Pak­istan’s evo­lu­tion is a fas­ci­nat­ing story of change and re­sis­tance that has en­tered a de­ci­sive phase in set­ting the mo­men­tum for the fu­ture.

Southasia - - Contents Cover Story - By Raza Rumi The writer is a pub­lic pol­icy ex­pert and an editor at the weekly Fri­day Times.

The po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship needs to wake up to some harsh re­al­i­ties.

If there is any sin­gle con­stant in Pak­istani pol­i­tics it is peren­nial in­sta­bil­ity. More so when fledg­ling democ­ra­cies strug­gle to change the gov­er­nance dis­course and at­tempt to con­sol­i­date their hold over power which has tra­di­tion­ally been con­cen­trated in the un­elected ‘arms’ of the ex­ec­u­tive. The cur­rent civil­ian gov­ern­ments at the cen­tre and the prov­inces are no ex­cep­tion to this his­tor­i­cal trend.

Nev­er­the­less contemporary po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics in the coun­try dis­play both con­ti­nu­ity and dis­con­ti­nu­ity from his­tor­i­cal trends. This is what makes Pak­istan’s evo­lu­tion dur­ing the 21st cen­tury a most fas­ci­nat­ing process of so­ci­etal change and re­sis­tance by the post-colo­nial state which is ba­si­cally fight­ing a se­ri­ous bat­tle for its sur­vival; and per­haps has en­tered the de­ci­sive phase of this con­flict.

To un­der­stand Pak­istan’s do­mes­tic strug­gles, its un­for­tu­nate geo-strate­gic po­si­tion­ing can­not be sep­a­rated from what hap­pens in­side the coun­try. This is why do­mes­tic pol­i­tics re­mains locked in com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives of what Pak­istan should not do or what it ought to be do­ing vis-à-vis. the U.S. The U.S. oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan, the decade long strug­gle of Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment to re­tain its lever­age in Afghanistan and “con­tain” In­dia has pos­si­bly ex­hausted its pol­icy options. There­fore the in­ter­nal mo­nop­oly of power wielded by the mil­i­tary-in­tel­li­gence com­plex is also un­der threat and the civil­ians, de­spite their tot­ter­ing pol­i­tics, find them­selves in a unique sit­u­a­tion of re­defin­ing how power may be re­dis­tributed and ex­er­cised in the years to come. Whether the civil­ians are able to as­sert them­selves in a mean­ing­ful and sus- tain­able man­ner re­mains to be seen.

Since May 2, when OBL was cap­tured and killed by U.S. Navy Seals, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary com­plex has come un­der im­mense pres­sure from NATO and the West. U.S.-Pak re­la­tions have never been so strained while pub­lic opin­ion on both the sides has ex­ac­er­bated mat­ters. The ma­jor de­vel­op­ments were Pak­istan’s de­mand to re­move U.S. train­ers and other per­son­nel sta­tioned in the coun­try and the sus­pen­sion of $800 mil­lion mil­i­tary aid re­sult­ing in a ma­jor fire­fight­ing ex­er­cise by both sides and cul­mi­nat­ing in the In­ter Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) Chief’s visit to the U.S. in mid-July. The two ‘fren­e­mies’ – an apt description of the re­la­tion­ship – have for the time kissed and made up un­til the next cri­sis emerges. In the mean­time, the U.S. pol­icy of send­ing drones into Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas con­tin­ues un­abated.

The U.S. strike on the OBL hide­out on May 2 un­leashed a bar­rage of crit­i­cism in the Pak­istani press and its ubiq­ui­tous elec­tronic me­dia. Such was the power of the en­su­ing de­bate that me­dia com­men­ta­tors known for

their apolo­getic stance on all things mil­i­tary turned against their erst­while gods, and helped build a dis­course which openly tar­geted the in­com­pe­tence of the mil­i­tary in de­fend­ing the coun­try’s air space against the U.S. “in­va­sion.”

The lib­eral-sec­u­lar section of the me­dia gu­rus chanted the com­plic­ity the­ory with a re­newed gusto. On na­tional tele­vi­sion un­prece­dented dis­cus­sions took place, the most mem­o­rable be­ing Asma Ja­hangir’s scathing at­tack on the gen­er­als as pol­icy “duf­fers.” This was fol­lowed by the tra­di­tion­ally pro-es­tab­lish­ment party, Pak­istan Mus­lim League (Nawaz) call­ing for mil­i­tary ac­count­abil­ity. The rul­ing coali­tion of PPP-ANP played it safe and de­cided to take a cyn­i­cal ap­proach of sup­port­ing the mil­i­tary for short-term power gains. How­ever, the pres­sure within the PPP is such that it may not be able to sus­tain its op­por­tunis­tic stance.

Bar­ring the 2007-08 fa­tigue with army rule ex­em­pli­fied by the lawyers’ move­ment, the cur­rent spate of chal­leng­ing the mil­i­tary dom­i­nance is the sec­ond mo­ment after the breakup of Pak­istan in De­cem­ber 1971 that needs se­ri­ous soul-search­ing at the mil­i­tary’s end. In spite of the fran­tic po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in the month of July, the mo­men­tum is hardly lost. Pak­istan’s rel­a­tively free print me­dia and the rise of the so­cial me­dia im­ply that crit­i­cism of the mil­i­tary is no longer a pro­hib­ited topic of pub­lic de­bate. As in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on Pak­istan will grow in the coming months and the lever­age that the Pak­istan army had cre­ated in the form of its sup­port to Afghan Tal­iban will be fur­ther reduced due to the U.S. pol­icy of talk­ing di­rectly to sec­tions of the Tal­iban and ma­jor strate­gic shifts might be in or­der.

