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Warning bells for the PML-N and the PPP

Published: November 4, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

While the PML-N is eager to call general elections before the scheduled March Senate elections, the PTI has been waiting for years for the type of turnout it had in Lahore on Sunday. If one is fair, then it must be acknowledged that the Lahore PTI rally did not just surpass expectations but also appeared larger and better organised than the PML-N rally. While neither Imran Khan nor Shahbaz Sharif have any concrete ideas on how to better the lives of ordinary Pakistanis, Shahbaz Sharif’s Taliban-style threats of “hanging President Zardari upside-down” were not only undemocratic and in poor taste, but divisive, as the reaction in Sindh manifested. Both seem to be relying overwhelmingly on the corruption theme. While this may make some sense for the untried and untested Imran, it makes little sense for the PML-N, stories of whose corruption often circulated in the past.

The PML-N, however, currently has an edge over other parties as it appears to be the only large party in Pakistan that is willing to take on the establishment on foreign policy, and hence, the defence budget. These issues are as crucial to Pakistan’s development as the corruption conundrum. In fact, many political minds believe that the sudden rise of PTI is being clandestinely orchestrated by the establishment, which would not want to see the PML-N in power at any cost. What better way to do this than to prop up another right-wing politician with support in urban areas, and particularly in Punjab, which represents the Sharifs’ traditional constituency?

When Imran Khan asks politicians to declare their assets but conspicuously leaves out generals and bureaucrats, suspicions strengthen. Also worth asking is who is arranging Imran’s trip to China? And yet, Shahbaz Sharif remained fixated on Zardari and corruption, copying Imran Khan instead of poking holes in his foreign policy arguments. The PML-N must inform Punjab’s voters that drone attacks are America’s reaction to our military’s support of groups that target American forces in Afghanistan and thus, cannot be stopped unless we rethink our policy towards Afghanistan and India. Nawaz Sharif hinted at this at the All Parties Conference, but unless the PML-N is able to communicate this important factor to the electorate, it may be relegated to the shadows of the PTI’s urban ‘tsunami’.

Instead, the PML-N’s appeals for rough ‘justice’ have made the PPP look dignified. While too many analysts tend to dismiss the establishment’s propensity towards technocrats in the government, one must acknowledge that placing qualified people at key jobs to improve healthcare, education, information technology, railways, etc. is crucial to development. All political parties in Pakistan tend to overlook this critical aspect of governance and hence the military, through its decades of rule, has developed somewhat of a constituency in urban areas where many people feel that such sectors were better managed during, for example, Musharraf’s rule than during the current PPP tenure.

The PPP and the PML-N must take note of this very significant factor. The PTI, micromanaged by, and much like the other parties, built around Imran’s personality rather than progressive ideology, has not managed to attract any bright technocratic minds that could develop these essential sectors. The fact that the PTI is untested, however, and its constant rhetoric promising to value technocratic qualifications has led many urban youths to its camp. There is in reality only one way to democratically solve this governance crisis. And that is to further democratise the political parties so that they become meritocracies and not personal fiefdoms. Established political parties like the PPP and the PML-N need to recruit capable professionals in large numbers, as is done in functioning democracies elsewhere, and traditional politicians who may understand provincial and local nuances better, must begin to share power with them. Otherwise, they will neither be able to convince an increasingly urban and frustrated population of the value of democracy, nor sustain their political stature indefinitely.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th,  2011.

Reader Comments (23)

  • Realist.
    Nov 4, 2011 - 11:33PM

    //PML-N need to recruit capable professionals in large numbers, //

    Not to be a blind supporter but you DO KNOW how professional is PMLN’s Finance team. which includes a gem like Ishaq Dar, another professional Sartaj aziz (okay i know that freezing foreign accounts was the worst thing to do which happened under him) The team which Musharraf borrowed which included Humayoun akhtar (now in likeminded group) was a part of PMLN.
    so when it comes to ‘capable’ team , Pmln holds the best possible team right now, PMLN is capitalist in its approach. means – high growth.
    rest you guys can carry-on with the criticism :)


  • Tahir
    Nov 4, 2011 - 11:40PM

    And I suppose the ISI is telling Imran Khan to criticise military operations and mistreatment of Baloch people. And yes drones are lovely even if they kill innocents, just ‘collateral damage’. Cheap blood.


  • Parvez
    Nov 4, 2011 - 11:54PM

    Our political structure is and has been a 50:50 mix of dictatorship and sham democracy.
    This structure has carefully been nurtured over the years to benefit a few. The thought that these few would restructure their political fiefdoms so that it would result in benefiting the masses, is sheer wishful thinking. Imran’s PTI will most probably be used a pressure relief valve to vent the public’s frustration and when that is spent the narrative will be ‘ At least he gave it a try ‘ and the few will go on ruling supreme – I sincerely hope it does not come to this but I have over the years turned into a die-hard pessimist.


