Zahid Malik

Monday, September 20, 2010 – Political temperature has been rising for the last few months with a majority of analysts, a part of the media and some aspirants predicting doomsday scenario, questioning the ability of the Government to manage the affairs of the State. In the backdrop of the daunting challenge thrown by the devastating floods and the fast deteriorating economic situation, rumour-mongers have been so active that definitive and categorical statements were given about the wrapping up of the present system and, at times, it seemed that the Government could really fall apart any moment. A media report said to the effect that the most efficient 111 Brigade, in the proximity of the GHQ, was about to move in. Otherwise too, question arises what necessitated the expression of trust by the Cabinet in President Zardari and Premier Gilani on Friday last if all is well in Islamabad and Rawalpindi?

Sometimes I think that, perhaps, the system could have actually fallen apart had Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani not been at the driving-seat to handle each and every crisis with political acumen, cool temperament, maturity, sagacity and a unique quality of taking along all the stakeholders. I would like to draw the attention of my valued readers to the historical fact that the two previous elected Governments, one of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and the other of Mian Nawaz Sharif, were dismissed within a span of two and a half to three years and as the present democratic set-up has almost completed that much tenure as well, and the people are believed to have exhausted all their patience, it was widely believed that the incumbent Government could also meet the same fate. But the proud son of the land of saints always turned the tables.

The statement by MQM supremo, Altaf Hussain, on 23rd August that Army Generals had imposed Martial Laws in the past and so they could take a similar action again to weed out the corrupt politicians and feudal lords added fuel to the conspiracy theories and certain circles started saying that something was cooking up behind the scene and Altaf Bhai’s statement was a harbinger of the looming change. In his 29th August interview with a TV channel, Altaf Hussain almost repeated his earlier statement and called for the setting up of a Government consisting of honest bureaucrats, Generals, judges, intellectuals and journalists to replace, what he believed, the corrupt system and urged the people, including patriotic Generals and soldiers of the Pakistan Army, to bring about a revolution. Imran Khan too, who otherwise has nothing in common with the MQM Chief, joined the bandwagon and demanded dismissal of the Government on charges of incompetence, inefficiency and corruption.

In this perspective while the 111 Brigade was being talked about, it was because of the overall reconciliatory approach of the Prime Minister and his policy of taking Parliament and political leadership on board that, except for Tehrik-e-Insaf leader, the proposition of the MQM Chief was forcefully opposed by almost all the segments of the society. The Prime Minister displayed a remarkable sense of brinkmanship, as he was able to neutralize the situation without offending the PPP’s London-controlled coalition partner in Sindh and at the Centre. Instead of issuing customary tit-for-tat counter-statements that could have damaged relationship with one of his powerful coalition partners, the Prime Minister adopted the democratic path and managed to get a unanimous resolution passed by the National Assembly in which the House firmly resolved to defend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the faltering democracy.

It is because of the rare expertise of the Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, to engineer consent and carve out consensus that despite negative political forecasts, the democratic set-up, somehow or the other, is carrying on quite successfully. The well-mannered soft-spoken Prime Minister with unique qualities of head and heart has handled the difficult situations with his usual calm and has never reacted in a harsh manner to any provocation that would have further heated up the political temperature. He made a statesman-like cautious statement on the issue on 10th September in interaction with the media, ruling out any military take-over and mid-term elections and said that the people who were wishing for this development were only wasting their time. The Prime Minister is also, very prudently, not providing any excuse to the “independent Judiciary” to react. The latest goodwill gesture is the warm handshake of the Prime Minister on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr on 11th September at spacious Faisal Mosque in Islamabad with the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, who has successfully transformed the proverbial power troika into quartet. The enthusiastic handshake, which according to my intelligence-based information the wise Chief Justice wanted to avoid, has further deepened the impression that Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani wanted to go along with the Judiciary. Earlier too, on several occasions, he took bold initiatives to stave off brewing tensions with the Judiciary, avoiding the dreaded clash between the State institutions. The Prime Minister always keeps it in mind, and rightly so, to send a pleasant positive signal to Judiciary whenever an opportunity arises. The withdrawal of the controversial Notification of Mr. Adnan Khawaja who was appointed Managing Director of the OGDC is the latest instance of an effort to sustain a harmonious relationship with the Judiciary which had taken suo motu notice of this much-criticized appointment.

I may also point out here that unlike the past when Governments of rival political parties at the Centre and in the Punjab were in a perpetual war, Prime Minister Gilani has been having a good working relationship with the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif who too is a mature statesman-like politician, and it is because of this that on his every visit to the Province, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani gets a full and due protocol. It was only on September 15 that Shahbaz Sharif went to Lahore Airport to bid farewell to the Prime Minister (for Islamabad) and the two leaders availed the opportunity to have a useful exchange of views on how best to tackle the flood and other flood-like situations.

