Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: The standoff in the Senate persists as the opposition continues with its mock proceedings in the public while the government also managed to have enough members in the House to run its separate show. It is, to say the least, shameful.

This was the last thing that our politicians should be doing considering the explosive state of affairs: a war-like situation in Fata, insurgency in Balochistan and the mayhem in Karachi becoming more threatening with the onset of Muharram – even if we forget electricity/gas shortages and inflation.

Our only beacon of hope was Mahmood Khan Achakzai. The ‘Cicero-in-Chief’ was found shuttling between the warring sides. So far Achakzai has failed to extract from Chaudhry Nisar the opposition demand that he take back the controversial reply that provided wrong figures about the number of people killed in terrorist attacks since the new government took over.

Chaudhry Nisar, once again, reiterated his resolve to recheck the question from the KP government but that was not enough for the opposition. “We want Nisar to take back the question, not just recheck the wrong figures,” said the adamant Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani in opposition chambers.

Lost in this war of egos was the unity among political parties that Chaudhry Nisar would need before he negotiates peace with Taliban. However, Nisar’s tone was anything but reconciliatory.

He gave a fuming explanation in the Senate. He came down heavily against, well, one and all. He was angry at the opposition for staging an uncalled for “tamasha,” particularly a “Pardhan expert of law” (read Aitzaz Ahsan) who can’t understand the basics sometimes.

His ire was particularly targeted against the media. He kept saying that he did not see TV talk shows or read specific columns so that his time was not wasted on unnecessary prattle. “I don’t follow their propaganda and let them stew in their own soup,” said the irate Chaudhry. Yet it was obvious that he spared ample time for the ‘nefarious elements’ in the media as he kept throwing barbs at their ‘biases, ignorance, lies’ and what not.

Nisar was enraged that many doubted his claim that he was close to a deal with the Taliban before Hakimullah Mehsud was droned out. The crux of his long diatribe was: whoever thinks that he did not have a plan is a fool.

The point is that we have no way of judging his performance. Nisar kept his strategy and operational details of his talks with Taliban secret. The entire issue was discussed in closed-door meetings and the Parliament or the media was – questionably – never told about anything.

We only get to know about the progress from the statements of Nisar and Taliban. And it was Taliban who denied any talks with the government on the very day Hakimullah Masood was killed. In fact, as pointed out by Senator Raza Rabbani, Taliban had called  a “shoora meeting” to check if anyone was in touch with the government in which Hakimullah was killed. And it was not the media but Sheikh Rasheed who doubted that talks with Taliban were close to a breakthrough.

So far, it remains the show of Chaudhry Nisar; so the credit and discredit for its success or failure should also be his. But many question why this should be left for only Chaudhry Nisar to decide. It turns out that the strategic details of who is meeting whom and why were not shared even with political parties. Raza Rabbani said the PPP had given a general go-ahead for talks with Taliban but they were not given any details about the strategy or plan.

So now they propose a parliamentary committee of all parties to oversee the peace negotiations and to ensure that certain preconditions are met. It makes sense as Nisar’s strategy can be fraught with consequences. For instance, his assertion that he would only talk to the TTP and not the fringe groups is debatable. This might encourage the smaller of the 50 to 70 fringe groups to resort to violence to get a place on the negotiation table. The last few bombing incidents are believed to have taken place precisely because of that.

Raza Rabbani makes sense that everything cannot be left for one person, Chaudhry Nisar to decide.

While the government and the opposition fought over everything, a rare unity was shown to stop the upcoming local bodies elections as mandated by the Supreme Court. From PPP’s Khursheed Shah to PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi to PML (N)’s Khawaja Saad Rafiq all seemed unanimous that it was possible not to have “fair and free” elections under the circumstances.

Many feared about the dangers of getting ballot papers from the private sector; others fretted about the lack of logistics and capacity; still other worried about delimitation. Saad Rafiq particularly had a point about the lack of legislation to rectify the virtual martial law in cantonments. But one can’t share all the reservations to avoid a contempt of the Supreme Court which had mandated the polls.

MQM’s Rasheed Godel was on dot when he said that the politicians asked for it. The fact is that all governments resented sharing power at the local tier. Most political parties, abetted by the bureaucracy, are partners in the crime of not implementing the constitutional requirements of devolving power to the local level.

The PML (N) particularly takes the lead in avoiding the local bodies as it considers political power more important than welfare.

Godel was right that even now the baboos have reduced the local structures to a fangless tier with bureaucrats controlling the elected members. “We resent that but would not like to oppose the local bodies polls at any cost,” Godel touched some very raw nerves here. The fact is that the ruling elites do not want to share power at the grassroots.” And we concur.

The News

November 8, 2013