  • Nadeem
    Nov 5, 2011 - 12:23AM

    Too much circumstantial evidence has accumulated to suggest that Imran is in cahoots with GHQ. In other words, he agrees that the army should continue to be the most powerful entity in Pakistan – making all policy decisions – and that it should continue Zia’s mission of guarding our “ideological” frontiers. He must also agree with them that the army deserves 70% of the budget, and that clean drinking water, education, healthcare, public transportation, jobs and inflation are not Pakistanis’ primary problems, that their real problems are insufficient number of F-16s, too few nuclear bombs, Indian influence in Afghanistan, and of course Kashmir. I wish Imran believed in constitutionalism.


  • Shahbaz Asif Tahir
    Nov 5, 2011 - 1:36AM

    I am actually surprised that the author, acknowledges the fact that
    Imran Khan’s jalsa is a warning for both the bigoted, and corrupt government, ruling this
    unfortunate country. Not only does Imran, Inshallah have concrete plans to
    steer Pakistan, from the brink of disaster it has gotten into, but to ensure that it
    becomes an Islamic welfare state, which was really the purpose of its creation.


  • faraz
    Nov 5, 2011 - 1:46AM


    Have you heard of the mullah military alliance and strategic depth? Taliban are our proxies; who told you that ISI and army wants to eliminate them? Who provides ground intelligence for drones? According to wikileaks, army demanded drone attacks in South Waziristan. Did Imran even mention the army and agencies for their role in war on terror? In fact, he termed our Ambassador in US a CIA agent and that Zardari wants to remove the army heads so he can better serve US interests. He blames Zardari as if he runs the foreign and defense policy. If he is honest and sincere, he should conduct his anti-drone rallies in front of GHQ instead of the parliament.


  • Nov 5, 2011 - 2:39AM

    Good analysis of the politics. I feel that PPP initially supported PTI to create counter force to PML N. But after the huge success of Oct 30th jalsa, PPP is now also feel threatened by the rise of PTI.

    In the coming days we will see joint attacks from PML N and PPP leadership on PTI and Imran Khan.


  • Ammad
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:40AM


    You fail to understand that both Imran Khan and the establishment are human and composed of humans respectively. Being supported by someone (and to what extent?) does not mean you exist for their agenda. The reason he is not already sweeping the country is exactly that – everybody (the powers that be) are still not ready to go all out for him. Rather he serves the ultimate goal of weakening the bigger boys and hence enhancing the clout and leverage of the planner. If the next government is again a coalition government, another 5 years will go by wheeling and dealing while the boys in camo pull the strings and call the shots.

    And then theres more…. but not for here!


  • Falcon
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:57AM

    Imran might have some flaws in his policy as he is learning. But anybody who has watched IK or PTI closely know that they are not big on expanding the already bloated defense budget. You tell me how can any philanthropist in the world favor weapons over food and healthcare…that’s why I have almost never heard of him talking against India…PTI is big on education and that is why celebrity educationists such as Shehzad Roy are trying to boast image of PTI…he might be off the target but not by as much as you are implying.


  • DeliveryBoy
    Nov 5, 2011 - 7:06AM

    @Realist. Ishaq Dar a gem… Hahahahaha!! Man I love your sarcasm.


  • Fahd
    Nov 5, 2011 - 7:14AM

    I dont know why everyone suddenly thinks that establishment is with Imran Khan. I guess people are still stuck in the 80′s. People please grow up, do u think it was the establishment that told families and young women and students to come out and support imran in the rally. are the people who are saying that isi arranged the rally even present there? the agencies can bring people to the rally, but they cannot motivate them, and the national pride and passion that people had in that rally was one worth seeing. Imran has been the most vocal critic of the army with regards to drones and balochistan. Didnt he clearly say that he will stop the baloch operation and talk to the baloch leaders?Recommend8

  • aamir abbasi
    Nov 5, 2011 - 9:16AM

    after a long time i read an article in which biases are not reflecting through. good article i must say.


  • An EHM
    Nov 5, 2011 - 10:40AM

    Team? Well with the so called capable team, and after ruling punjab for more than three years, Shahbaz Sharif come up with a plan for graduates employment and that is yellow cab. This shows the capability of his team and his governance. The consequence of this policy is the not to get education. After all you dont need to be a graduate to drive a taxi.


