Redefining National Interest of Pakistan

Press Gallery: Zardari to redefine national interest
By Rana Qaisar, Daily Times, February 28, 2008

ISLAMABAD: The 41st session of the Senate was prorogued on Thursday without doing any significant business. The agenda for this opposition-requisitioned session, among other items, had included a resolution to oppose the curbs on media by the PEMRA ordinance. But no debate took place on this issue.

While the Senate discussed the political situation in the country, the message from Senator SM Zafar was loud and clear. A seasoned parliamentarian and constitutionalist, Senator Zafar knows many things and is fully conscious of what he says and implies. Participating in the debate on the political situation emerging after the February 18 elections, he said President Musharraf suffered because he had not fulfilled his promises and the message in his defeat was: “Enough is enough.” He advocated a strong role for politicians and asked the military to take a back seat and let the people’s representatives govern this country.

Mr Zardari, however, has a “very clear” agenda in mind. His goals are high and one hopes he, unlike the previous regime, will ensure that his party’s government stays on course to achieve the targets, which, he believes, will be in the national interest. In an interaction with him as part of media delegation, I felt that he meant business. He wants to bring about a change. It was heartening to hear him saying that the “so-called national interest” would be redefined so that it is clear to all and sundry and does not change with any change in regime.

Notwithstanding the composition of the coalition partners, there is no doubt that the PPP will form the government of which Asif Zardari, as he said, would not be a part because he has chosen the role of an “elder brother” for himself. While he wants to do away with the NAB-like institutions in the country, he wants strict monitoring of the ministers through “modern technology” to hold them accountable. He plans to install time-machines at the ministries to check what time the ministers come and at what time they go. His plan to wind up the NAB is based on personal experience and one believes that this is the first lesson he learnt through his suffering.

“The government will be open to accountability,” he said, promising to give media access to information by bringing changes in the existing laws but with the qualification that freedom does not mean “witch-hunt and malicious propaganda”. He also sets high moral standards for the media and referred to some plays telecast on TV channels, which, he observed, were below standard and did not match “our” moral code. “I am not a narrow-minded person but it should not be maader pider aazad morality,” he said, adding that he believed in responsibilty and not censorship.

Sherry Rehman sat on his right side and only engaged with the journalists while updating and advising the co-chairperson on media-related issues. A journalist-turned politician, she knows that the media-government relationship is very delicate and if not handled with care it can turn into enmity. Yousaf Raza Gillani, who sat on the left side of the co-chairperson, took notes diligently. Shah Mehmood Qureshi was also present and he sat next to Gillani. Qureshi is in the race for prime ministership. His body language suggested he was lost in some deep thoughts.

While the opposition did not take up the issue of the PEMRA ordinance in the Senate, Mr Zardari assured the delegation that its recommendation would be given serious thought and the role of PEMRA would be checked to ensure that this body only regulates the business and not the content which, if there are any complaints, would be taken up by the Press Council and the representative bodies of journalists. One hopes that Mr Zardari will minimize the role of the information ministry in media management and cut the bureaucrats to size because it’s the bureaucrat who defines the “national interest”. Journalists cannot help asking questions to get news and when they are interacting with the King maker it comes from the horse’s mouth. A journalist, however, lost patience and asked about the PPP’s contact with the MQM through a delegation. Mr Zardari listened to the question, which reflected the sentiments of the Sindhis against the MQM, and said: “MQM is a reality and I cannot undo it.” He is right. If the PPP can sit with the PML-N, it can sit with any other political party, which has representation in parliament and it is expected that in case the PML-N refuses to share power the PML-Q will be the PPP’s coalition partner.

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