Di­vided but United

With Nawaz Sharif back in power, Pak­istan needs to stand united de­spite eth­nic and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences.

Southasia - - GUEST COLUMN - By Fakhar Ahmed

Dur­ing the last sixty five years of in­de­pen­dence, Pak­istan has fought three wars with In­dia, suf­fered 30 years of mil­i­tary rule, faced feu­dal-bi­ased democ­ra­cies, en­dured the fall of East Pak­istan and the rise of Bangladesh, sur­vived some of the sever­est floods and earth­quakes in his­tory, and han­dled in­ter­na­tional con­spir­a­cies. At present, the coun­try faces the worst eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, se­cu­rity and en­ergy cri­sis; has to reach a con­sen­sus over Kash­mir and deal with a com­bustible sit­u­a­tion brew­ing up in Afghanistan. De­spite a tor­rent of such calami­ties, the na­tion has sur­vived.

Fol­low­ing in­de­pen­dence on Au­gust 14, 1947, the in­flu­en­tial lobby con­sist­ing of lo­cal feu­dal lords and the up­per class that ren­dered their sup­port to the Bri­tish Colo­nial em­pire in the sub-con­ti­nent, be­came a part of Pak­istani pol­i­tics. In­dia, how­ever, en­sured that the land hold­ings and feu­dal es­tates were cut to size for its own good. The 2013 gen­eral elec­tions in Pak­istan saw the rise of a sim­i­lar lobby of feu­dal and up­per class ac­tors. With the dust set­tling on May 11, Nawaz Sharif and the Pak­istan Mus­lim League (N) emerged vic­to­ri­ous. The un­set­tled ques­tion of be­ing elected based on re­gional, eth­nic and re­spec­tive provin­cial vote count de­spite a grave possi- bil­ity of rig­ging of the elec­tions can­not be ruled out. The smaller prov­inces of Sindh, KPK, and Balochis­tan are fac­ing a wave of ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lence, and are left out on the national front. Akin to the 2013 elec­tions, the elec­tions in the 70s also cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal di­vide be­tween the po­lit­i­cal groups of East and West Pak­istan, hence fu­el­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of West Pak­istan and lead­ing to the emer­gence of Bangladesh as an in­de­pen­dent state.

To­day, the smaller prov­inces ex­press their dis­sat­is­fac­tion over the unequal dis­tri­bu­tion of their po­lit­i­cal rights. Where the Urdu speak­ing com­mu­nity of ur­ban Sindh made tremen­dous sac­ri­fices and mi­grated from In­dia to Pak­istan in 1947, in Balochis­tan, tribal lead­ers led Baloch na­tion­al­ist’s par­ties to be­lieve that their ba­sic rights as cit­i­zens and po­lit­i­cal freedom are be­ing sup­pressed. Pak­istan’s largest prov­ince, Pun­jab, has been sub­ju­gat­ing the smaller prov­inces over the years. A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion ex­ists in ar­eas of ru­ral Sindh where the ma­jor­ity voted for feu­dal lords. Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from Pun­jab be­lieve that the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Sindh and Balochis­tan pos­sess armed groups and pro­vide safe havens to mis­cre­ants for their po­lit­i­cal ex­is­tence.

The prov­ince of Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa, which neigh­bors Afghanistan, has its own plethora of prob­lems and is a vic­tim of ter­ror­ism. The prov­ince largely voted for the Pak­istan Tehreeke-In­saf (PTI) led by Imran Khan, who has made lofty prom­ises to change Pak­istan’s sta­tus quo. Ex­trem­ist groups con­tinue to ex­ist and func­tion along the por­ous bor­ders be­tween Pak­istan and Afghanistan.

The na­tion stands di­vided yet united. The newly elected demo­cratic govern­ment of Pak­istan will have to face se­ri­ous chal­lenges dur­ing its first 100 days in power. From a rot­ten econ­omy and a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal sys­tem to a loom­ing en­ergy cri­sis and per­me­at­ing ter­ror­ism, the new govern­ment faces an up­hill bat­tle.

With in­ter­na­tional forces gear­ing up to with­draw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the sit­u­a­tion val­i­dates that in­flu­en­tial and in­ter­na­tional play­ers sup­ported the long mil­i­tary tenures in Pak­istan, and many for­eign in­ter­est groups con­tinue to play an ac­tive role in Pak­istani pol­i­tics. The coun­try has a long way to go be­fore it can at­tain po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity, sovereignty in for­eign pol­icy, or a sus­tain­able econ­omy. In­ter­est­ingly enough, Western democ­ra­cies sup­ported Gen­eral Zia ul Haq when they wanted the Tal­iban and the Mu­jahideen to fight against the Rus­sian in­va­sion in Afghanistan. Sim­i­larly, in­ter­na­tional democ­ra­cies sup­ported Gen­eral Pervez Mushar-

raf when they planned to con­duct the War on Ter­ror in Afghanistan, against the Al-Qaida. Even though Pak­istan tends to ben­e­fit from a 7% to 8% GDP growth rate un­der mil­i­tary regimes, it is of­ten dur­ing the same time that western pow­ers sud­denly value the tenets of democ­racy and ex­ert pres­sure for power to be handed over to feu­dal and rich in­flu­en­tial ‘democrats’ who, with few ex­cep­tions, have no pro­fes­sional com­pe­tence of good gov­er­nance. It is no sur­prise then that the coun­try of­ten falls at the brink of go­ing bank­rupt dur­ing demo­cratic regimes.