  • Nadeem
    Nov 5, 2011 - 1:28PM

    Only couple of months ago PTI held a sit-in againnst drone attacks and it was attended by not more than 2,000 people. How come within couple of months, nation had a change of heart and it turned out in their thousands to attend the rally. I remember, when nawaz sharif was in cohots with the powers that be, his rallies used to be heavily attended.


  • main altaf
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:14PM

    @Realist.: Even if you r realist, you should not be saying or writing this stuff, you r more like dreaming, what team you r talking about, your party on contrary have no team in punjab, shabaz has 25 ministries under him. so what message he is sending? i think he is telling whole world he doesnot have enough capable people in his party who can run these ministries. Above all PML n got 2 chances in centre and many in punjab, but did not show any vision, making some underpasses and couple overhead bridges is not a vision. we need some one with vision not with reaction. Pml n has replace their leadership. to get some visionary peoples on top position from middle class.


  • maestro
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:15PM

    Shahbaz’s words were words of desperation – Imran’s were of confidence. Game over. Cheers.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:17PM

    @Shahbaz Asif Tahir:

    Islamic Welfare State? As in which country?


  • maaz
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:19PM

    now lets look at this whole thing in a broader perspective, all the suggestions that Imran gave at the rally were legitimate undoubtedly; those in no way form a resolution but will definitely lead to one. the pre requisites for all our problem is good governance, so when it comes to solve issues you have to prioritize your problems and treat them so. the point is corruption by far is the underlying reason for all our problems and he did give it due significance.
    as far as any movement is concerned there is always a need of a personality “a leader”; who can direct the masses, and undoubtedly he is playing that role well enough; for this movement to stay afloat it surely needs proper organisation and i hope that becomes evident soon. lets just hope there is a change for the better and we get rid of the same faces that have plagued this country for decades!


  • "Ghairatmand" Pakistani
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:47PM

    Great piece, Ayesha and spot on !!


  • Shahbaz Asif Tahir
    Nov 5, 2011 - 9:10PM

    @Meekal Ahmed:

    Why does it have to be like some country?
    Pakistan can be an example of an Islamic welfare state.
    How does that surprise you?


  • Realist.
    Nov 6, 2011 - 12:40AM

    @main altaf:
    I dont Praise Shahbaz Sharif that much because he likes to work with the help of bureaucracy. he FAILED to make a team of fellow mps to run the government.
    the Federal team of PMLN is much better. NS unlike SS works with team of Politicians Not bureaucracy. & i do agree on the part of building underpasses & flyovers.
    In his first term as PM Nawaz Sharif pushed forward on his announced objectives of “privatization, deregulation and unleashing the potential of the private sector” and “turning Pakistan into a Korea by encouraging greater private saving and investment to accelerate economic growth” & actually implemented some of the economic liberalization and privatization measures that previous governments merely talked about. To promote private investment, the Sharif government took the long-overdue step of removing the requirement of government approval. Several other restrictions on the private sector were removed such as the need to register technical and foreign loan agreements, the issue of shares at par value, and obtain work permits for foreign technical personnel.
    He took several important steps to promote a better-functioning financial markets. The most important of these was the development of competition in the financial markets by means of allowing several new entrants to enter the market. The government allowed ten private commercial banks to enter the market and several additional investment banks including some foreign banks to enter the domestic financial market. In addition, the number of financial institutions like modarabas, leasing companies, investment banks and commercial banks in the private sector almost doubled.
    In early 1991, he took another important long-awaited step towards increased economic efficiency with the liberalization of foreign exchange controls. Restrictions on the free movement of foreign currency were removed and resident Pakistanis, including firms and companies, were allowed to maintain foreign currency accounts in Pakistan on the same basis as non-residents. This was followed up by the opening of the green channel which allowed personal baggage to be brought into the country free of customs declaration or search.The policies had some positive effect with foreign investment increasing by 26% in 1990-1992.


  • saadi
    Nov 6, 2011 - 8:57AM

    While it may be true that establishment is on Imran’s side but is it plausable that Imran khan is also on establishment’s side?

    His track record vivedly shows that he cannot be.The ‘drawing room” intellectuals should come out and try to mingle with common,niddle class pakistanis ,and they will know that these people are no fools.


  • Dr. Tahir Malik
    Nov 7, 2011 - 6:03PM

    Well I have read all the views with interest, well any neutral person would support a party/person who is at least trying to do something better for his country. If IK by any chance is breaking away the votes from the bank of Nawaz group, that simply doesnt mean that he should stop doing politics!! That is his political right, as far as a support from establishment is concerned, I believe that establishment can never go hand in hand with IK, they are only supporting him behind the scene to bring Nawaz back to track!!!!


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