Weighing the Senate chairman’s proposal

So let us take the Senate chairman’s proposal seriously, this may be one way of correcting our direction

Talat Masood August 16, 2017
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Without an iota of exaggeration, one of Pakistan’s foremost problems is the existing dichotomy between state institutions. This has diluted national strength and allowed foreign powers to exploit the weakness to their full advantage. Our democracy that already was very tenuous at the time of partition has not been able to mature as a result. India uses the convenient excuse that there is no point in engaging with Pakistan, as its civilian government has no control over foreign policy.

Tense relations with India and its impact on Afghanistan have compelled Pakistan to allocate substantial resources for defence over the years. This has affected our economy adversely especially considering that it is already burdened by a highly lax tax culture.

The civil-military divide also provides Washington an opportunity to step up its pressure while dealing with us on practically all issues. It transacts directly with the military on security issues further accentuating the civil-military divide.

There are several other areas where the civilian government, by neglect or to preserve itself, has relegated its responsibilities to the security establishment. Regrettably, there has been no serious effort at correcting the imbalance and contradictions. If at all, with elections on the horizon political parties are in a highly confrontational mode making matters worse.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani’s proposal is well-timed and should be given serious consideration by parliament, the judiciary and the military. And civil society and media should push it for the good of Pakistan. Moreover, the suggested dialogue has to be at the highest level if it were to achieve results. The responsibility of initiating a major transformational change in attitudes and power structure cannot be delegated to middle-level officials. Going by past experience, it is quite possible that the proposal is brushed aside, but it would be unfortunate if that happens. It would reflect that narrow institutional interests have prevailed and would be a measure of our leaders’ sense of priorities. Although it is apparent that unless a frank reappraisal of Pakistan’s current political scene is not undertaken and corrections made we would remain in a state of perpetual anarchy.

This initiative should be in addition to ensuring that the prime minister, ruling and opposition parties take their responsibilities in parliament, the National Security Committee and other structured national institutions seriously. These are being grossly neglected and the dialogue could contribute in giving it an impetus. Dialogue is not a substitute for these institutions but is meant to put life in them by expediting the process of normalising political attitudes and conforming it to dictates of the Constitution.

The PPP leadership has reservations and perhaps fears that this could lead to giving concessions to the military. On the contrary, the proposal is meant to impress on all stakeholders to abide by the Constitution both in form and essence.

Pakistan’s politics will never acquire maturity unless political parties address national issues instead of focusing on personalities. No doubt, there is focus by the ruling party to meet the targets that it had set for completing the energy and infrastructure projects, but far more is expected. Similarly, PTI in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did improve the education and health facilities. But at the national level it never veered far away from its single-point agenda of corruption. True, this malaise needs to be accorded a high priority but it is not the only challenge Pakistan is facing. Nor can it be tackled effectively without a comprehensive approach involving other elements of national power.

Irrespective of the merits of Nawaz Sharif’s protest movement, he does have a following, especially in the heartland of Pakistan. The narrative that the PTI and opposition parties were weaving that those who were participants are mercenaries has no basis. Interestingly, the rally was attended by a large number of youth, which shows the PML-N realises their growing importance in future elections and has been successful in coopting them.

It is disturbing that there is little realisation among some political leaders that constant undermining of political opponents by verbal onslaughts has consequences! It lowers the image of politicians and disenchants politics in the eyes of the public.

More significantly, in a country that has a history of repeated military interventions and weak democratic traditions gives greater space to non-democratic forces.

There could not have been a more representative picture of the state of poor politics that was at display on television screens during the closing minutes of the 70th year of the nation’s birth. The basest form of remarks by politicians against their opponents was the highlight of some of the speeches. Whereas one expected that on memorable occasions like these political leaders would set aside their differences and do serious reflection on the past and show direction for the future.

The exception was an uplifting speech by the COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at the Wagah border that was appropriate for the occasion. On the following day air display by air force and army aviation units was a reflection of the highest standards of professional excellence. The presence of the Chinese vice-premier at the 14th August ceremony and the participation of the Turkish and Saudi pilots in the air show negated the misperception, if any, that Pakistan is isolated.

On this auspicious Independence anniversary, we need to be reminded of the islands and pockets of excellence in which Pakistanis can justifiably take pride. The Edhi Centre, cancer hospitals of Imran Khan and the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant of Dr Adeeb Rizvi, LRBT and many others. And the achievements of those extraordinary talented persons like the Nobel Prize winning Malala Yousufzai, the courageous Asma Jahangir and indomitable artist and activist Muniba Mazari. And there are several more in practically every major field of activity that space will not permit me to include.

If only our institutions were not pulling apart and there was greater synergy and harmony between and within institutions, Pakistan would be a very different country. So let us take the Senate chairman’s proposal seriously. This may be one way of correcting our direction.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2017.

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Parvez | 5 years ago | Reply Sir, for the people to have faith in our leaders ( civilian or military) our leaders must first demonstrate that they have faith in the country ...... and the country is not a convenience to be ' used ' for their exclusive benefit.
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