Resolving Pakistan’s Institutional Conflict

Change is in the air. The sixth option given by the Supreme Court judges in their judgment on the non-implementation of the controversial National reconciliation Ordnance (NRO) implies an interim government followed by elections. This is also the demand of the opposition parties especially the biggest one — the PML(N). The government is looking at October after the Senate elections in March in which they hope to win a majority. It’s a time and space game — the government slowly gives up its space for maneuver to gain time while others seek to deny it time as well as space. Going by this the chances are that the executive will obey the Supreme Courts orders as a last resort and at the last possible minute. The furor will then die down—at least on this issue. If this does not happen then the other options are always there.

Next is the so called ‘memogate affair’ on which the lines seem to be drawn between the government and the judiciary and the government and the military. Two facts are important and need to be borne in mind — the Supreme Court is on record as having said that it does not want to derail the system meaning democracy and that no unconstitutional step will be accepted implying that the past judicial cover to military coups is a thing of the past. Secondly the military has stated that it has no intention of intervening implying that change if any should only come through constitutional means. The memo has already claimed two victims — our Ambassador in the US and the Secretary Defense. It has also led to statements from the government that led to a general perception of a civil military confrontation that could lead on to further destabilizing steps. So startling were the statements that some thought that the government actually wanted to be ousted prematurely to trigger the ‘martyr syndrome’ because it was at a dead end in terms of options. Fortunately the response from the military in each case was measured, deliberate and calibrated to create just the right effect. The result has been follow-up statements from the Prime Minister that have scaled down the situation and have reassured the nation. Much will now depend on the end of the two trails on which ‘memogate’ is proceeding — the parallel investigations by the judicial commission and the parliamentary committee. There may be fireworks but already there are sane voices suggesting that the country and its institutions are far more important than individual ambitions.

The media — especially US media and even official spokespersons — are implying that the military is behind the Judiciary and is egging it on so as to undermine or bring down the government—a ‘slow motion coup’ as one analyst called it. The government is being projected as ‘besieged’ by the military and the judiciary and aspersions are being cast on the judicial process in Pakistan. No one is saying what the military hopes to gain by such actions even if these succeed. There is also nothing being said as to why a judiciary that has won its independence the hard way should now tarnish its image by following dictates from the military. The judiciary is also aware of the fact that its performance is under international scrutiny. The military is likely to remain within constitutional bounds but it will not allow itself to be ridiculed or accused of something that it is not doing. It is also fighting a war that has already cost it heavily in lives. The judiciary will proceed on the path that it deems to be in the interest of the country. The government having asserted its supremacy will move towards balance but more importantly also take steps to stem the tide that an absence of governance and internal security is creating.

The overarching demand is for civilian supremacy over the military and a review of Pakistan’s strategic direction in view of its declining resources. Both these steps require carefully thought out strategies and creative strategies are not made by those lighting and putting out fires. For any significant strategy the requirement is economic viability and internal stability — its time to pull ourselves out of the morass of trivial pursuits and orchestrate all institutions and power to develop inner strength as a nation. The people must now take priority.

(Spearhead analyses are a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual)

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