To­day nearly 34% of Pak­istan’s pop­u­la­tion is liv­ing be­low the poverty line as de­fined by in­ter­na­tional stan­dards; more than 5 mil­lion chil­dren do not go to school; lack of potable wa­ter, power short­ages, and an ever in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion is mak­ing the coun­try a vic­tim of so­cial in­jus­tice, bad gov­er­nance, and cor­rup­tion. Thou­sands of mothers die each year while giv­ing birth and thou­sands of chil­dren die of ba­sic ill­nesses due to lack of proper health fa­cil­i­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately in Pak­istan, the elec­tion-based demo­cratic mech­a­nism and state ma­chin­ery is be­yond the reach of a pro­fes­sion­ally com­pe­tent, mid­dle class, hon­est leader. The process to elect par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in Pak­istan is man­aged by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan but the lower cadres of the ju­di­ciary and teach­ers from the state’s ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment man­age the elec­tion process. Th­ese of­fi­cials de­pend on feu­dal lords and in­flu­en­tial groups to re­ceive pro­mo­tions and trans­fers. There­fore, they are un­able to con­trol rig­ging, even if no cor­rup­tion comes into ac­count. How­ever, with the in­flu­ence of a strong ju­di­ciary and a vi­brant elec­tronic, digi- tal and so­cial me­dia, the dy­nam­ics of the demo­cratic elec­toral process in Pak­istan have changed.

It is im­per­a­tive that power bro­kers and au­thor­i­ties make de­ci­sions on merit and un­der­stand pub­lic per­cep­tion, as Pak­istan can no longer sus­tain feu­dal­ism, a sin­gle prov­ince-led democ­racy or a mil­i­tary rule. The power bro­kers of Pak­istan view the emer­gence of Imran Khan as a pop­u­lar leader but not as an ex­pe­ri­enced or ma­ture politi­cian who can ad­dress Pak­istan’s cur­rent tur­moil. Khan’s dia­logue-based strat­egy to tackle the war on ter­ror failed to im­press the Pak­istan mil­i­tary or cer­tain Western in­ter­est groups who have been em­broiled in this war for over a decade. Pak­ista­nis are wait­ing to see if Imran Khan can de­liver in KPK, which will prove to be the first test of his cam­paign rhetoric.

Karachi, gen­er­at­ing more than 65% rev­enue for Pak­istan, has been at the cen­ter of Pak­istani pol­i­tics, held staunchly by the Mut­tahida Qaumi Move­ment (MQM). MQM, by virtue of pow­er­ful but small num­bers of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, has to co-ex­ist and form an al­liance with the Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party (PPP) that pre­vi­ously had a strong­hold in Sindh but con­ceded de­feat in the 2013 elec­tions be­cause of its poor per­for­mance.

Nawaz Sharif is the first prime min­is­ter in Pak­istan to take of­fice for a third time and has formed his cabi­net with a ma­jor­ity of politi­cians be­long­ing to Pun­jab along with some old faces claim­ing to have pro­fes­sional cre­den­tials but hav­ing failed to de­liver in the past.

Pak­istan’s three ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions: the mil­i­tary, the ju­di­ciary and the me­dia, have an al­most larger than life in- flu­ence over the state of af­fairs and the rul­ing party has to care­fully se­lect its fu­ture course of ac­tion. A large group of in­tel­lec­tu­als in Pak­istan are tem­po­rar­ily will­ing to sup­port Nawaz Sharif’s govern­ment for the time be­ing; closely mon­i­tor­ing his per­for­mance de­pend­ing on the first 100 days of the new govern­ment.

A fierce, in­de­pen­dent and free me­dia has al­lowed for po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity and is adamant to un­cover cor­rup­tion, mis­steps and in­jus­tices con­ducted by the new govern­ment. Shah­baz Sharif, the cur­rent third time elected Chief Min­is­ter of Pun­jab has a bet­ter im­age for be­ing a good ad­min­is­tra­tor and il­lus­trates the ca­pac­ity to de­liver. This time, how­ever, the de­liv­ery has to ben­e­fit across the board and not the pro­gov­ern­ment Pun­jabi ele­ments alone. The new govern­ment will also have to show supreme lead­er­ship with re­gard to two new av­enues of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment; firstly with China, to man­age and de­velop the Gwadar port and se­condly, to fo­cus on the Iran Pak­istan Gas Pipe­line pro­ject which the West con­tin­ues to op­pose. An­other key is­sue is to man­age the strat­egy on the War on Ter­ror and define the role, which Pak­istan will as­sume in the re­gion. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts claim that Nawaz Sharif is a changed man and is ex­pected to han­dle things in a more ma­ture fash­ion. This makes the first 100 days cru­cial for his lead­er­ship. Sharif has gath­ered enough num­bers in Par­lia­ment to en­joy power but power has to sup­port provin­cial au­tonomies and re­spect eth­nic­i­ties so that Pak­istan stands united.

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