Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PML(N) Shows Its True Colours

I don’t like Nawaz Sharif or the PML(N). It wasn’t always so, during the last election I genuinely thought that the party through the induction of young, educated members had progressed admirably and that it may yet prove capable of tackling the challenges faced by Pakistan. I was dead wrong.

The PML(N) has not grown, it is a regional, ethnic party that has no connection with people outside Punjab, worst of all the party’s leaders don’t seem to mind this too much.

Take for example yesterday’s decision by the Punjab government to ban the outflow of wheat from Punjab to the other provinces and set the price at a grossly subsidized Rs. 10 / kg. As a result, a standard 20 kilo bag of wheat will now retail across Punjab for Rs. 200, the same bag of wheat costs Rs.600 in Quetta, and good quality wheat can cost in excess of Rs.700 / 20 kg in Karachi (or my mother just got ripped off!). In addition to this all Tandoors in Punjab have been directed to sell tandoori roti for Rs. 2, the same roti costs Rs. 6 in Karachi.

I'm pretty sure that this move is based on sound economic principles, but it will no doubt be popular with the voters. (Though it must be said that it would be more popular if the Sharif clan hadn't recently been publicly shamed for illegally importing two Siberian tigers and housing them in a special air-conditioned environment.)

Populist actions are typical of PML (N) governments, however what is surprising about this move is how polarizing it is. People in provinces not named Punjab are incredibly angry, the politicians in the other provinces are ticked off because they cant replicate the move and it makes them look bad, ordinary people are pissed off because they view this as another instance of Punjab screwing over the smaller provinces.

The PML(N) is perhaps trying to offset the grievance of the Punjab population over the energy crisis, Punjab has been particularly hard hit (serves them right for not paying electircity bills!). But nobody is holding the PML(N) singularly responsible for this and it's unliklely that the party is losing any support because of this situation – the PPP on the other hand certainly is losing support in Punjab over this issue. Maybe the PML(N) is attempting to court voters in Southern Punjab, but I’m not sure such a grand move is required considering the ineptness and corruption of Prime Minster Gillani and his cohorts in the Multan region. Once you factor in the anger of the other provinces by the antics of the Punjab government, such a move makes no sense.

This episode once again proves that Nawaz Sharif and his party are content with appealing to their party’s base and would rather seek political control nationally by entering into a coalition with minority partners from other provinces than expand their vote bank, an arrangement that will invariably be unstable.

This is highlighted by the PML(N)’s tepid response on various other issues that don’t directly impact Punjab. Pakistan can be a goldmine for opposition politicians, the country is perpetually in the midst of disaster and presents those not in power with plenty of opportunities to speak out and gain support. And even if this doesn’t win you seats it can win you respect, which would certainly help when it comes time to building a coalition.

Inevitably what worries me most about the PML(N) and the Sharifs in particular are their views on national security and religion. The party openly supports the imposition of a more stringent Islamic system of governance and has always been sympathetic to religious zealots, but it doesn’t seem to have realized just how much these religious forces have changed, and how dangerous they have become for the federation. In particular the PML(N) does not seem to view Islamist groups stationed in Punjab, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as state enemies, perhaps believing that these forces can be controlled and unleashed on India one day.

The most recent example of the PML(N)'s lax attitude towards religious extremists comes in form of Shahbaz Sharif’s response to the Gojra Riots. Shahbaz did not pay enough attention when news first started emerging of tension in the area and was late in mobilizing security forces. Once it had become clear what was happening he did issue statements of condemnation and stated that he would be going to the area as soon as possible, however he ended up delaying his visit and didn’t reach their till four days after the riots started (there were protests in Gojra specifically because the honourable CM postponed his visit). Most tellingly, a couple of weeks later Shahbaz Sharif held court with a delegation of ulemas, some of whom belonged to Toba Tekh Singh (the district where Gojra is situated) and stated that:
The whole nation will have to unite on a platform for the stability of the country and elimination of terrorism and extremism, foiling the nefarious designs of anti-Pakistan elements.

The promotion of solidarity and religious harmony was the need of the hour as the elements inimical to the country were bent upon creating confusion and chaos. He said the Ulema had always played an effective role in promoting peace and religious harmony and they would continue making such efforts in future as well. He was talking to a delegation of Ulema, led by the head of Jamiatul Muntazir Maulana Syed Niaz Hussain Naqvi, here on Friday.

Martin Luther King said that "the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." At a time when the country is faced with challenges that seem insurmountable and battles forces that seem unconquerable, the PML(N) has chosen to adopt a path that is the most comfortable and least controversial, it has chosen to pander to those who were responsible for atrocities against an entire community rather than confront them.


Ahsan said...

I love the fact that in our country, it is perfectly normal for "populist" politicians to be importing rare animals for their private zoos and using bundles of electricity to make them feel at home when the rest of the country has to go without bijli for 10 hours a day. Sort of like John Edwards' $400 haircut on steroids.

Anonymous said...

Your mother really got ripped off it seems!

ali said...

Ahsan: I feel that this seemingly accepted behaviour of populist politicians and their supporters lies in some socio-cultural mentality of our society's feudalistic background. The mulazim will accept being treated like dirt by his landlord/pir/saeen/etc because that's the order of things.

Anonymous said...

