What a fuss | Imtiaz Alam


If everybody starts breaching the norms, can any organisation or institution or a system survive? If various arms of the executive start colliding, regardless of their mandate and constitutional obligation, can a state function?

Regardless of who is at the helm, can any type of system work if subordinates start disobeying the competent authority? Do we really want to evolve a system on a permanent basis or continue to erode it for personal or institutional gratification? Are we ready to learn from our mistakes? And, ultimately, what do we want to do with this country? These and other numerous questions continue to haunt our yet-to-be-matured nation.

Indeed, nation-building is not without hiccups and distractions. But in Pakistan’s case, it remains struck with various enigmas and paradoxes. It’s a zigzag and viciously repetitive cycle rather than a spiral movement that defines our national evolution. From the ideological direction to a systemic evolution, we observe a malfunctioning, malnourished, misdirected and distorted growth that betrays a logical continuum.

Seventy years of existence – however tumultuous they may have been – should have been enough for us to learn from our mistakes and set a direction for holistic development. We are perhaps a unique nation in modern history that has not experimented with any other model and yet has not evolved a well-defined nationhood and statehood. We live in the fascinating memory of the golden era of medieval times and ignore the stark reality of our existence without caring for the future. Perhaps, we are anti-system and yet not anarchists.

Paradoxically, we were once a ‘nation’ without a territory. When we acquired a homeland, we refused to acknowledge it for some kind of ideological aversion to our terrestrial being. We tried to quell indigenous diversity and historical rootedness for the sake of a brotherhood that was alien to our historic being. We started to build statehood without defining its nature. We have not yet settled down as a nation and are undecided about what kind of a system that we want.

Many of us are at a loss to understand what exactly we want.

We create a system to demolish it and continue to make and unmake it as if it is a sort of knitting and un-knitting hobby of a person who has nothing to do. We continue to commit the same kind of mistakes and are obsessed with resolving our contradictions in a similar fashion with the misplaced hopes of getting different results. We are the patients of our self-created diseases and are willingly averse to any kind of rational cure.

Our infinite passion for bringing down our system of governance every other decade leaves many in a state of wonder. No other nation of the world has so frequently experimented with this. We had the vice-regal system with a governor general – a system that was borrowed from the Government of India Act 1935.

We did not agree for too long over anything: whether we should develop a geographical nationhood or a extraterritorial Muslimhood; the issue of whether sovereignty belonged to the Almighty, the people to an Islamic state/caliphate or a republic, parliamentary or presidential form of government; whether federal or unitary governance should prevail; whether we should have joint or separate electorate, adult franchise or an electoral college; whether Islamic or secular jurisprudence should prevail; whether there should be one or more national language; and what the status of civil and human rights would be.

We experimented with 10 constitutions and political dispensations: 1935 act with a governor general; the 1956 constitution with a parliamentary system; 1962 constitution with a presidential and unitary/federal system, which was not based on adult franchise; the abrogation of the constitution, the martial law imposed by General Yahya Khan and the breakup of the country; the 1972 presidential constitution to lift martial law; the 1973 federal, democratic and half-Islamic, half-secular constitution with joint electorate and adult franchise; the constitution being declared to be in abeyance under the martial law imposed by General Ziaul Haq and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) sanctified by the apex court and a fraudulent referendum and non-party based elections; the Eighth Amendment republic with a diarchy of the prime minister and the president with powers to pack-up the system in 1988-1989; the constitution being placed once again in abeyance with the martial law of General Musharraf, who later became the president; the 18th Amendment republic mixed with the Islamic remnants of the Eighth Amendment; and now a de facto state of martial rule with the facade of a democratic dispensation.

In the economic sphere, we first pursued state-backed capitalism and strengthened the rent-seeking elites on the basis of import substitution while allowing the perpetuation of feudal estates, which climaxed during Ayub Khan’s model of development. It was designed by the Harvard School of Economics that created vast social stratification and regional inequalities. Then we had Bhutto’s state socialism, a dominating public sector and a continuing green revolution in favour of the rural elite. And now, we are experimenting with privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation and the dependence on exogenously-driven development and sustainability with CPEC as the new mantra of a game-changer. We first witnessed it with the aid we received from the US in the past and are now seeing it again as we become a Chinese trading outpost.

As if this perpetual inconsistency is not enough for self-implosion, we have allowed the state to grow out of proportion with our meagre resources that continue to multiply with the ever-growing demands of the security apparatuses. In fact, we have become a national security state at war with the so-called security assets that we have created and with all of our neighbours. In the course of jihadisation, we created private militias, promoted jihadi ideologies and became a warrior state that perpetuated conflict for its own survival at the cost of societal cohesion.

If at all some kind of national paradigm was built, it was not based on our own historical and affirmative basis. A hybrid form of nationalism was perpetuated based on the enmity with India and the denial of indigenous cultural and ethnic diversity. In fact, it was Bhutto who articulated the overarching national security paradigm, but was ironically found to be a national security risk and was executed.

Is it not tragic that almost all the prime ministers were declared, in one way or the other, a security risk and were removed from their offices unceremoniously or in a bloody fashion. Liaquat Ali Khan was murdered, Khawaja Nazimuddin and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy were thrown out, Bhutto was hanged, Benazir Bhutto was killed and Nawaz Sharif was overthrown twice, handcuffed and exiled. The transfer of power took place democratically and peacefully from one elected government to the other for the first time after the 2013 elections.

The third government of Nawaz Sharif barely survived a putsch and had to cope with the successive domineering generals. Now it is being established that a national security breach took place from the precincts of the Prime Minister’s Office. Two of his close aides have been sacked and further action is being demanded to the satisfaction of the GHQ whose DGPR had the muscle to publicly reject the prime minister’s directive. It only reveals the two parallel centres of power: one is a de facto centre with the upper hand and the other de jure on the receiving end. Now we have been accustomed to a civil leadership and a military leadership; a lame-duck civilian government and a state represented by the army chief.

All over the world, the armed forces are an arm of the executive, not an institution at par with the executive. In our case, it is opposite. Without the changing civil-military equation, we cannot have a stable system of governance and the fuss is to continue, with the affectees littering the civilian side.