Intrigue, always intrigue and no action in Pakistan
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Intrigue, always intrigue and no action in Pakistan

So the MQM has withdrawn its ministers from the cabinet, but hasn’t withdrawn from the government, and hasn’t signaled its intentions to join the opposition either. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Cyril Almeida has a rundown of random conjecture on this.

Since it’s conjecture season, I too would like to state without evidence that:

1. This is not an establishment move, I don’t think, because the only viable alternative to a PPP government in the center is a PML(N) government with a bunch of center-right parties, excluding the MQM (who have no love lost for them). And this isn’t 1991; the establishment and PML(N) don’t exactly see eye to eye.

2. The MQM, like the JUI(F), is probably just acting like an attention-seeking child and wants its concerns heard. If the PPP makes enough of a show of hearing their concerns on things like local government and Zulfiqar Mirza, they’ll get back in line. You give me decent odds on that, and that’s where I’ll put my money.

Anyway, to step back for a second, these last three weeks have seen an awful lot of political intrigue. We had the aforementioned JUI(F) exit from the government; we had a mutual-admiration-society meeting of the non-bearded-Taliban parties when Imran Khan met Chaudhry Shujaat; we’ve had the MQM meeting everyone; we’ve had the MQM take their leave; we’ve had the PML(N) tell the MQM to bugger off; and we’ve had Chaudhry Shujaat say that the PML(Q) is not interested in an alliance with the PPP. Phew. Got all that?

In the grand scheme of things, nothing has actually happened. Sure, the PPP government — as things stand at present — is weak(er). But it’s still standing. The PML(N) is still the major opposition party. And that’s really it. Am I missing something? Isn’t the bottom line basically the same? Doesn’t all this look like a hamster running on one of these wheels, where there’s a lot of activity but everything is still as it was?


Still standing, buddy. Photo: AP

Here’s my thing. I get that politicians will do good old fashioned, hard-nosed politics. That’s their job, and to expect otherwise is silly. But should it be all they do? I mean, think about it. Pakistan has serious problems, to put it mildly. There’s a major terrorist attack every 10 days. Inflation is higher than 10 percent. Electricity will be a major problem again in about, oh, three months, when the weather turns. Isn’t it crazy that amidst all this politicking, no one is saying anything about policy?

For example, wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear one of parties’ leaders to say something to the effect of: “Well, it appears there are 40 million Pakistani children of school-going age who are currently not in school. This is clearly a problem. So here’s out 200 page report on having a go at fixing this. We’ve spoken to XYZ textbook publishers, and they say they’ll charge us this many rupees for that many books. We’ve also spoken to some ABC tech start ups in the region, and they assure us that they can give us this many calculators and computers for this much. We’ve figured out that learning  in a language other than the one spoken at home harms learning in young kids, so we propose provincial languages and Urdu until age 7, and then Urdu and one of Chinese or English from 8 to 15. There’s a bunch of other things we haven’t figured out, but we’re pretending we have by putting it in here. In total, a revamp of our education system will cost X rupees and we plan on getting that money from sources P, Q and R. Should we debate this in parliament?”

Again, I’m not expecting a government of Raza Rumis and Rafay Alams and Mosharraf Zaidis and Khurram Hussains. I’m expecting a government that does its thing, and occasionally — say, once every month — actually checks in with people who know what they’re talking about on problems that matter: the environment, urban planning, the economy, education, and then tries to figure things out, and then moves on to the actual policy.

And the onus isn’t just on the parties nominally in power; what’s stopping opposition parties from putting forth detailed plans on policy? Just putting them out there, on their websites, and having a national discussion on this stuff? Nothing. So why don’t they do it? I have no idea.

I’ve mentioned this before, but any party that actually does this has a massive amount to gain in terms of publicity. If everyone else is obsessed with political intrigue, and you appear to be thinking of actual solutions to actual problems, that will be to your benefit. It doesn’t even have to be a good education/energy/environment/economy plan. It just has to be a plan! Am I saying something unreasonable here, or does this make sense?