How instability is garnered

My latest analysis published by The News

We continue to bemoan the failure of democratic norms to take root in our governance culture. True, that the repeated extra-constitutional interventions and direct or indirect military rule have rendered democratic governance as a distant and seemingly unattainable goal. In addition, the emergence of non-state actors, sometimes more powerful than the state itself has also led to formidable and multiple centres of power. In such a milieu, achieving the sustainability of democratic process is a Herculean task. Whilst the intentions of our unelected state institutions and their overt and covert non-state partners are clear, the behaviour of the political elites is confounding.

Not unlike the past, the divisiveness of Pakistan’s political elites has entered into a decisive phase. Fissures are apparent in the post-2008 political accord that led to the unanimous election of the Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani. The first cleavage, now a recurrent pattern, has emerged in Sindh where the coalition partners — the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — are pitted against each other for political control of urban Sindh. The latest skirmish is rooted in the evolving arrangements for the local governments and who will end up controlling the third tier of government. However, there is an ethnic dimension to it as well. Karachi remains besieged by sectarian, provincial, and linguistic ghosts that apparently are alive and kicking.

The second disruption in the political compact that led to a transition towards representative rule is unfolding in the shape of a brewing discord between the ruling PPP and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). The PML-N rules the Punjab and thereby has a stake in the system and power matrix but it is also striving to maintain its ‘opposition’ status. This is why a dual strategy is evident where a few firebrand leaders of PML-N take a hard line against the federal government and the President Asif Ali Zardari. The party does not want to rock the system it says but also considers ‘options’ that lead to a mid-term election or even the premature exit of the President from the office in the wake of Supreme Court rulings on the National Reconciliation Ordinance.

The third and perhaps more important factor relates to the rag tag parties that boycotted the election in 2008 but are now keen to wreck the system to get into power or share it with other contenders that may include non-political forces. The Tehreek-i-Insaf (TI) led by cricket super-star-turned-philanthropist Imran Khan and the mercurial Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) top this list. Their views on the Taliban threat and proclivity to make peace with the miscreants are also well known and add significant weight to their calls to undo the ‘system’. The recent shifts in the stance of Western powers, especially the United States, towards the Afghani Taliban groups is being touted by these forces as an interim victory of their long held worldview.

Though we can never be sure in Pakistan, how instability is garnered. Is it a systemic fault-line, a handiwork of the shadow state composed of unaccountable and mighty intelligence agencies and/or the influence of regional and global powers such as the US? Political scientists, analysts and conspiracy theorists have all sorts of reasoning for the continued cycles of instability and crash of democracy and constitutionalism. Whatever may be the driving factor, it is clear that the overall impact of this state of affairs has been debilitating for the economy, society and security of Pakistan.

At present, we are mired in the grip of serious economic and fiscal crises. The growth rate at 2 percent or so has been an all-time low and public discourse hardly features it. Inflation has also been unmanageable and seemingly uncontrollable due to the oil price fluctuations, energy costs and other factors. This situation is bound to have a serious impact on the immediate future of Pakistan. The energy and water crises require long-term policymaking and stability in political process and economic management. The federal and provincial governments are strained for resources and moving towards a state of perpetual indebtedness. A shrinking economy also limits the chances for revenue mobilisation and the security scenario rules out increase in foreign investment.

If we were to analyse the Karachi violence, target killings and political mayhem in this context, then the shortsightedness of the political forces and their bickering becomes a matter of immense concern. Similarly, the PPP-PML(N) wrangling also has a perverse effect on the way markets and economic management work. Already, the federal and provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh appear to be on a constant election trail. But the sad reality is that both PPP and PML-N are only dwindling their chances for an electoral success in the next round. The falling popularity of the PPP due to incumbency and economic strain and the by-election results in the Hazara region of NWFP suggest that their strategies have been noting short of political suicide.

This leads us to the recent victorious and smug posturing by PTI chief Imran Khan. His contention that even the US has bowed to his desire for dialogue with the Taliban is neither correct nor a great news for Pakistan. The US, as always, has its selfish national interests in view while deciding on foreign policy matters. Its invasion of Afghanistan was wrong and its hasty exit strategy is equally questionable. After a decade of failure in arresting the problems there, the US public opinion has turned against the war. This is hardly a victory of the Taliban. Let us not forget that in the previous Taliban regime US corporations were supporting the barbaric regime and expanding their business. There is incontrovertible evidence that confirms this.

