To undo the vicious past

 Published in the News on Sunday

It’s about time a civilian Pakistan functions as a peaceful country with fair share of resources put into people’s welfare

That Pakistan’s endemic political instability is a function of its inherent power imbalances is well known. The continued spells of authoritarian rule have also retarded the growth of political parties and other necessary institutions essential for democratic governance. We are a country trapped in our history, our self-fulfilling conspiracies and intrigues that are also rooted in the various phases of colonial era. Our geo-political situation, celebrated by a rentier state, has not helped us either. From the 1950s we have been in close partnership with global powers that are viewed as the ultimate saviours of a dysfunctional polity.

In 1971, we lost half the country. While the seeds of discord in East Pakistan had been laid by West Pakistan’s ruling elites, our vengeful neighbour took full advantage and supported the Bangladeshi liberation movement. By all accounts, this was an avoidable tragedy had the national security-obsessed state dominated by West Pakistani vested interests could have seen the writing on the wall and fixed the issues of federalism that still haunt us.

The current mess in Pakistan is nothing different from the historic cycles of instability. It is true that the growth of a middle class, relatively independent judiciary and a media that is trying to unshackle itself are clear trends. However, the way Pakistan is governed, its resources are distributed and its state priorities are rolled out in the name of nationalism remain the same. This is the disconnect that has now been exacerbated to the extent that once again, an existentialist dilemma has become common parlance.

This is not to suggest that anyone, God forbid, is working to disintegrate Pakistan. Nor do the regional and international players want such a catastrophic outcome. However, the long-standing issues confronting Pakistani state and society have become untenable and if not addressed will explode bringing us all down. Some say the process has already begun.

The first looming question is whether we will work towards civilian supremacy or not. It appears that while there is loud rhetoric about democratic process, elections and constitutionalism, the conduct of major elements of the state are not wont to exercise power in an accountable manner. If on the one hand, the political parties are dynastic entities supported by clans, tribes and feudal configurations the unelected organs of the state are no less driven by similar imperatives. It may be easy to say that politicians are corrupt and atrocious managers of the state, but this view comes in a complete vacuum. Take, for instance, the past one decade where failed devolution reform has been accepted as a fait accompli without ascertaining who actually caused the mayhem in the country.

The economic mismanagement and the economic meltdown inherited by the present government was in large measure a result of the Musharraf’s economic managers who all are now absolved of their role and not even questioned by those who are all of a sudden hungry for accountability. The reason is simple: no one can take on the uniformed strongmen whether in and out of power. This is a clear lesson. General Yahya Khan and his cohorts broke the country in two parts but they were never summoned to courts or even tried. Even the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report was not made public until decades later.

Second, the thorny issues related to imbalanced federalism have turned into sources of continuing instability. From 1947-1971, the populous wing was never given the democratic rights of a majority province. In fact, there was a constant effort to make it equal to the smaller West Pakistan either through the problematic construct of ‘parity’ and creation of a One Unit. The distribution of resources, wars with India and policy setting almost always remained the domain of unelected institutions who were dominated or, shall we say, controlled by the West Pakistani elites. The results are all too known. We lost our majority province.

Today Balochistan is wrapped in an insurgency. Pakistani flags have been burnt in many schools and the singing of national anthem has been abandoned. Key Baloch tribal leaders, who are a part of the problem, are all set to reject the federation. The Balochistan package, rightly called as a first step, aims to address this problem. But what has been the response to the package — the media gurus want to sell news that reject the package because it was initiated by a government that is not acceptable to its traditional detractors.

NWFP and FATA are in the grip of a war that we got involved in due to the circumstances, geography, and the ill-fated policies of our security establishment to nurture strategic assets and find imaginary depths in Afghanistan. Add to this the concerted campaign to dislodge the co-chairperson of the ruling party whose Sindhi leadership has been brutally killed twice over. There is a perception in Sindh that its prime ministers, and now the president, are always unfairly treated. Thus, the Sindh card. The card has been trashed by many a commentator by using the testimonies of Sindhi politicians with no mass support or representatives of Sindhi nationalist groups who are equally weak in their public support. If and when the incumbent is thrown out or resigns, the political dynamics will change. It was only two years ago when a Sindhi and federal leader was shot dead in broad daylight in the heartland of the Punjab.

The third threat to contemporary Pakistan relates to the rise of Islamism and its impact on the society, foreign policy, and political process. The non-state actors it appears have grown bigger and mightier over the past decades. Such is their nuisance value. The danger is that these are not groups which are clustered or regional anymore. These groups are found across the country with astounding weaponry and ammunition. From the sleepy towns of Southern Punjab to the highly dense urban jungle known as Karachi, these groups operate in a policy framework that allows for pernicious curricula to be taught and utter lack of state capacity to track their funding lines.

At a much deeper level, the mass disenchantment with the status quo and sham governance has aided the growth of Islamism. It is an alternative ideology and in the short term provides livelihood to otherwise destitute families. Take the case of Ajmal Kasab or the young Taliban recruits whose stories are now being documented confirm this phenomena.

Last but not the least is the issue of economic and employment opportunities that are stymied due to the political instability and the chorus that accompanies it. This is a vicious cycle — political instability has clear cut economic repercussions and vice versa. Given that Pakistan’s demographics are fast changing leading to an explosion of sorts within the next two decades this is a worrisome trend. We already have young men and women who find or see no hope in the country and with this situation continuing the results will be disastrous. Recent surveys of youth are disturbing to say the least. The generation that will steer Pakistan into the immediate future is extremely upset and disillusioned. And, who can blame them when the ruling classes — elected and unelected — continue to fight for scrambles of state power and pelf.

Our education system has collapsed, employment is growing at a snail’s pace and insecurity and lack of certainty of Pakistan’s future does not instill much confidence in our younger citizens.

With these four clear threats, it is almost certain that if policy shifts are not effected or deliberated we will fast move towards the scenario where our domestic turmoil and internal factors will result in social and political upheavals that will undo Pakistan given the fact that state capacity has dwindled over time thanks to the rotting colonial institutions of governance. Many post colonial countries are undoing the legacy but we stick to it as faithful followers. The elites who bargained for Pakistan and benefited from it only know one version of reality. But Pakistan is changing and there seems to be no acknowledgement of this reality.

In these circumstances, we the citizens have to pressurise our governing elites to ensure that vicious cycles of the past are undone. A civilian Pakistan functions as a peaceful country with fair share of resources put into welfare of the people. Without this there is no way out. We may already be too late.

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