In recent weeks, several articles have appeared recalling declaration of the state of emergency by General Pervez Musharraf on 3rd November 2007. With hindsight, columnists deliberated on General Musharraf’s professed aims and what he actually achieved. There was general unanimity in their views that he failed to make any progress in areas of governance that he had identified as his goals in his seminal seven-point agenda. In fact, after eight years the economy, which was one of his professed goals to correct, was suffering from a series of crises, the judiciary was up in arms, insurgency on the rise and the people were on the streets protesting against his policies. The country had to once again start afresh.
General Ziaul Haq’s legacy haunts us even today. The spread of extremism and terrorism is a direct consequence of our deep involvement in the Afghan jihad. Of course, despite these obvious pitfalls there are a few who remain beholden to military rule in general. They are highly critical of how the civilian governments have mismanaged and plundered the country and continue to do so. Their main argument centres on the corruption and inefficiencies of politicians. They, however, conveniently ignore that some of the dictators in many countries, including ours, eventually became as corrupt. The most glaring example was President Sukarno of Indonesia. In Pakistan, it is for all to see how our dictators from humble backgrounds became super rich. Another major weakness of undemocratic regimes is that there is no organised methodology of succession and complete immunity from corruption and bad governance.
In the past, political parties with weak credentials to gain political leverage volunteered for co-option by the security establishment. The Jamaat-e-Islami was the political partner of General Zia. This suited him to provide a thin veil of legitimacy and also to advance his religious credentials but adversely affected political evolution. Musharraf patronised the PML-Q and the JI that hardly had any significant support among the masses.
This is not to overlook the reality that our armed forces as an institution are the most organised and performance oriented. The induction and promotion process in the military is based strictly on merit. It is therefore not surprising that officers with humble background have risen to the top ranks. As opposed to this, our political parties are elitist in character and promote patronage, which prevents deserving leadership to emerge.
In the current semi-democratic scenario, it would not be difficult to surmise which political party would be closer to the establishment. With the PML-N, the PPP and the MQM in the mud house, the PTI could perhaps be a more acceptable party. The PTI and JI leadership have made a serious effort to stay on the right side of both the judiciary and the military.
Regrettably, our civilian governments have been inefficient and corrupt. But certainly a technocratic or a democratic façade is not the answer for curbing corruption or improving efficiency. As our own experience and that of other developing countries such as Indonesia, Turkey and Tunisia reminds us.
The dream of a separate homeland for Muslims was realised through a democratic movement. Jinnah’s unrelenting democratic struggle resulted in the creation of Pakistan. He and the other political stalwarts like Liaquat Ali Khan were products of a popular democratic movement. It was inconceivable for them and should be for us that Pakistan would be other than being a genuine democratic country.
We have lost valuable time by indulging in infighting and failing to develop a functional state. Foreign powers have been exploiting our internal weaknesses and contradictions. They prefer to talk to military leaders than the prime minister or members of the cabinet. Because they know where power resides and national decisions are taken. India takes the cover that there is no point in engaging with Pakistan’s civilian leadership. Ironically, this negative response of foreign governments further weakens Pakistan’s political system.
A more central question that needs to be addressed is irrespective of who has been making policy are these the right ones and would it lead the country towards stability and prosperity? Considering the current state of relations with most of our neighbours and the hostile attitude of the US, it is evident that it is not the case. Is it really feasible for Pakistan when it has such an unbalanced power structure to formulate policies that are in the best interest of the country? More to the point is the institutional strength and wisdom of all institutions like the Foreign Office, ministries of defence, economic affairs division, and other major departments are utilised fully. Is our foreign and domestic policies geared to the interest of the people or are only serving elitists interest. Can this change without some fundamental rethinking and institutional balancing taking place?
The publication of the Paradise Papers a year and half after the Panama leaks shows that there is a general global movement towards combating corruption. This should certainly expose the corrupt mafia of Pakistan provided their names keep appearing from this source and other global money-laundering hideouts in future. But eliminating corruption can only be possible if the leadership is itself free of corruption and takes specific steps to strengthen the process. One hopes that in the forthcoming national elections integrity of national leaders and their ability to govern will be the criteria whereby people will be casting their votes.
For political expediency, our leaders may say that there is unanimity on foreign and security issues between the civilian and military leadership but assessing objectively this is not the case at least on certain issues. Hopefully, in future there would be greater convergence in formulation of national policies between the civilian and military leadership.
And relations between a civilian government and the military and intelligence agencies will be based on mutual respect and trust.
Pakistani decision-makers are good at diagnosing problems but relatively weak on finding solutions. It is time we found solutions and the government was able to coordinate its activities. Our anarchic political system due to its nature of politics is becoming alienated from the realities on the ground.