Prime Minister Gilani, because of his wise policies and rare personality traits, has not only acquired acceptability among Opposition political parties but is also equally respected by the people at large and even by visiting foreign personalities. In a lighter vein, I would say that Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani also charmed Hollywood superstar Angelina Julie, who is also the UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador, when she met him at the PM House on September 8 and presented her a copy of the Holy Qur’an with English translation. In my meeting with the Prime Minister two days before Eid at the PM House when I light-heartedly talked about charming Julie, he said, “My family was with us at the Iftar table.”

In the immediate future, the most difficult task before the Prime Minister would be deft handling of the situation arising out of floods that have affected 21 million people and vastly damaged the country’s infrastructure requiring billions of dollars and Herculean efforts to rebuild. The compensation and reconstruction would be a great challenge for the Prime Minister as the demands of the Provinces for financial allocations are far beyond the resources of the presently resource-starved FederalGovernment. It has already transferred much of its share to the federating units under the latest NFC award and there are many ifs and buts vis-à-vis international commitments and their relevance. One can only imagine the situation when Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is claiming losses of over $ 2 billion and Sindh Government says its losses were to the tune of $ 5.5 billion. The Punjab, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir are yet to come out with their final estimates of losses. How this poor country of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah could cope with such massive losses and still stay afloat? Pakistan’s economy is showing almost no signs of improvement and revenue targets fixed for the year are not expected to be achieved due to loss of one-fifth of the Kharif crop including cotton and sugarcane.

Also in the future, the Government is to deal with the judgments in cases relating to Swiss Accounts and the 18th Amendment which are being heard by the Supreme Court. So obviously the future scenario is quite difficult but I believe the magician Gilani may bring some surprises out of his long hat. I think if Gilani Sahib continues to keep good working relationship with the Mughlian Raiwind and other stakeholders in Parliament, the present set-up can survive and complete its mandated term no matter what the political pundits may predict. However, I would recommend that in addition to keeping the system going on which in itself would be a great contribution of the Prime Minister, he should leave a lasting imprint in the history of the country and may undertake the following six initiatives:-

1. He must build a consensus on the Kalabagh Dam Project which was unilaterally and unforgivably written off by the Minister for Water and Power and take it to the logical conclusion. Of course, it would require a lot of political wrangling but by addressing the concerns of some politically motivated individuals in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa this can be built as stated by the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Had there been Kalabagh Dam, large parts of the Punjab and Sindh would not have been flooded in the manner they were and losses of hundreds of billions of rupees could have been avoided. I say so because, according to a research-based report carried by this newspaper, floods are likely to revisit the country in future as well. Global warming and environmental degradation require immediate initiation of construction of a big dam as well as small dams to store surplus water that could later be utilized for irrigation and inexpensive power generation. However, if Kalabagh Dam cannot be built on one account or the other let there be any other big dam in any part of the country.

2. The Prime Minister should take urgent steps to revive the crumbling economy so as to generate more revenue, create job opportunities and with added production the inflation can be tamed. To achieve this objective the leadership of the private sector has to be taken on board.

3. Gwadar Port, which has the potential to become a hub of commercial activities, should promptly be made fully functional by handing over its operations to a friendly country, which may be sensitive to our strategic interests and which can invest in a big way as that can change the face of Balochistan and Pakistan. This is all the more necessary in view of the fact that the Port of Singapore Authority, which was entrusted with the responsibility of port operations, has miserably failed to carry out its obligations and the country has lost three precious years because of inefficiency of the PSA.

4. Exploit Thar coal on a war footing on a massive scale than wasting a lot of time on experiments. Pakistan has the world’s second largest coal deposits in Thar, nearly 200 billion tons and it has the potential to generate 50,000MG electricity from Thar coalfield for 800 years. Why can’t we exploit these God-given huge assets?

5. Conceive a plan to distribute barren and unutilized State lands among the genuine landless as that would be a big leap forward in increasing the agricultural production and bringing down the prices of basic essential commodities.

6. Improve the image of the Government through effective steps for good governance, elimination of corruption and creation of efficiency to address the grievances of the people and more interaction with all the stakeholders by going forward an extra mile to accept their genuine demands in the larger national interests.

I am fully confident that Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani would go down in the history of Pakistan as a successful Prime Minister if he changes the complexion of the society and the economy of the country by undertaking these crucial steps. And I am sure he is bestowed with qualities to do all that.

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