THE BLOG

Consensus, Not Conflict

It was almost a year ago that I wrote about Pakistan's rabid media peddling unattributed, unsourced tirades about governmental instability. Just days after that piece was published, yet another media-driven crisis filled the airwaves with predictions of the government's imminent doom. Of course, this too turned out to be merely another storm in a tea cup. A week later, we saw talk show hosts expressing heartfelt regrets over the lack of professionalism in Pakistan's media. Looking back, I ask myself, what has changed since a year's time? Sadly, the answer is, 'not much.'

Just as they tried a year ago, the media has once again been beating the drums of war between the judiciary and the executive. The same talk show hosts and commentators announced that President Zardari and "elements in the government" had declared war on the judiciary.

You can imagine the feeling of emptiness brought on when these media men heard Justice Javed Iqbal announce that there is no confrontation, and that all differences of opinion between the judiciary and the executive will be settled with consensus rather than conflict.

Of course, nothing that either the justices or the executive officials say matters much to our so-called journalists, and soon enough we were offered the 'truth' in the form of statements by nameless 'informed sources' who assured us that this time there really was a conflict.

But once again, the days come and go and once again it appears that saner heads have prevailed and there will be no war against the judiciary.

Similarly, we have witnessed over the course of the year repeated predictions of the collapse of the governing coalition as political leaders hotly debated divisive issues and political parties entered and exited the cabinet. We have seen young people participating in street protests. And we have seen passionate debates about the direction Pakistan should take in the future.

All of this is described by both Pakistani and American media with stark terms and dire predictions, only to see retractions following within a few days. These retractions should come as no surprise. Rather, it is the repeated mischaracterization of democratic participation that should surprise us. Politicians negotiating positions, impassioned youth taking to the streets, public debate about important issues -- these are the signs that the people of Pakistan have embraced democracy, not that they are turning it away.

Of course, there are important issues that must be discussed. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad should have woken us from our slumber. The discourse should have changed from frivolous political point scoring to more serious matters. Instead, armchair revolutionaries and retired Cold Warriors declared the entire operation a hoax, never mind the carcass of an American attack helicopter left smoldering at the scene.

If we pretend not to care about America, one would think that the warnings we are beginning to hear from our all-weather friend to the East would get our attention. If we are tired of America's call to 'do more' against militants, last week's statement from China is a wake up call we cannot afford to ignore. Pakistan does not -- and should not -- want to be seen as a haven for terrorists from around the world.

A year from now, as Pakistan's 2013 elections draw even closer, we will, no doubt, see this cycle repeat itself. As in all democracies, no matter how mature, there will be some moment when individuals and institutions disagree. And when this moment comes, we will hear the same tales of doom as have been repeated for the past three years in Pakistan.

The kicking and screaming you hear comes from those who are invested in keeping Pakistan mired in the past, people for whom democracy promises an end to the privileges and fortunes that they have amassed at the cost of a free and prosperous Pakistan. But Pakistan is moving forward, making progress, and working out the kinks faced by all young democracies. Our future will not be without conflict, but it will be defined by consensus.