The Great and Growing Disconnect

Spearhead Analysis – 04.08.2014

If the chatter on the net and the debates in the media are to be believed then we should be hearing the sound of marching boots. No such sound is being heard not even distantly. What has sunk home, however, is the fact that the military is truly the glue that holds the country together and that it stands as a bulwark against all internal and external threats. The fact that the military is fighting the insurgency that became an existential threat, and that it is doing this on multiple fronts, and that the security of the capital Islamabad has been handed over to it should have removed all doubts. If this is being seen as the beginning of the end of democracy then a very great disconnect exists between the government and those it governs. Unless corrective steps are taken this disconnect will grow and in due course become a serious threat to democracy — and that would be a serious retrograde development.

Democracy Pakistan

The last election brought a majority government to power but it also delivered regional and nationalist governments to the provinces. A strong credible and competent team at the center would have delivered the kind of governance that was needed to establish credibility and assert central authority. This was especially important because of the security situation, the energy shortfall and the economic uncertainty. Such a team working in harmony with the military would have also led to sound decision making and policy formulation procedures as well as balanced institutional development. That this has not happened is evident from public opinion and from the weaknesses being exploited by the opposition and others either on the side lines or sitting on the fence because they are looking at midterm polls or some radical turn around. The military forced center stage to fill the policy making and implementation vacuum adds to the uncertainty. Perhaps the scale and magnitude of the problems were underestimated. If so policy correction is urgently required before it is too late. The gains made by the government, its future plans and the potential in the regional and international environment need to be fully exploited.

In the corporate world as well as in military organizations the establishment of communications — upwards, downwards and sideways — is considered the key to effective leadership and organizational efficiency. The significance of this phenomenon in the political field is often over looked because positional authority gained through elections is confused with the political leadership required to set the tone on major issues and prevent disastrous institutional misunderstandings and conflict. The tendency to use authority to ride rough shod over rules, norms and procedures creates fissures that can be exploited by opposing political forces thereby creating the environment for the strongest institution to assert itself or for the government to cede authority gradually thereby implicitly accepting failure and its consequences. This should not be allowed to happen especially when the military, learning from the past, has signaled its support for democracy. The downslide can be prevented by ensuring governance through a competent team and effective communication between the government and the governed. The media should not sought as a means of communicating thereby giving it inordinate influence but it should be used skillfully together with all the other means at the governments disposal.

It is also important to identify the trends that are shaping events around the world and more importantly the drivers behind those trends. There are lessons to be learnt. Libya has disintegrated after central authority disappeared and is in the grip of violence because of competing militias leading to the closure of several embassies. Egypt has gone through serious turmoil because of religious nationalist forces gaining control and forcing their edicts on a people unwilling to accept them. This also happened after strong central authority collapsed under the weight of its own over reach. Iraq may fragment because of uncontrolled sectarian conflict that also fuels the violence in Syria leading to various countries and factions supporting one or the other sect. An Islamic State has already been declared with control over parts of Syria and Iraq and the oil resources in those areas. Afghanistan faces a resurgent Taliban threat post 2014 but is trying to stabilize politically to meet the threat. The separatist movement in China Sinkiang province seems to be rising. Israel’s stated reason for the aggression in Gaza is defense of its territory and security of its people against Hamas attacks — a stance that is tacitly supported by the US. The precedence this sets needs to be well understood. Pakistan does not have problems on such a scale and in any case its democratic government has the time, the resources and the expertise to avoid any such fate by harnessing and orchestrating state power through effective leadership.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)