We should commend the Jang Group for organising a National Solidarity Conference in Lahore last week. At least, now we need no longer labour under the delusion that a formal All Parties Conference might amount to anything different.
Attended by 28 parties of all shades, this five-star occasion was additional proof of how intransigent and intolerant our politics has become. Predictably, each leader appeared interested only in hogging the media show and grinding his own axe with renewed vengeance. And damned be him who first cries, Hold, Enough!
The nationalists from Baluchistan, Sindh and the NWFP all want more autonomy. The outstanding problem, for them, is to first establish the ‘premises of the Pakistani state’ — unitary/ centrist, federal or confederal. They believe it is useless to debate on ‘other minor matters or especially irrelevant issues like the Shariat Bill’.
The religious fanatics, on the other hand, all seek to enforce their own brand of Islam and Shariah. They are determined to overthrow the legislative prerogatives of an elected Parliament. As for the nationalists, they should all be despatched to hell for their subversive ideas if the mullahs had their way.
Then, there are the PPP and the PML who simply cannot stand the sight of each other (thus a token walk-out by the PPP when a triumphant Ijaz ul Haq occupied the rostrum). The PML is in the throes of sorting itself out, with Mr Nawaz Sharif/Ijaz ul Haq, Mr Junejo and Pir Pagara pulling in different directions. So it has no problem believing in everything and nothing, depending upon the pressing circumstances of any particular case (as when Ijaz ul Haq ironically harked back to ‘the good old days of Mr Junejo’s democratic government’). As for the PPP, it has conveniently forgotten its manifesto and is merely concerned with digging in everywhere because it claims to be ‘the only national party on the scene’.
Finally, there are those countless ‘others who also ran’. They too covet a piece of the electoral action through a system of proportional representation and will discuss nothing else. Of course, Syeda Abida Hussain, the one independent member of the assembly, is in a class all of her own. The MQM, too, is on a limb and, like Sheikh Chilli, in perpetual danger of scuttling itself.
So, what are we to make of this aborted dress rehearsal for national solidarity? How much longer should we, the people, endure the petty jealousies, vicious rivalries and unabashed opportunisms of our budding politicians?
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. Certainly, asking the khakis to step in and sweep everyone aside will only make matters worse, as past history so conspicuously amplifies. Nor are mid-term elections a panacea for such deep-rooted suspicions and divisions. We will surely end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
If it is of any remote consolation, we might recall that it took Europe a tumultuous century to assemble a set of workable, stable institutions. By that historic yardstick, there is nothing to be gained in cynically retreating to our ‘chardevaris’ or foolishly advocating dangerous shortcuts. While we should stolidly trudge on, it is worth reflecting on how to educate future generations to be politically mature. And there is no surer way of doing that than by patiently reinvesting, time and again, in a democratic system which puts its faith in the abundant energies and collective wisdom of our people.
Give this country an uninterrupted period of free elections and each government its allotted time and space. Allow for a new generation to throw up a different and more constructive leadership (from among the professional and true nationalist industrial classes). Break up the feudal stranglehold on the state. Do all this and we might all yet live to experience the heady sensibilities of a strong, stable and dynamic Pakistan.