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Dawn Editorial 14 January 2020

PML-N’s choice

THE PML-N appears to have taken a strategic decision to abandon the path of confrontation with the establishment and opt for the reconciliation route.
There has been no formal announcement in this regard, but actions, and indeed silence, speak louder than words.
Read: Hard times about to be over, PML-N tells its workers
The fuzzy remarks of PML-N parliamentarians and the studious silence of the top party leadership were both commandeered in the service of the party’s vote in favour of the bill on the extension of the services chiefs.
The open and unambiguous support for the bill took everyone — including the party rank and file — by surprise. Since then, the leadership has faced a deluge of criticism from its supporters and derision from its opponents.
Did the party miscalculate and make a mistake?
This may not necessarily be the case. For instance, a report in this paper, based on conversations with some PML-N leaders, says the strategic shift is a well-considered policy aimed at mending fences with the establishment in order to chart a path back to power.
The leadership has reportedly told party colleagues that the shift from resistance to reconciliation will reap rich political dividends for the PML-N and not result in much damage in the long run.
Politics, they say, is the art of the possible, and the PML-N may have thought that the long-term benefits of abandoning its resistance mode would far outweigh the short-term damage to its credibility.
This may be so, but it would be safer to say that Nawaz Sharif’s attempt to mount an ideologically driven challenge to the establishment and reshape the ethos of his party has been all but abandoned. It will be difficult to unfurl the banner of resistance once again if things do not work out for the party as envisioned.
The charitable view is that the Sharifs are hardened political players and know the fabric of the system better than most of their opponents. Therefore, away from the rough and tumble of the Pakistani landscape, they have delved deep into the causes of their troubles, weighed options and scenarios and concluded that salvation lies in the path of least resistance.
There could be various reasons for this logic. Perhaps the party is not cut out for defiance and is unable to sustain a prolonged confrontation; perhaps the timing of its erstwhile defiance was not right; or perhaps the leadership is unable to deliver on its slogan that demands ‘respect for the vote’.
In all cases, Shahbaz Sharif’s long-held view seems to have prevailed, and he is the man holding the steering wheel. The PML-N has made its choice. Every choice has consequences that carry risks and rewards.
The party leadership should now introduce an element of transparency in its strategic shift and explain to the voters how this change of tack is not for personal or family reasons but for a larger cause.


MQM convener’s move

THROUGHOUT its political history, the MQM has had a chequered record of both joining and leaving governments, in the centre as well as in Sindh. Once upon a time, these decisions would be announced in dramatic fashion, with the party’s founder and now ex-supremo Altaf Hussain holding forth as the cameras rolled, letting the nation know who the party was ditching or propping up. Those times may be gone, but some habits die hard. The Muttahida’s current chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui told the media on Sunday that he was quitting his post as federal IT and telecom minister, though adding that the MQM was not leaving the PTI-led coalition. The decision was taken due to apparently broken promises by the PTI, with Mr Siddiqui saying the federal government had done little for Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh — the Muttahida’s traditional constituency. The centre was quick to act, with the prime minister himself reportedly saying that the MQM’s reservations would be looked into, as a number of PTI cabinet members added that they would not let their Sindh-based ally go. On Monday, Planning Minister Asad Umar was in Bahadurabad, Karachi, where the MQM has temporarily set up shop after its Nine Zero headquarters were sealed by the establishment, to woo Khalid Maqbool. Though the meeting seemed to be cordial, there were no immediate sign that the Muttahida convener would take back his resignation from the cabinet.
Ever since emerging as an electoral force in the 1980s, the MQM has made itself useful to governments and, at the same time, relished its role as kingmaker despite its status as a middle-tier Sindh-based party. The MQM has indeed had a transactional relationship with its political partners, often ending the alliance if it felt it was not getting a good enough deal. As far as the coalition with the PTI is concerned, this again seems to have been a transactional arrangement, as there is very little linking the two parties ideologically. In fact, at one time the respective leaderships used toxic phraseology to describe each other. But in politics friends and enemies change quite swiftly, and the next few days (or hours?) will show whether the MQM follows up by going further and leaving the coalition. Regardless, it would gain either way, whether it is offered more ‘incentives’ by the PTI, or if takes up the PPP’s offer to join the Sindh government.


Iran plane disaster

THE accidental shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger aircraft, and the aftermath of the incident, has exposed the weaknesses in Iran’s defence strategy. Together, international isolation and the domestic blowback have put the regime in a catch-22 situation. The tragic blunder that resulted in the death of 176 people on board has called into question the ability of Iran’s military and civilian leadership to tread with caution in a potentially explosive situation. Why aerospace commander Brig-Gen Ali Hajizadeh’s earlier request that the area be declared a no-fly zone had been rejected is puzzling. In times of such heightened tensions, the regime should have closed off Iranian airspace for commercial flights — many international airlines themselves had decided to avoid flying over the country. What is also of concern is that Iranian defences failed to distinguish between a hostile and commercial aircraft, or mistook the plane for a missile. The fact that the passenger aircraft had taken off from Tehran airport and was not coming from outside Iran’s borders should have been enough reason not to flag it as an immediate threat, especially when all of the country’s defence systems were on full alert, hours after Iran had struck two Iraqi bases housing American military personnel. The downing of the airliner has rightly caused alarm in the region at a time when the threat of war still looms.
Iran may have staved off greater international pressure by admitting its “unforgiveable mistake” but it appears as if the regime with its damaged credibility might have to make further concessions in the face of mass public protests in the country. Iranians are justifiably infuriated at the incident that left a large number of Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, among others, dead — and at their leadership’s initial effort to deflect the blame. Cracking down on the protesting public — that is also driven by domestic woes — is not going to help the regime. The focus must now be on a transparent inquiry and cooperation with international authorities, especially the affected countries, who want a thorough investigation.


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