[Editorial by Dawn] ‘Put up or shut up’: Advice for President Zardari:

To hear President Zardari tell it, great ‘conspiracies’ are afoot to undermine democracy in Pakistan and shove the PPP out of power. The president’s latest outburst against unnamed ‘enemies’ of democracy and the PPP came yesterday on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s second death anniversary. But while the president is decrying the alleged assault on democracy, he has yet to explain where exactly the threat is emanating from. Who are these enemies of the state and the PPP? Is the president referring to a section of the media? The army? The ‘establishment’? Curiously, while the president is beating the conspiracy drum, the prime minister is talking down the possibility of a clash between institutions of the state and claiming that the PPP is secure and unthreatened. So which is it? Is the president right or the prime minister?

To dismiss out of hand the possibility of some ‘campaign’ against the PPP and the government is of course not advisable. The tawdry history of politics, the weak roots of democracy and the hidden and not-so-hidden forces that can threaten dispensations with genuine electoral legitimacy are all well known. But President Zardari is doing a disservice to the nation by raising an alarm without indicating who the alleged agents of instability are. The country and its politicians need to know the truth, for if there is a genuine threat it needs to be fought against urgently. While it is true that sections of the media and the political opposition have been very critical of the government, it is also true that other sections are firmly committed to the democratic project and will come to the government’s defence if extra-parliamentary or extra-constitutional forces try to derail the transition to democracy. So Mr Zardari need not wage a lonely battle against the ‘enemy.’

The president ought also to think about the possibility that his aggressive public posturing against his unnamed enemies may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are only so many possibilities about where the threat Mr Zardari keeps referring to can come from. With his public comments, Mr Zardari may in fact be alarming persons in those institutions that they could be the target of impending attacks themselves and therefore need to strike before they are struck against. Our advice: put up or shut up. The president is supposed to be a symbol of the federation, a unifying force rather than a hyper-partisan figure fuelling conspiracy theories.

More presidential, less political — that’s what the country needs from Mr Zardari.


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