Kiran Omar


The first 100 days of the democratically elected coalition government of Pakistan led by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif present a picture of confusion with no clear direction on the style of governance.  The coalition has failed to arrive at any consensus on crucial issues like the restoration of the judiciary, containing the militancy and the faltering economy. Young blood is not being recruited for governance. Capital and assets are leaving the country, violence is on the rise and US-led aggressive measures along the Afghanistan borders have not declined. – Ed.


The first 100 days of a newly installed, democratically elected government set the tone for its future plans and policies. Its supporters and critics alike are able to gauge its political direction and intent on governance. This is the “honeymoon” period when accommodations and adjustments are made, deals are done and alliances forged to ensure the relative smooth functioning and transition. This is an ideal scenario to which most democratically elected governments aspire. In Pakistan, the 100-days watermark came amidst confusion, disillusionment and high levels of anxiety, and no one, let alone the ruling coalition parties, was able to take measure of the direction and style of governance being implemented.


The coalition parties came into power amidst renewed faith and hope in the democratic process. They were elected by a public venting its frustration with the unending cycle of corrupt government and military rule. The assassination of a popular leader, Ms. Benazir Bhutto garnered sympathy votes for her party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) now jointly led by her husband Asif Zardari and her 19-year old student son Bilawal. The other exiled leader of the opposition party, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, a former prime-minister deposed by General (ret.) Pervez Mussharaf, returned to Pakistan, vowing to work in tandem with the PPP and other coalition partners to restore the unconstitutionally deposed judges, including the Chief Justice, and to ensure the strengthening of democratic institutions. There was a new mood of reconciliation and a spirit of inclusion hitherto never experienced in the maelstrom of Pakistani politics. The sceptics were many and bets were laid on the untenability of the coalition; the argument being that the Pakistani political elite lacked the sophistication to enter a phase of real reconciliation and practice the politics of harmonious inclusiveness. It was argued that there were too many external and more importantly, internal, forces at work, whose vested interests superseded any attempts and honest and good governance.


The supporters countered that the nation had come a long way — both in political maturity and in a growing demand for strong democratic institutions. Long years of military rule have eroded the nation’s self-esteem and self-confidence; the February elections were a call of renewal of faith and self-determination.


The conclusion of the “honeymoon” or first 100 days unfortunately proved the coalition’s detractors true. Instead of getting down to the business of good governance and steering the country purposefully through choppy waters of a faltering economy and escalating security threats, it finds itself floundering in an imbroglio of its own making. The coalition today is fragile and its future uncertain. Its members have failed to arrive at any consensus on a number of crucial issues ranging from the restoration of the judiciary, containing the escalating militancy both external and internal, and most importantly tackling the faltering economy. The quagmire of parochialism, compromises and back-room deals, bogs it down. Strengthening local and provincial governments and establishing clear channels of authority have not taken place and the appointment of provincial officials is still underway based on calling in past favours and party loyalties. Merit, technical and professional worth does not factor-in to public appointments. A valuable opportunity is slipping to identify worthy and capable young blood to carry forward the work of governance. It is, so to speak, more of the same old tired and tried policies and faces. A recycling of talent and skills that fail to address the challenges of a much changed national landscape.


Admittedly many of the present problems are inherited, but instead of tackling them head-on, the Coalition is in a semi-paralysis. The economic crisis grows in alarming proportions daily. High petroleum prices globally, have had a crippling effect on almost all sectors of the economy, from transport rates to prices of commodities. A looming global food crunch, coupled with faulty crop yield forecasting and mismanagement in the domestic food supply systems, have coalesced to create an acute food crisis. The policies being formulated at the Centre are often seen at odds with those evolving at the provincial levels. The brunt of this dithering is being borne by every strata in society, be it the daily wage-earner, small businessman or fixed income groups.


Sound economic measures have yet to be in place. Containing public spending and reducing the size of the government, are some immediate measures than can be implemented on a war-footing. The public ire is palpable when they see their “elected” representatives carry on the business of government trailing huge entourages, driving expensive, imported gas-guzzling SUVs and embarking on incessant foreign tours that serve no purpose and solve no issues affecting the public at large, and of course politicking from foreign cities like Dubai and London.


There is no surety being extended to external lenders that economic belt-tightening measures are being put in place. There is also a perceived lack of public consultation and dialogue being carried out and the writ of the nation is not being implemented in any tangible and concrete fashion. Small and medium business seem to have lost confidence and heart, and flight of capital and assets grow into a steady stream.


On the security front, both external and internal violence is on the rise. The situation seems to be deteriorating since the induction of the Coalition into power. The much touted “multi-pronged” approach towards tackling militancy lacks “teeth” and purpose. The threat of US-led aggressive measures along the borders with Afghanistan grows. Within the country, home-grown and foreign militants constantly challenge the State’s authority in the Tribal areas and even the settled areas surrounding them. This is by far the most pressing concern as security countrywide is under threat, and instances of suicide bombings, hitherto a phenomenon unknown in the country, have risen.


The Coalition’s lack of direction, purpose and cohesiveness is costing the country dearly. No one seems to be in charge. The power source it appears, resides more in the non-elected party heads, and national decision-making is hostage to their agreements and disagreements. It puts the work of governance in a suspension mode, especially since these power-brokers are increasingly absent from the country attending to personal and family business.


If the country is to come out of its present dismal situation, then decisive steps must to be taken. The coalition partners have to decide if they are going to stay together and in what manner or shape will the Coalition be. A common and mutually agreed approach to issues must be formulated, in consultation with the public. The archaic mode of ruling by parochialism and dispensation of favours, must end, appointments to public offices must be cognisant of merit and capability rather than dynastic ties and back-scratching.


The size and expenditure of government must be curtailed, setting an example has to be a priority. The country cannot be expected to be constantly asked for sacrifices when those in power indulge in conspicuous consumption and glamorous life-styles.


At the heart of this malaise is the weakened system of justice and the resistance to its restoration by a few political party leaders, with visibly vested interests in the status quo that prolongs Musharraf’s illicit shadow on the judiciary.


Among the threats to the justice system is the US-brokered, much maligned National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) enacted by President Musharraf in 2007 to drop graft cases before the courts against PPP leaders Benazir Bhutto, Zardari and a few others. Unsurprisingly, there are many reports that Zardari is adamant about not restoring the deposed Chief Justice because he was hearing an appeal against the NRO when Musharraf struck.


A parade of media persons and politicians such Imran Khan, have repeatedly pointed out that a free judiciary is not only vital to national stability but indeed to its economic well-being. The absence of a reliable justice system is inhibiting investors and preventing the creation of a secure socio-economic environment.


The Judiciary must be restored to its rightful place, and must be allowed to function with full independence and impartiality, only the supremacy of the Rule of Law can ensure that the woes of the common man/women have some redress. In the words of Aristotle, ” The only stable state is the one in which all men (women) are equal before the Law…” The Law must be allowed to be applied equally to all, irrespective of status and rank.


How will the coalition deal with the NRO protection extended to a “chosen few” in attempting to reinstate the judiciary to its pre-November 2007 status? What criteria will be used to select the deposed judges for reinstatement in view of the NRO? How independent and free will the judiciary remain whilst the NRO is in place? More importantly, can the judiciary remain free if the NRO remains in effect?  These questions are pivotal to the Coalition’s future. The partners must think it over if it ever has to be strong and effective and provide the governance the public voted for. These questions if unanswered will haunt the Coalition and may prove to be its ultimate failure.


(Kiran Omar is a political observer, and can be reached at:

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