First of all all this is completely wrong.

People in Punjab pay their electricity bills
second it as been hard hit by the crisis because it is the most deveolped province and not because they dunt pay their bills.
third do you want smugglers to take wheat out of the couintry
his decision to block the borders was right because otherwise all the wheat would have been smiglled.
Dunt kid yur self even if the borders were opnen ur mother wouldd have got wheat at same price u mentioned
there is a wheat cartel in karachi and other places esp and ur beloved mqm and ppp are unwilling to take actions againt them.Atleast shabaz sharif had the courage to start crackdown and do some good work.
pml-n is not a punjab based party.u forget that nawaz has been prime minister 2 times and and the second time was a complete majority in bth houses.
atleast pml-n kicked out all those members who were bringing shame to the party
u said that he reacted slowlty to the gojra incident.were u there did u know teh ground situation.I can probably say teh same thing about mustafa kamal when his mqm thugs start rioting in karachi.Where is he and the police then.
so put ur anti-punjab bias aside.Punjab contributes the largest portion of exports and GDP.beacuse of policies of mqm and ppp if sindh and karachi are decaying it is not nawaz fault.he never neglected karachi and sindh..as a matter of fact any province.If u say this then mqm and all other parties behave the same manner.why do u single him out.
mqm are secular thugs and the ones u mentioned are religous thugs.thuggery by mqm is okay wheras thuggery by religious zealots is not okay(is this what u r saying)the law aplies equally and u should demand the same from altaf hussain.
P.S i am not a pml-n supporter.whatever i say i say with experience and whatever materiial i have studied.karachi is part of pakistan and so is punjab.if karachi has problems then u guys shoud also ask ur politicians.not blame punjab for everything.

takhalus said...

Anonymous: Factually incorrect post PML-N by virtue of it's origin is a punjab based party, it has always performed best in predominatly urban punjab (and NWFP's hazara belt) thats just a statement of fact. Also NS did not have a majority in the senate during his second term. In addition it's a historical fact that the PML-N govt during his second term spent the bulk of the federal development budget on the area between attock and punjab (bypassing Gujrat to spite the chaudhrys!) with mega projects like the motorway, airports and so on..

Ahsan said...

This takhalus chap/chick always has really well informed comments. Listen takhalus, if you don't have your own blog, you have an open invitation to write a guest post (or guest posts) for us on any topic of your choosing. If you want to take us up on the offer, just send in whatever you want to fiverupeesadmin AT googlegroups DOT com.

Anonymous said...

so takhulis is important becuz he is givng comments which you like whereas u didint like my comments.this shows ur a hypocrite.criticizing others for intolerance while practicing the same.

Anonymous said...

What's with the anti-punjab sentiment? Statements like: 'Punjab has been particularly hard hit (serves them right for not paying electircity bills!' are a real disappointment. Let's not generalize here. I really enjoy your blogs but this one has left a bitter taste in my mouth!

AKS said...

@ takhalus,

Your point about NS not having a majority in the senate got me thinking about the presidency, Rafiq Tarar was an anomaly. I don't think it will be possible for the PML(N) to have their man as president again, which is no doubt why the party is desperate to get rid of the 17th amendment.

@ anon 1138

The Punjab government did not ban the export of wheat from Pakistan to foreign countries, instead it banned the transfer of wheat to other provinces.

A party that purports to be a national party and is capable of leading the country should at least try to have the whole country's interest at heart.

Now I can understand why the PML(N) would want to appease its supporters, all parties do, but the cost of doing this is too high. As you mentioned the Sharif brothers have done a great deal for Punjab and are much loved - a fact which isn't about to change, is it then worth alienating the other provinces and that too through an act that reinforces the the provinces biggest fear / grievance with Punjab?

@ anon236

Its not anti-Punjab if its true! Honestly though I was just being facetious and regurgitating a jibe that is commonly used by the industrial sector in Karachi, sorry if it didn't come across that way (it never seems to). Thanks for reading the blog, I hope you continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

they blocked transfer to other provinces so that it could not be smuggled from there to other countries

AKS said...

The other provinces couldn't be trusted then or taken into confidence, that makes it a lot better! Thanks for the update.

Junaid said...

The "Do rupay ki roti" scheme isn't as rosy as it is painted.
Most of the tandoors are still selling "rotis" for Rs. 5 (In Lahore). In addition to this the government is facing financial losses, in millions of rupees, every month due to this scheme, so I beg to differ that it is based on "sound economic principles" (there have been reports about this in the papers). Personally I think it's all politics and the PML-N has no real concern for the price of "roti", just a deceptive facade.

Abeda said...

I am enraged by the fact that not only PML-N is quite on the sky-rocketing corruption, but other polical parties like Tahriq-e-Insaaf and JUI are also quite. And where are all the human Rights Organizations in Pakistan? It seems to me that because we dont stand up for ourselves, no one will stand for us; and if we learn to march to Islammabad for what ever major issue that hits us, we will win our rights back, and the country along with it. Our inability to mobilise and organize and fight for ourselves has brought this day upon us, when corruption is done in full view of the 16 billion without fear of accountability.

Anonymous said...

i live in lahore and roti is being sold at 2-3 rs not more than that.dunt make things up

Anonymous said...

"chick", he said. -_-