National unity thru reconciliation
Mohammad Jamil


There is no denying the fact that almost all political and reli gious parties and their leaders have at one time or another supported military dictators.

Leaders of two major parties had entered into agreements with Musharraf government, either to go into exile after getting cases quashed by PML-N leaders, or to come back to Pakistan through the NRO to participate in election process, as was the case with the PPP leaders. There is a perception that most of them are corruption-tainted and have image problem, if one believed only the allegations and cases filed by the PPP and the PML-N governments during 1990s against each other’s leaders.

After signing the Charter of Democracy and formation of alliances, they had betrayed each other. In this backdrop, anybody trying to pose himself as an angel or paragon of political scruples would be a travesty of the truth. Anyhow, they should abandon the politics of power and pelf and put their act together to overcome economic challenges and threats to Pakistan’s internal and external security. Of course, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have shown their willingness to take along all the political parties, yet there are others who are not willing to show any flexibility and can’t wait for their turn.

But one should not misconstrue from the above. When we suggest national reconciliation, it must be understood that it is not for the sake of power-sharing as was done in case of Charter of Democracy or to plunder the national exchequer, but to address the problems facing the people such as economic disparity, inflation, poverty, rampant corruption, deteriorating law and order situation. Political instability, energy crisis, deteriorating law and order situation, Government-Judiciary row, conflicting interests and divergence of views on one hand between ruling coalition partners and on the other hand between the major political parties ie PPP and PML-N are not conducive for investment. This in turn results in huge fiscal deficit and also trade deficit, which have to be financed through loans. Anyhow, despite many similarities with Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, there is a fundamental difference between Pakistan and those countries. In Pakistan, democratically elected government and independent Judiciary are in place while the Armed Forces are committed to safeguard the frontiers of the country and fight the menace of terrorism, as the people are living in trepidation and fear because of hundreds of suicide attacks on government institutions and mosques killing innocent citizens also.

Our political eminences are lucky to have people who have tremendous patience and resilience despite having suffered enormously from the inept policies of various governments during the last six decades. And they hope to overcome those difficulties and make Pakistan a self-reliant economy and even a welfare state. But to achieve this laudable objective, national unity is imperative. Political leaders and their parties should therefore stop trading barbs, wean off from the habit of internecine conflicts and work for cohesion, integrity and harmony with a view to creating a sense of optimism among all segments of society.

They should remember what Sallust, Roman historian, one of the great Latin literary stylist and a great philosopher argues: “By union the smallest states thrive. By discord the greatest are destroyed.” Pakistan has all the ingredients like fertile land mass, four seasons suitable for growing a variety of grains, vegetables and fruits, sea ports and, over and above all, hard working people who, given the visionary and honest leaders not only could make it thrive but also make it a great nation.

It is therefore imperative for the ruling and opposition parties to focus on ensuring socio-economic justice; strengthen the political system and institutions; eradicate corruption; provide timely justice; generate employment opportunities; seek consensus-based political solutions; and resolve ethnic, sectarian and religious fault lines. After February 2008 elections, the PPP and the PML-N had once again emerged as two major political parties. Since none of them had absolute majority to form government at the federal level, therefore, the PPP being a single largest party formed a coalition government at the centre with the PML-N, but the honeymoon did not last more than a few months.

PPP’s coalition partners the MQM and the JUI also withdrew from the federal cabinet because of some trivial and frivolous matters. Anyhow, the MQM members still sit on the treasury benches. PML-N leaders however seem to have arrogated to themselves the powers that theirs should be the final word on every issue. It was because of this arrogance that all parties of the country were united on the platform of Grand Democratic Alliance in late 1990s with one point agenda - to get rid of Nawaz government. One could find many instances in the history when the nations confronted crisis or the society degenerated, and the visionary leadership united the nation with a view to arresting the decay and put it on the path of progress. One example in the recent history is Malaysia, which is a multi-racial nation of 27 million where Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic communities blend to form a fascinating and distinctive social mosaic. Former prime minister of Malaysia Mahatir Muhammad had played a pivotal role in creating unity between the people with different nationalities by ensuring equal opportunities and socio-economic justice in the society. In 1980s, Malaysia had made remarkable progress and was considered as one of the Asian Tigers. Later, in the face of world recession, economies of the South East Asia were in tatters, Philipines and Thailand accepted IMF’s offer for loans but Malaysia refused to accept the IMF conditionalities, and could overcome the crisis much faster than other nations. Anyhow, point being made here is if people from diverse nations and cultural backgrounds could be united, then why Pakistan could not do it where people from various provinces are local and not aliens.

Yet there is another example of national reconciliation in the recent history. Nelson Mandela former President of South Africa was elected in 1994 in fully representative democratic elections. He had floated the idea of national reconciliation. It should be borne in mind that it was reconciliation with members of the white minority rule that had committed atrocities on the black majority for decades. Before his election as president, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress.

He spent 27 years in prison, much of it on Robben Island, on convictions for crimes that included sabotage committed while he spearheaded the struggle against apartheid. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela’s switch from a policy of confrontation to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation had helped lead the transition to multi-racial democracy in South Africa. Nelson Mendela was, indeed, a statesman and visionary who could envisage that if he got rid of members of the then ruling elite, the nation would be deprived of the talent, expertise and experience to run the economy and the country. In that case there would have been flight of capital and the economy could come to a grinding halt. Could our leadership learn from those icons and use collective wisdom to overcome multifaceted crisis.