But the effects of Taliban rule next door will be damaging for Pakistan. The proponents of strategic depth, India bashers and Pakhtun card users might feel elated but the Pakistani Taliban are hardly going to give up their power-capture agenda. Pakistan has never been under US occupation despite the fact that US imperial interests have completely defined Pakistan’s governance choices, national policies and state’s conduct for decades. The Pakistani Taliban represent the embedded instruments of extremism nurtured by the state over time. The jihad factories, the militant madrassas and, above all, the nihilistic and anarchic view of Pakistani Taliban are hardly going to evaporate. Should we be asking them to accept a slice of power as advised by TI and JI? The answer is plain no. Only electoral process, and that too an impartial one, can establish that. Until such a prospect arises, the offers of political reconciliation and tacit offers of power to those who do not represent the people are undermining our nascent democracy in letter and spirit.

This is why the rejectionist point of view by TI and JI is not a means of their return to the Parliament but it can unfortunately bring about a major crisis in Pakistan. Any effort to pack up the present assemblies will be naïve and dangerous at this stage. We have done this too many times in the 1990s. But this time the state itself is a victim of this anarchy. In a political vacuum — a much coveted state for the militants — the non-state actors beyond the confines of constitutional and electoral bounds are likely to step in or at least struggle harder to gain control of power. Their ultimate design is the access to nuclear programme that is a source of Pakistani state’s strength as well as its biggest vulnerability. It is therefore not difficult to understand who wants the present coalition of anti-extremist political parties (PPP and ANP) out of power and to what end.

In addition to our economic meltdown, we are also going to witness a partial reversal of war against extremism that the naïve politicians and media mujahideen, and to use Ayaz Amir’s coinage ‘laptop warriors’, have been calling for. There is no doubt that sectarianism, religious fundamentalism, militancy, and bigoted calls for Sharia imposition are our own problems. If the opinion leaders wish to gloss over this reality then they are doing a huge disservice to our country and even to their role. The future historian will remember these men and women in the unkindest of manners.

In this situation, a wide section of public opinion including former judges, lawyers and civil society activists have raised concerns about using the Islamic provisions of the 1973 Constitution, especially those inserted by the Islamo-fascist dictator General Ziaul Haq to oust the incumbent President. The constitutional way is clear: impeachment is the only way of dethroning the President. The route suggested by the maverick lawyers, and litigants of dubious antecedents, before the Supreme Court is fraught with danger and strangely, not through sheer coincidence, echoes what the JI and TI want us to do with the Taliban and their allies: abject surrender. Pakistan was not created to be a theocracy or a haven for religious fascism and Jinnah’s statements are on record. Its people, ethos and political mainstream remain secular and moderate.

In 1958, there was a band of opportunists, which invoked Army’s help to sort out the mess. The result was the break-up of Pakistan at the hands of his successor whose ally was the JI and whose government was ably assisted by Mr Roedad Khan as Information Secretary. In 1977, Asghar Khan and other politicians lacking legitimacy, the dross of our history, made a similar Faustian mistake. Their laments, books, and shenanigans are insignificant now as we were doomed with a decade of retrogression and socio-political destruction due to the personalised anti-Bhutto stance of handful politicians. In 1999, after sabotage of three civilian governments, a wide array of politicos and civil society luminaries welcomed General Musharraf. The situation that we are in cannot be attributed to the person of General Musharraf alone. All the collaborators and abettors are equally guilty of bringing us to such a pass.

In 2010, the interventionist chorus of opportunists and losers among the political elites, select individuals from the media who are convinced that GHQ will intervene with boots and tanks, regurgitates the same old recipes for our survival. We have only grown weaker and weaker with each decade of authoritarian, unaccountable rule. This is a lesson that the politicians need to learn — otherwise the camel is always willing to peep into the proverbially tattered and fractured tent.

It is time that the political elite sat down to resolve their power-sharing issues for the next two years and resolve that they will not aid or abet any extra-constitutional calamity. In addition to a political accord, they will have to agree on a bi-partisan basis on the two key issues: economy and war against extremism. Any shift of focus at this critical juncture will lend credibility to the propaganda by anti-democratic forces that our politicians are meant to be in jail, exile or inspiration for national monuments.

The writer is a development professional and a writer based in Lahore. He blogs at and edits Pak Tea House and Lahorenama e-zines

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