Jan 13, 2011

Politics of Consequence: Choosing Punjab’s Next Governor

The next Punjab Governor – to replace Salman Taseer, who was brutally murdered earlier this week – is expected to be announced any time. Although many names – including a few refreshing surprises are still floating around, one hears that a consensus has already been achieved and former Attorney General Sardar Latif Khosa is already receiving congratulatory phone calls from colleagues on his impending appointment.

This being Pakistan, anything can still happen – and, maybe, we will hear a name that has not yet been even discussed. That being as it may, our interest is less in the precise name and more in the political consequences and messaging of whatever decision is made.
As reader Qurban Ali rightly pointed out in a comment elsewhere on this blog the ‘symbolism’ of the appointment will be important. The decision will be discussed, dissected and digested by Pakistan’s body politics even more than most such decisions are, not only because it comes mid-term and because it comes as a result of such disastrous circumstances, but even more because it will be seen as the most authentic statement on (a) the government’s (and Mr. Zardari’s) real and honest response to the way Salman Taseer was slain and (b) the government’s (and Mr. Zardari’s) real and honest intent about the future of the political relationship with the PML(N) in the Punjab.
For both those reasons, the decision itself is critical and even more critical will be the very first statements and actions that the new Governor – whoever s(he) may be – makes.
Personally, I find it very important that in the choice of the next Governor – and in the new Governor’s first words and actions – be a clear statement that the government is not going to be cowed by the violent intolerance that brought Salman Taseer’s life to an end. No one wants to flare violence any further than it has already engulfed Pakistan, and this message has to be delivered with care, but also with clarity. The very worst message to send to the extremists right now would be anything that suggests to them that murder and violence is a ‘successful’ strategy; that the government is now ‘scared’ and will ‘retreat’ from matters of principle. If such a message is received by the extremists the lesson they will learn is one of more murder and more violence. This will be disastrous for the country.
Equally important for the province and for the country right now is to bring down the temperature of political infighting amongst parliamentary forces and to bring a sense of stability to the country (this is true not just for the Punjab but for all provinces today). For this reason, I would like to see someone who can reduce the level of jugat-baazi and political point-scoring between PML(N) and PPP – supposedly, allies in the Punjab government. There are at least two reasons why it is important to appoint someone who can be a potential bridge-builder rather than an instigator. First, there are only that many battles that you can fight at one time; I would much rather see all the major political forces in the country fight the forces of intolerance and extremism rather than consume their energies in pulling each others’ legs (supposedly in preparation for whenever the next elections might be). Second, with the country facing the type of economic, social and security challenges that it is facing, there is an even greater premium on political stability than usual. Our politicians seem not to realize this, but lingering instability and politicking is destroying people’s faith in democratic politics itself. That, too, is disastrous for the country.



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