Pakistani politics goes round and round in circles. Imran Khan and other PTI leaders blame the opposition for all the ills of the country. They call them cheats, thieves and plunderers and use every other derogatory adjective that is in their vocabulary. The opposition does not lag behind in accusing the Prime Minister and the PTI using its own terminology. For the media it is all juicy material and discusses them endlessly. This meaningless conversation or debate goes on with the public either as enthusiastic, bored or indifferent spectators. There are of course, among television and radio channels, quite a few exceptions that engage in meaningful and thought provoking programmes. So are politicians that give little space for rancor and frivolous discourse.
Apparently, what is lost on most of us is that promotion of excessive negative discourse lowers the morale of the public at large and is self-defeating. If it becomes a norm, external and internal forces would exploit it to weaken our national resolve.
The other contradiction is that whereas the very politicians that criticise the military for its political role have no inhibitions in seeking their support politically or for personal reasons.
It is evident that politicians realise that the power structure is unlikely to change soon so if they have to survive politically, a discreet relationship is imperative. The recent revelations about the PML-N leadership’s contacts with the security establishment were as such no surprise. Although coming so soon after the fiery speech of Nawaz Sharif should have embarrassed the major opposition party. The greater implication of this approach, however, is that if it continues it will strengthen the non-political institutions and perpetuate the distortion.
Moreover, the no-holds-barred disclosers by the seasoned politician and senior minister, Sheikh Rashid, is making to demolish the credibility of the top leaders of the opposition and could turn out to be a double edged sword.
By posing as an unofficial spokesperson of the army and an ardent supporter of their role in national affairs what exactly is he trying to achieve? I would consider it misplaced patriotism as the ISPR is and should be the only medium of reflecting the military’s views apart from the briefings by commanders.
Moreover, there is a larger question that needs to be addressed. When would we tackle these contradictions in the political parties and distortions in the power structure that are at variance with the letter and spirit of our Constitution? These are not only affecting Pakistan’s international standing but thwart the country’s potential in a serious manner.
The drift toward political agitation and incoherence needs serious introspection and correction by all sides. The government has pushed the opposition in a corner. Shoddy governance and sky-rocketing prices have placed a huge burden on the millions of dispossessed providing justification for protest. Protests are expected to also relieve pressure on opposition leaders from their court cases.
The flip side is that it could make matters worse and further strengthen non-political institutions to play a major role in state affairs. Mass agitation could also take the focus away of the nation from the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris. Not to mention that Pakistan is already facing intense hostility by Modi’s government and is internally overwhelmed by serious economic and financial problems. These challenges require discourse and cooperation among all stakeholders.
Exploiting the weaknesses of opposition leaders or of politicians in power is a normal democratic activity. But if it is manipulated through intrigues and malice it becomes vicious and self-defeating. And it would be unfortunate if the political culture promotes these unhealthy trends.
For political parties to enjoy greater confidence of the people, they need to be internally democratic. True, the political parties hold their internal elections and fulfil the requirements of the election commission but they also need to go beyond that.
Greater interest in the functioning of the parliament and its committees and better projection of national issues will not only improve the quality of national decisions but also raise the profile of the political parties.
The exemplary sacrifices that our officers and soldiers are making in defence of the country are for everyone to see. Tragically, at times these are clouded because of criticism involving the military’s role in civil affairs.
Past military rulers have justified their intervention as a consequence of weak governance and corruption by the political elite. This line of argument is like the chicken and egg argument as to which came first. The politicians keep harping that they are denied real power and expect the judiciary and parliament to oversee this aspect. Moreover, if quality of governance was the criteria then in India or the United States and in many democratic countries the military or bureaucracy would have been found meddling in politics.
Pakistan’s power structure will have to change for a better future. The present model of governance is characterised by bitter infighting between the government and opposition and exercise of power by state institutions that at times deviate from the Constitution. And is hampered by the unwillingness of the political elite to change their behaviour whether it is paying taxes or conforming to the law.
We have examples of several countries that have transited from military rule or dictatorship to representative democracy or quasi-democracy. Unfortunately, the record of Muslim countries has been rather disappointing reflecting adversely on the general level of their overall development. Most of them are at the lower tier of economic and social development. This is despite Islam’s emphasis on egalitarianism, justice and fair distribution of power.
Undemocratic regimes tend to lean heavily on foreign support for maintaining power but in the bargain pay a price, which is at the cost of its people. Many of these countries are facing serious internal upheavals and external threats. This is the result of an imposed, unrepresentative internal power structure that lacks the will or ability for bringing about economic and social development.
Pakistan’s future would depend on how well it draws the right lessons from its own history and from other countries with a similar history.