The PDM must have realized the folly it committed to voting out Imran Khan and plunged the country into a mire. For the ordinary person, a confrontation between the political forces is sapping the country’s energies. Although all surveys pointed to the decline of IK’s cult politics, which had only harmed the country domestically and internationally, the PDM fell for the power trap, a subject of detailed analysis. However, the lust for power has blinded the political gurus to basic lessons of politics that the institution of democracy requires teamwork, not the family monopoly or temporary gains.
Ironically, the ensuing chaos is maligning the institutions which are supposed to provide the steel frame to the state. No one knows which direction the country is headed, nor do the political forces in the country have the capability or maturity to retrieve the situation from the precipice. Therefore, the uncertainty in the country is ominously enervating it from the core. Something drastic will become inevitable from the establishment if the current situation stays fluid and those vying for power continue with their confrontationist posturing.
Call it naivety or crude politics, the selection of a Chief of Army Staff (COAS) has become a life-and-death issue for the protagonists. The political elite is going berserk, even dragging the institution that is supposed to be beyond reproach and a source of strength to the democratic system. Whether Shahbaz Sharif, remotely controlled by his brother Nawaz Sharif from London, or Imran Khan blatantly demanding a COAS of his choice, are either grotesquely naïve or incompetent not to understand that army, as an institution, has maintained its institutional autonomy during the past seven decades and would not allow the political bosses to meddle in its affairs. Who would know better than the Bhuttos and Sharifs that their hand-picked generals as COAS followed an agenda in confrontation with their idea of governance?
That confrontation is bound to occur if the politicians consider ruling the country their divine right. None of the political parties in the country is capable enough to confront the military and civil establishments on national security issues; there is no think tank worth the salt that may feed the political parties on governance and national security issues. Nor the political leadership ever bothers to consult the existing think tanks on matters of national importance. The committee system followed in the parliament lacks the competence to raise bitter questions that may sound anathema to the establishment. The reason is that our parliamentarians are not only incompetent to question a particular defence sale or purchase but may also consider them a bad omen for their future political prospects. Similarly, the country’s foreign policy is not the forte of our politicians. Either they lack the competence or courage to challenge the establishment on a particular foreign policy issue.
The same is true about the civil bureaucracy, which has lost its pride and prestige over the decades. The political bosses have made the civil bureaucrats their household butlers. Consequently, the bright and the best in the civil bureaucracy are seen indulging in shameful acts of subservience, even at the cost of harming the rule of law and their integrity. Just conduct a small survey to determine how many grade-22 officers are sticking to servile positions in Lahore to serve the ruling families. And when it comes to bureaucracy, Lahore is the haven for the powerful while the rest of the country serves as a second fiddle.
Amazingly, the champions of democracy demand uninterrupted governance without interference from the establishment. Their earnest demand is the security of a 5-year tenure, as they have spent millions of rupees on their election campaigns. However, these very democrats are reluctant to give secure tenure to a bureaucrat to perform his task.
There is no doubt Pakistan’s politics is eroding at its base level. When entangled in a power tussle, the government and the opposition lack the skill, capability or will to resolve their issues through political means. The government tends to use the coercive arm of the state to bludgeon the opposition into submission, while the opposition hobnobs with the establishment to bring down the sitting government. Indeed, the establishment would be too happy to play the role of a power broker and keep the political actors performing as per their directives.
The cumulative impact of the ongoing power tussle is that country’s institutions are suffering from inertia. Those who believe the establishment would continue to benefit from the ongoing tussle are unaware of the power dynamics in such a situation. In a charged environment, leading to political instability, the country’s overall performance is negatively impacted. A weak economy means weakening the institutions and social unrest at the popular level. A politically unstable country lacks respect or credibility in its external relations. Since the country lacks a credible mechanism to reconcile political disputes, the establishment’s involvement becomes inevitable. Hence the game of musical chairs continues.
Another paradox the country’s politics face is the unbelievable wealth the politicians and their allies accumulated. One should not object to a wealthy politician if he earned through fair means. However, over the decades, a visible elite capture of the country’s resources has made the common man feel helpless and powerless. The land was introduced to the Kalashnikov and Pajero culture during Zia’s regime. Now, look at the SUVs of all brands during political rallies, which is nothing but a naked display of wealth. And no questions asked.
Isn’t it a cruel joke that these filthy rich and powerful are championing the cause of the poorest of the poor in the country? Had they possessed a modicum of integrity, they would have shared parts of their wealth and expensive properties in Jati Umra or Bani Gala for the flood victims in the country. It appears as if the leadership in the country is hand in glove with the real estate and Sugar mafias to promote their vested interests, accumulate wealth and build a luxurious life in the West. Who cares if getting two square meals becomes a daily struggle for the tiny millions?
Note: This article appeared in BOL, dated 23 November 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.