April Issue 2008

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 16 years ago

The problems are staggering. The economy is in a shambles; the poverty levels have risen drastically; people face food, water and electricity shortages on a daily basis.

And that’s not all. The country is under grave threat from the fast multiplying forces of extremism and terrorism, which have wreaked havoc in the lives of the citizens. Why, even elected representatives are under threat from militants and are moving around in bulletproof cars. One sees Premier Gillani’s orders to MNAs to travel in 1600cc cars coming to nought.

But people have great expectations of this new dispensation. They want peace, security, electricity, water, food and a decent quality of life — and they want it now.

A tall order, that one! But are the new arrivals equipped to deal with these multifarious problems, some of which are a consequence of developments across the world, but most of which have been bequeathed to them by an unrepresentative government that, in a bid to look good, kept fudging figures or putting off unsavoury decisions for another time — and another government.

Just how difficult the task at hand is, can be gauged from just one example: when Prime Minister Gillani announced his intent to abolish the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulation in his 100-day package, his coalition partner, the JUI-F, was up in arms, as were the Ahmedzai Wazir tribesmen and the Taliban, who demanded that the FCR be replaced by the Shariah. What brand of Shariah, might one ask? That which sanctions the burning down of girl’s schools and video shops? And that which allows for a couple to be stoned to death on charges of infidelity, without a hearing?

The militant groups could pose further challenges. As the present government speaks of a dialogue with extremist forces, the Taliban welcome the move but with one stipulation: that they will continue to wage war on NATO troops in Afghanistan. Conversely, the Americans threaten to chase and target the Taliban forces inside Pakistan. So where does that leave Gillani’s coalition? It appears to be a no-win situation for them either way.

Then there are those sticky points where opinion is divided within the coalition itself — such as the judiciary’s restoration, Musharraf’s impeachment and the MQM’s inclusion in the government at the centre and in the provinces. All of which will require a cool, rational approach and tons of patience.

There are people on the fringes, remnants of the last regime, who would like to see the new dispensation collapse so that democracy is stalled once again.

For that reason alone, it is imperative that this coalition holds together and delivers. There exists a clear and present danger that the vociferous supporters of dictatorship may put democracy on the back burner once again

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.