draft procedure relating to the removal of a sitting President ordered by the nation’s highest court because of a violation of Section 89 of the country’s constitution. Again, because of this, South Africa is not in a political instability crisis. Stability is maintained when the Rule of Law prevails and democratic norms are upheld.
Prime Minister: The problem with the contemporary Pakistani landscape is that, on the one hand, we have a handful of very ambitious politicians unwilling to let go of their political economic power that they have been holding on to for decades now, and on the other hand, we have a State correcting its own political discourse and directions in a dynamic process of change and attempting to go forward. Put these two factors together and you have fire coming into direct contact with a combustible. Obviously, there is a crisis situation, a potential exploding problem. Prime Minister: Your role in this national predicament is to put out the fire by legitimate means, and to uphold the Rule of Law which is a democratic norm observed and respected all over the world. This will have to be done irrespective of your personal loyalties to your party – because you are Pakistan’s Prime Minister now.
Prime Minister: You also seem to question the apparently factual realities of the Model Town Massacre despite the television recording and Justice Baqr’s commission’s report. The same appears to be the scenario with the Faizabad episode. Would it not be appropriate for your government to make evidence in support of your view public?
The Soft Revolution: First, I’ll make a political observation in the context of the future history of this country’s incumbent rulers: It is beyond a shred of doubt that the PMLN leadership’s political career and its future historical legacy will be on trial in the coming few weeks and months. What the PMLN leadership does in bringing peace and stability in the country, how it reacts to the fast changing political ground realities in the global political arena, and how it manages the dismal economic situation on the ground in the country will impact and determine the future of the PMLN and its leadership – and that of this country. But above all, the PMLN leadership’s eventual destiny is tied up with how it transforms itself from a traditional Right-wing pro-status quo, US-West-centric and foreign assistance-dependent political party to a progressive, nationalist, self-reliant political entity and powerhouse by making fundamental reforms in its party’s democratic structure, decision-making processes and political management style, within the party and outside of it.
What today’s Pakistan needs is a “Soft Revolution.” Should the PMLN leadership be able to pull off such a transformational change in the country, this could be one of those historic moments of political management that might leave a lasting imprint on a society’s collective memory. But a “Soft Revolution” needs brave, daring and some conclusive departures from long-established political practices and mindsets, and taking head-on new challenges in domestic politics, diplomatic norms, alterations in foreign policy and in defining fresh parameters in national political management style and its substance (no more sentimental rhetoric, slogans, public perception manipulations, etc.).
The important question is: Can all of this national chaos, political mismanagement, massive corruption by vested interest groups, growing disrespect for the rule of law and fading respect for national institutions change under your watch? Can you, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the sitting Prime Minister of Pakistan, initiate the process of a “Soft Revolution” in Pakistan? You, the sitting Prime Minster, have a God-given chance. Take it or leave it! The choice is yours!
“There are moments in a person’s or a nation’s life…when collapses can be avoided, even if at first they seem inevitable. The moments which matter come and, quite often, leave without one realizing. The climatic moments break on one rather in the manner of a hurricane with a mad eye, here now, gone the same instant, but with so much rubble and ruin left in its wake. And so very many memories: memories of hurt, of disappointment, of what-might-have-beens.”
Pakistan and, you, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the sitting Prime Minister, are both at this precarious moment.