Tuesday, May 26, 2009

President's credibility

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 11-10-07

In early eighties Reagan appointed a new and inexperienced George Schultz as the US foreign minister who had to deal with the old and experienced Russian, Gromyko. These were the days of the cold war and many Americans were worried that Gromyko might take advantage of the inexperienced Schultz. Henry Kissinger, considered one of the most experienced and outstanding American statesman was asked about the situation. He replied in his signature relaxed but firm tone, that Gromyko is too smart to attempt taking advantage. Kissinger thought that if a foreign minister takes undue benefits of someone inexperienced, he would lose his credibility, as other diplomats might stop trusting him and no one would like to deal with him. Such an over smart diplomat would lose his utility and wont last in the world’s diplomatic arena for long. Kissinger was right and Gromyko didn’t take any unfair advantage of Schultz’s inexperience.

Just lately the PM and the senior ruling party leaders called the recent reconciliation ordinance a political move of the government trying to divide the opposition for the Presidential elections suggesting that reconciliation was never intended. They further elaborated that “raat gai baat gai” as it was some kind of a joke. All this coming from the senior most leadership paints a bleak picture of the political acumen of the ruling party. Their basic message appears to be “don’t trust Gen Musharraf”. It is a very negative message which can increase the atmosphere of confrontation and mistrust prevalent in our society and must be controlled.

Credibility is the most precious personal asset anyone can have whether in politics, business or any other field in which human dealing is involved. By taking undue advantage of others once one can risk his credibility and trustworthiness seriously jeopardizing his future performance and utility. If a politician in power tries to cash in on his credibility it would be like slaughtering a golden egg-laying hen, as it would be the first and last time such a thing could be attempted. It creates a credibility gap that can lead the ruling politicians into blind alleys seriously curtailing their options to their detriment along with the nation’s. This fine point is well appreciated by the wise the world over but unfortunately our political arena still attempts it.

If all this was a non-serious step it was cruel especially for General Musharraf because primarily his credibility is at stake. It would further push him into a blind alley in which he finds himself since the CJ issue and is working hard to come out of. General Musharraf spent his first 5 years in power smoothly and comfortably primarily because Pakistanis found in him an honest though at times simple soldier. People felt they could trust him and as they were annoyed with the much-maligned politicians they wanted to give him a chance. A major jolt was dealt to his reputation when he reneged on his promise to quit his military post in 2004. He is yet to fully recover from that harmful episode and cannot afford more assaults on his credibility. Probably the difficult situation he finds himself in can be easily traced to his broken promise, as many segments of society are reluctant to trust him.

Word politics in Pakistan has been repeatedly misused as Shaukat Aziz called it a political move. Politics and politician have been slandered much and now the term politics equates basically “intrigue” or something licentious in the common language. One of the reasons for our failure to have stable democracy or strong institutions might be our rough treatment of politics and the politicians. We must not forget that politics is basically service and that also without being paid distinguishing from it from the paid public servants. This makes politics a kind of “ibadat” if practiced correctly.

Bhutto, the most talented and outstanding politician that we ever had was also not immune to this weakness. His biggest achievement was the signing of the unanimous constitution of 1973. Unfortunately after the signing he bragged in front of his friends that he had outwitted his opponents and dissolved two provincial governments controlled by the opposition. This single selfish step of his which many considered his political skill, damaged his credibility the most totally isolating him from which he could never recover. Politicians and others did not want to deal with him and all of them joined hands with a single objective, his removal. Ultimately it led to his gallows to his personal and great national loss. Even today there is a considerable segment of society that finds it hard to associate with his party the PPP. The tragic example of Bhutto should be sufficient to convince people not to risk their credibility for any apparent gain.

General Musharraf is in active politics and cannot afford to risk his credibility if he wishes to come out of the recent impasse. I hope and wish that although I have grave reservations about the reconciliation ordinance, Shaukat Aziz’s statement is incorrect. It was not a political move to divide the opposition. I would like to believe that General Musharraf and his party does not indulge in negative politics or intrigues. This perception would discourage people to get to desperate and join hands on a one-point agenda, get rid of Musharraf. Whoever put Musharraf is this difficult situation was either not his well-wisher or not a wise one. Whatever, it is up to General Musharraf to guard his interests because at his position he can’t get away with alibis. His clarification of the matter is due.

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