Politics of alliances and PDM By Syed Akhtar Ali Shah

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The print, electronic and social media are engaged in an emotive discussion, pro and contra, over the formation and motives of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of parties representing different shades of political ideologies.

Proponents of the PDM argue that the alliance has been formed with an avowed objective to remove the incumbent government — “a product of political engineering” — through a democratic process in order to ensure and protect federal, democratic, parliamentary supremacy of parliament and the Constitution and to put an end to the intrusive role of institutions not ordained by law and the Constitution.

In this context, the PDM has, with consensus, already formulated a 12-point agenda, the crux of which has already been mentioned in the aforesaid paragraph. The other points on the charter include calls for establishing an independent judiciary; carrying out reforms for free and fair elections; ensuring the basic and democratic rights of the public; protecting provincial rights and the 18th Amendment; setting up an effective mechanism for local governments; allowing free speech and independent media; eliminating extremism and terrorism; introducing an emergency economic package to eliminate poverty, inflation and unemployment; and protection and ensuring implementation on the Islamic sections of the Constitution.

On the other hand, critics of the PDM call it an alliance of strange bedfellows with nothing in common. They believe their only motive is to dislodge an elected government in order to escape accountability and the due process of law; and that they are crying hoarse to gain national reconciliation dubbed as NRO. However, the Prime Minister has vowed not to let them off the hook in matters of corruption.

The critics say that the member parties of the alliance are all at cross purposes. For example, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) is a religio-political party that advocates a puritan Islamic model for the country with its own interpretation of history; the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan National Party (PNP) support secular parties; and the PML-N is a centre-right party. With their ideologies at variance with each other, their inner and inherent contradictions are highly likely to unfold at some point.

Now let’s see what has led to these political parties, which have mostly rivaled each other, to get form an alliance.

Our political history tells us that the PDM-like alliances are not new in our country — not even elsewhere in the world for that matter. On the contrary, whenever political and democratic forces stood divided against a common enemy, it resulted in the elimination of opponents, one by one. For instance, the rise of fascism and Nazism in Germany and Italy are the portrayal of the division of the Germans on religious, democratic and Communist lines. The alliance — later comprising the United States, Communist USSR, and the UK to roll back the onslaught of Germany, Italy and Japan — is another fact of history, though Communism diametrically opposed the ideals of the other allies.

Similarly, soon after the establishment of Pakistan, we observed the emergence of alliances against the governments of the Pakistan Muslim League, accused of clamping down on dissenting voices, muffling the press and indulging in undemocratic acts like denying rights to the people and the regions.

In 1953, the Awami League, Krishak Sramik Party, the Nizam-i-Islam, and other parties forged an alliance and fought elections under a 21-point manifesto, which routed the Muslim League in the elections.

The formation of the Combined Opposition Parties in 1964; the fielding of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah against General Ayub Khan for the presidential election; the establishment of Pakistan Democratic Movement under Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and its conversion into the Democratic Action Committee; the emergence of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in 1977; the formation of the Movement for Restoration for Democracy; and the creation of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) against the PPP and the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy against General Musharraf are illustrations of the history of the political alliances either formed by democratic forces themselves without any external influence or at the behest of forces alien to the Constitution.

No doubt, most of these alliances have acted as a propelling force against the dictators, forcing them to abdicate power, paving the way for democracy. However in 1977, the PNA was considered detrimental to the democratic ethos and resulted in the wrapping up of the constitutional rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, abrogation of the Constitution, and eventually the hanging of the most popular leader of the country by General Ziaul Haq, with a devastating effect on the political and social fabric of the country.

The IJI is also alleged to have been masterminded by extra-constitutional forces, with the intent to browbeat the PPP — a progressive political force — for not toeing their line.

Most of these alliances in the past had been triggered by the ruthless and dictatorial polices of the regime in place then. These regimes could not respond to the democratic aspirations of the people and relied on the kinetic energy of the state. Such polices had set in motion a chain reaction which was tried to be controlled through central and bureaucratic machinations ultimately resulting in the crashing of the system. Coercive means had not worked in the past and are not likely to work now or in the future.

The PDM leaders have also been loud and clear that every constituent of the alliance would contest election under its own symbol.

The PDM opponents believe that the PTI has no moral ground to criticise them as it has itself allied with the Pakistan Awami Tehrik of Allama Tahir-ul Qadri and the Awami Muslim League of Sheikh Rasheed for staging a sit-in in Islamabad during their time in the opposition.

The political history of Pakistan suggests that political alliances are justified as long as the democratic process is not derailed. The political forces must learn from the history by setting rules of the political game and affording space to each other for the cause of democracy.

It is time for the government to reach out to the opposition so as to avoid any grave consequences.