There­fore a rene­go­ti­a­tion of the way for­eign and se­cu­rity poli­cies are con­ceived and rolled out might take place in the short to medium term. Fur­ther­more, the U.S. pol­icy of en- gag­ing with the civil­ian au­thor­i­ties might not wit­ness a re­ver­sal as was an­nounced in mid-July through a re­newed pledge to con­tinue civil­ian aid to Pak­istan. This in­abil­ity of the U.S. aid bu­reau­cracy to en­gage with the civil­ian in­sti­tu­tions and demon­strate de­vel­op­ment re­sults has ex­ac­er­bated the wide­spread anti-Amer­i­can­ism in the coun­try. Most Pak­ista­nis be­lieve that they are los­ing their sol­diers and civil­ians in acts of ter­ror­ism due to the war on ter­ror. Other than the rul­ing PPP and ANP, few po­lit­i­cal par­ties own this war as a Pak­istani bat­tle against ex­trem­ism. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, the U.S. will have to re­think its han­dling of aid and pledges that it has made to the Pak­istani peo­ple.

Turn­ing back to the do­mes­tic dy­nam­ics, the PPP-led fed­eral gov­ern­ment has de­fied all pre­dic­tions of its fall. It has com­pleted three years in of­fice and is all set to gain a ma­jor­ity in the up­per house, i.e. the Se­nate, which may help the PPP re­tain power be­yond the next gen­eral elec­tion. The sur­vival of an oth­er­wise frag­ile coali­tion has largely been pos­si­ble due to the mav­er­ick po­lit­i­cal skills of Pres­i­dent Zar­dari and his deft han­dling of Pak­istan’s key po­lit­i­cal ac­tors in­clud­ing the per­ma­nent es­tab­lish­ment. The largest op­po­si­tion party, PML-N, feels threat­ened by the con­stel­la­tion of po­lit­i­cal forces al­lied un­der the lead­er­ship of Zar­dari, in par­tic­u­lar, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­long­ing to the three smaller prov­inces, which con­firm to the Zar­dari-led PPP’s “fed­eral” cre­den­tials.

The wild­card in this po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ment is the tense sit­u­a­tion in Karachi, Pak­istan’s largest city, which gen­er­ates up to 20 per­cent of the coun­try’s GDP and is its fi­nan­cial nerve cen­tre. Dur­ing July, the Mut­tahida Qaumi Move­ment walked out of the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments and an un­for­tu­nate cy­cle of vi­o­lence en­sued with this de­vel­op­ment. At the time of writ­ing, nearly 150 peo­ple in Karachi were dead and bil­lions of ru- pees were lost ei­ther due to the dam­age to pub­lic and pri­vate prop­erty or through the eco­nomic con­se­quences of strikes. The PPP’s rein­tro­duc­tion of the 1861 Po­lice Act and re­vival of the com­mis­sion­er­ate sys­tem for Karachi and Sindh may work in the short-term but is be­ing billed as a re­gres­sive pol­icy de­ci­sion. It is tragic that this move to bring back colo­nial forms of gov­er­nance would tend to di­lute the oth­er­wise glorious achieve­ment of de­cen­tral­iz­ing fed­eral pow­ers through the 18th Amend­ment.

Per­haps the July 1 cel­e­bra­tion of De­vo­lu­tion Day re­mains a for­mi­da­ble sil­ver lin­ing in the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of Pak­istan. The his­toric strug­gles for provin­cial au­ton­omy are bear­ing fruit and po­lit­i­cal par­ties by con­sen­sus have de­volved hun­dreds of es­sen­tial func­tions, pow­ers and man­dates to provin­cial gov­ern­ments, backed by greater re­sources through a re­vised Na­tional Fi­nance Com­mis­sion agreed in 2009. As of July 1, seven­teen fed­eral min­istries have been abol­ished and their func­tions and staff trans­ferred to the prov­inces. The far-reach­ing ef­fects of this de­vel­op­ment will be re­al­ized in the years to come.

It is ironic that this trans­for­ma­tional shift has at­tracted lit­tle me­dia at­ten­tion within Pak­istan and abroad. Other than Pak­istan’s re­silient and in­for­mal eco­nomic and so­cial net­works, only de­cen­tral­ized gov­er­nance can save this coun­try from the clichéd “failed state” sta­tus. Pak­istan’s cur­rent demo­cratic spell may not have lived up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from hy­per-in­fla­tion and en­ergy short­ages, but it has surely set the mo­men­tum for pro­found shifts in the way this na­tion of 180 mil­lion peo­ple is gov­erned. It should be clear that the con­ti­nu­ity of civil­ian rule is es­sen­tial for Pak­istan’s sta­bil­ity in the long term.

Only a col­lec­tive po­lit­i­cal will can help Pak­istan sus­tain democ­racy.

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