“My conscience is the tribunal before which I call my conduct” — Napoleon Bonaparte
Beginning in the spring of 2011 the Arab Spring constituted a pro-democracy uprising that engulfed many Muslim countries of the Middle East. The world’s optimism that viewed these uprisings as spring quickly died down and if we look at how some of these countries are struggling now to raise with pride their political heads or keep their economies floating we could easily term these uprisings the harbinger of autumn (also called fall by some) than spring. Marwan Mausher, who is the Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, beautifully sums up the ‘unfulfilled promises of the failed democracy uprising’ in the Middle East in his article in the Foreign Affairs magazine (Nov/Dec 2018) titled “The next Arab Uprising — The collapse of authoritarianism in the Middle East.” Although written on Arab Spring or the failure of democratic optimism that it generated, it holds a very pertinent lesson for the democratic (dis)order in Pakistan as well that I wish to highlight for the readers here.
Mausher describes oil and its controlled prices as the basic model of governance on which power rested in Middle East. Plummeted oil prices — highest $140 a barrel in 2008 to the lowest $30 a barrel in 2018 — dented that power model and many Middle Eastern countries now cannot ‘use oil to fund stability and in return receive political submission.’ The oil for stability governance model now in the Middle East seems no more workable.
In Pakistan also the basic model of governance has been ‘corruption-driven’ and it is through this model of governance that politics generated power in this country. Here, a new government — that of the PTI –in office has broken the status quo of the entitlement to governance of the other two — the PML-N and the PPP — political parties. The ‘corruption-driven’ model that had many political beneficiaries and admirers is now also struggling to hold on to its deliverables. In the fast-changing, new political environment in the country it looks more and more likely that corruption will no longer be able to sustain ‘political patronages’ or ‘political submissions.’ The ‘political legitimacy through ill-gotten money’ that cunningly smiled on the helplessness of societal values such as ‘hard work and merit’ may no longer sustain and prolong the reign of some of the powerful political houses or any corruption-tainted model of governance in this country. If the trend persists — which is most likely to — the biggest victims should be those loyalists who despite the danger that this ‘corruption-driven model of governance’ held for the country remained aligned to such model of governance. The time for them to bask under the shadow of such a model of governance may soon be over. Like the ‘Arab Autumn’ this might just be the ‘Pakistani Autumn’ in which some of the ‘old political trees’ may no longer be able to hold on to many politically withered pale leaves.
In the model of governance substituting this corrupt model ‘economic patronage’ may no longer be individual but state-driven, like it is in many states that transform from being patrimonial to impersonal states. The beneficiaries of the new model of governance may no more be the small groups of political elite but the general public that eventually may find the right political conditions to not only participate in politics but also have a meaningful say in shaping the political processes. If the new power model works, the benefit will not only go to the people but also to the many dead or dying institutions. Over the years, the quality of health, education and other services may also see a phenomenal rise and strong uplift.
However, the biggest problem for the political force that wants to introduce the new model of governance will be the challenge that no economic reforms can succeed without accompanying political reforms. While initiation of economic reforms essentially requires ‘order in society’ but for the political reforms to be initiated ‘order in the houses of parliaments’ is also an absolute essential. The more the political space for the old model of governance shrinks, the more disorderly the country’s parliaments will become. Parliaments will become political theatres where the beneficiaries of the old model of governance will put up a political fight to defend a losing cause — losing because the foundations of the old model of governance are based on corruption and not the politics of righteousness which it now confronts.
For all the optimists, the flight of corruption that has skyrocketed in this country is not expected to crashland in a day. In the tug of war between the two models of governance, the political forces standing up for the institutionalisation of a corruption-free and merit-based political system will face severe pushback from the beneficiaries of the status quo. During this time of political test and trial, only a visionary leadership that shows undying resilience and perseverance to stand up to the country’s ‘selected powerful elite’ will in the end win the political battle.
It is hoped that the Prime Minister of Pakistan who was on a two-day visit to Malaysia would at least come back well informed on how Malaysia has become the third- largest economy in Southeast Asia and 35th largest economy in the world. For Pakistan to come anything closer to that, the government besides undertaking many other measures will have to ‘reinforce its anti-corruption drive’ by establishing monitoring bodies to oversee the implementation and compliance by various government bodies, public service providers. The new model of governance will hopefully stand for ‘people’s betterment’ and not only for the ‘elite self-enrichment.’ Pakistan is definitely ripe for change which can no more be sidelined and relegated. Those standing up to confront the change may take heed of Marwan Mausher words who writes, ‘if people continue to ignore the need for change, the havoc to come will bring change of its own.’
Post Script: The Prime Minister gave the example of Napoleon and Hitler which I think must be understood in the uniqueness of the military action that both these military leaders undertook. It is in this context that we may understand a leader’s ability to be a good reader of the situations and withdraw (take U- turn) from those that are not favourable.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2018.