But good work by Kashif Abbasi for categorically speaking out against the PML-N’s press conference today. Especially on the issue of judicial appointments. Another way to look at it is that you know you’re in trouble if you’re PML-N and Kashif Abbasi spends an entire program criticizing you.
Najam Sethi had a theory on his show that – because everyone but Chaudhry Nisar (who was grinning broadly) at the press conference looked so sad – that Nawaz Sharif’s hand was being forced by the establishment. That may well be the case, but in my opinion people are underestimating the constraints on the major parties and the costs that they pay for compromising politically. We’ve seen the pressure from Sindhi PPP leaders when PPP compromised with MQM on the issue of local government in Karachi. Similarly, PML-N is facing stronger than expected internal dissent from NWFP PML-N on the question of the renaming of Pakhtunkhwa. PML-N’s Hazara base is very important to it and it experienced a resurgence in the area in the 2008 elections. There is really no way for PML-N to proceed with the NWFP renaming without causing extreme alienation among its voters in Hazara. Like the PPP, PML-N can ill afford to lose support in a stronghold, especially since this is one of the few regions outside of Punjab where PML-N is strong.
Also, there is the issue of the lawyer’s community. The SCBA has repeatedly expressed its complete disapproval of the Constitutional reform committee’s chose method of judicial appointments. Having cultivated the judiciary for the last two years to the exclusion of almost every other party, this really puts PML-N in a tight spot. Just like PPP was compelled by the circumstances of the NRO to do a U-turn on the issue restoration of the judiciary, PML-N has had to do a humiliating U-Turn on its support of a more egalitarian method of judicial appointments as sketched out in the Charter of Democracy. Akram Sheikh’s open letter to Nawaz Sharif even baldly stated that the Charter of Democracy was for a specific context and time only and was not applicable to the present situation!
This is not to dismiss the role of the military establishment, but it doesn’t make sense to play down PML-N’s own internal reasons for having problems in accepting the constitutional reform committee’s proposals.
I don’t know why PPP and PML-N always end up in these do or die situations in which they are faced with a choice between taking the high road for political reconciliation vs. satisfying their various special interests. (In a cynical sense, it shows the futility of “principled” politics since principles always end up being violated due to conflicting interest groups and pressures). Quite clearly it’s related to the political brinkmanship that both are fond of practicing. (Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just Zardari that does this). The brinkmanship is a lot easier to criticize than to come up with a constructive alternative to, however, given the limited space in which political parties operate and the justifiable insecurity that they constantly have to contend with. There was this really interesting study I read about political violence in Karachi and its relation to the transient and ill-defined nature of land ownership in all areas except those administered by the military. In many ways, political space in national politics works in exactly the same way as land ownership in Karachi. The only group secure enough to practice (at least cosmetically) “principled” politics is the military. That’s because the ability to practice principled politics (and come up with high quality power point presentations) is directly related to security with regards to ones political space.
Anyway, one thing is for sure and that is that PML-N is ultimately going to back down and it’s going to have to back down humiliatingly soon. This has been a godsend for the PPP because any subsequent objections raised by the PML-N during the course of the 18th amendment discussions are going to be clouded by yesterday’s press conference. If this government can push through significant reforms without having to resort to anything as horrific as ZAB’s use of the Liaquat Bagh massacre to cow his political opponents into submission in order to achieve consensus on constitutional issues, then this will be nothing short of a miracle. (Now watch me say that and be horribly disappointed).