Editorial: National deadlock and national economy
When we read the statements of the PMLN leaders, it seems as if the May 12 deadline will pass too and the two coalition partners might thereafter be hard pressed to end their political cooperation. The PMLN has said earlier that it might leave the cabinet of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani without becoming a part of the opposition in parliament. The press, keen on “inside stories”, is anticipating more trouble as the lawyers’ movement heats up and the PMLN finds it more irresistible than cooperation with the PPP government. Dissolution of the National Assembly, a ridiculous assessment, by the prime minister is being predicted too.
While the deadlock over the judges stirs up the political adrenalin in Pakistan, the national economy is posting its own reaction to what the opposition politicians, vested media and sections of ‘civil society’ are up to. The Karachi Stock Exchange which resisted months of suicide-bombing by Al Qaeda and the Taliban is now gradually succumbing to a much more serious fear: the possibility of an economic breakdown because of the unremitting pantomime over the restoration of the judges. On the trade front, the export-import gap is widening more speedily than earlier forecast because of the upward spiral of world oil prices. Inflation had first hit food items; now it is spreading to the entire range of commodities. As one ex-World Bank economist said in Lahore last week, once in double digit, inflation gets out of control and gallops on. And no one believes that the official figure of 9 percent inflation rate is credible; most peg it above 10 percent and beyond 12 percent. When the final accounts are done, our oil bill is well set to cross $11 billion, threatening our foreign exchange reserves. The State Bank is already putting in place mechanisms to stop the flight of the dollar from the economy, which is always a sure sign of a general collapse. The PMLN should know it because it had to freeze the dollar accounts in 1998.
The economy is now in a state of suspension as it watches the two mainstream parties acting out their political drama. The real estate business, always a sign of domestic absorption of extra money, is showing signs of retreating. Real estate agents are discussing on TV channels the phenomenon of large funds meant to be invested in Gwadar and Karachi fleeing to the UAE after realising that national politics is not about to get real in the near future. Sections of ‘civil society’ may be keen on a “revolution”, but the market “sentiment” is going against it, if anyone engaged in the debate over the judges is willing to note.
There are other interested ‘kibitzers’ of the grand theatre of the judges’ restoration in the country. There is the spreading blotch of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) whose leader Baitullah Mehsud is not crazy enough to give an inch over his claims to virtual sovereignty of the Tribal Areas. There is the insurrection in Balochistan where the interlocutors are already expressing negative opinion over the future of negotiations promised by the PPP government on provincial autonomy. Tragically, the politicians and the media are more worried about what the Americans and the British think about our national crisis than the parties waiting to discuss “peace” with us inside Pakistan.
The Murree Declaration, where the two mainstream parties agreed to restore the judges after the February elections, is about to fall dead. Its relevant text goes like this: “This has been decided in today’s summit between the PPP and the PML (N) that the deposed judges would be restored, on the position as they were on November 2, 2007, within 30 days of the formation of the federal government through a parliamentary resolution” (italics added). They have fallen apart on the modalities of the restoration, not on restoration itself. The PPP is referring to the 2006 Charter of Democracy to accompany the parliamentary resolution with a constitutional amendment which would restore the old judges while keeping the new ones.
The deadlock is not going to benefit the two parties or the country. If the PMLN ducks out of the cabinet and the lawyers’ movement breaks out of control and becomes an agitation to parallel what is happening in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas, the PMLN will have trouble running Punjab. The PPP, already scared of the establishment on past experience, will lean on it more to the detriment of Punjab. And the establishment, scared of the PMLN, will set national priorities that may harm Punjab and the country. If the PPP dissolves the National Assembly in a fit of madness or pique, fresh elections might not be held in peaceful conditions again, and a PMLN victory in them might be a pyrrhic victory.
The return to democracy in 2008 may be about to push the country to the brink of disaster simply because our politicians and media are not capable of taking the long view. The two parties must accommodate each other’s positions and move on from the present deadlock and deal with the bigger problems whose solution is overdue. *
Second Editorial:The ‘book fair’ dispute in PU
Punjab University in Lahore is once again convulsed with a dispute over the holding of a book fair on the campus by Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of Jama’at-e Islami. The IJT gave birth to a special committee — which the administration doesn’t recognise — which then made a possibly lucrative deal with booksellers and computer software companies to hold a book fair. The administration had decided through the Syndicate that a book fair should be held in October and that the administration would organise it. Last year when the book fair was held by IJT, the University declared the campus closed for vacations.
A battle is in the offing again, and IJT is in a strong position, with the new government less inclined to cooperate with the vice-chancellor and the chancellor, Governor Punjab, whom it doesn’t even recognise. The PPP has declared student unions legal in the hope that it can sprout parallel “student wings” to balance the presence of IJT, but that will take some time. And in Punjab it may take longer. We saw the sudden death of the “student wing” of the PMLQ at Lahore’s MAO College last week. The PMLN will probably act in sympathy with the IJT. *