Political impasse — need for a dialogue

What is required is the will and moral courage of those who have the capacity, weight and muscle to rectify wrong

Shahid Najam May 31, 2022
The writer is associated with Burki Institute of Public Policy. He holds degrees from London School of Economics and Wye College London and has 39 years of experience in policy and strategy formulation, development planning and programming. He can be reached at snshahidnaj[email protected]

Extremity in all its forms and manifestations is antagonistic to establishing a coherent and stable social order — extremity in politics is perhaps the most lethal. All civilized political systems and democracies always create albeit leave adequate space for dialogue and discussion to resolve even the most intensely contested issues of vital significance to the country. Ill luck would have it, we in Pakistan have miserably failed to establish that tradition primarily due to the insolvency of the morality and the value system of our politicians and fragile political order. The frequent and incessant praetorian excursions spanning at times for more than a decade into the political arena further aggravate the situation and stifle the evolution of robust and stable political institutions.

If, however, one were to apportion the major responsibility, squarely and unequivocally, it is the political myopia and unbridled avarice of the politicians to gain and retain power which seem to have perpetuated the current state of imbroglio and political frailty which we confront perennially. There is a huge contradiction in what the politicians profess and practice. Even the charter if democracy signed between the two leading parties i.e. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Peoples Party on May 14, 2006 in London which represented the highest political will and resolve and was a landmark agreement to establish a true democratic order in Pakistan and rid it of the hegemony and predominance of establishment was more respected in breach than compliance when these parties successively assumed the reins of power.

The Charter talked of “…economically sustainable, socially progressive, politically democratic and pluralist, federally cooperative, ideologically tolerant, internationally respectable, regionally peaceful..” sovereign Pakistan and reaffirmed, inter alia, a commitment to undiluted democracy, independent judiciary, a neutral civil service, rule of law and merit, a free and independent media  etc. But what the post-Charter period reveals is a sad and sordid saga. Inclusive and sustainable development continues to remain a distant dream with more than 39% of people afflicted by poverty based on lower-middle income rate; our ranking on Human Development Index (2021) is 154 out of 189 countries; we are 152 out of 153 countries as regards economic participation and opportunity, 149 out of 153 countries on health and survival; our socio-political divisiveness is at its peak with political rivalry and discourse characterized by profanity, indecency and even obscenity; religious intolerance, sectarianism and fanaticism continue to find frequent expression of which the worst and most tragic was the recent mob killing of Sri Lankan man.

Political instability and politicians’ incessant effort to seek army support is indicative of recognizing army as the ultimate arbiter of politics in the country. The civil bureaucracy and its institutions are constantly on the decay; loyalty instead of merit, objectivity and public interest has become the operational norm; scales of justice are on sale with the horrific incidence of wukla gardi on the rise. The successive governments, by and large, patronize instrumentalized journalism rather than ensuring freedom of the press. On the international and regional front, Pakistan continues to oscillate between servility to the US dictates and autonomy to befriend and cultivate relations with the rest of the world based on its geo-strategic interests. Succinctly, therefore, the performance on implementing the Charter of Democracy has been pathetically poor.

We have indeed reached a critical juncture of existential proportions as regards the current political landscape. On one side is the ‘legally’ installed government with no ‘legitimacy’. The argument is: how can a bunch of accused involved in mega corruption cases/economic genocide remotely controlled by a fugitive convict, assume the reins of the government and replace a politically elected government through well-orchestrated international conspiracy? The counter-argument being advanced is the ouster of an incompetent, ineffective and dysfunctional government through ‘constitutional means and a no-confidence motion’ and to save the country from catastrophic economic mismanagement and crises. 

Be that as it may, lack of dialogue and an exaggerated notion of ‘institutional cum self-esteem’ not to respect the collective will of the people seem to have pushed us to the end of the cliff. Conflict and violence, brutal barbarity and ferocious use of batons and bullets have already led to loss of precious lives, damage to property and mass scale arrests and harassment. The country has also witnessed in sheer desperation and disgust, the violation of the sanctity of chadar and chardiwari, the infringement of the fundamental rights of the citizens and transgression of all norms of morality and ethics through indiscriminate use of state coercive apparatus. Even the family of our visionary philosopher, Allama Mohammad Iqbal, to whom all of us are eternally indebted and owe our existence as Pakistanis, was not spared not to speak of the plight of an ordinary political worker or a citizen. It is a sign of madness of the power hungry elite to stretch their rule to absurdity or regain the power no matter how deleterious and detrimental the consequences might be to our national interest.

Little wonder that the top brass realizes that alienation, exclusion and protestation may foment severe internal conflict and ultimately to rebellion — a situation ripe for those external forces eager to devour, maim, cripple and even further truncate Pakistan. How could we forget the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan? The purblind, nonchalant and callous treatment, we do not deserve nor our posterity. The show of street power or the use of brute force to quell the dissent and opponents never works; the viable solution is only and only to hold a political dialogue, build confidence by clarifying the objectives and purpose, develop a common understanding of the issues and explore with open mind without pre-conceived notions, various options, reach mutually acceptable solution and finally agree on time-bound implementation and action framework.

The ‘national and public’ interest should constitute the kernel of the entire process of resolving the political conflict through dialogue. Let us pray that sanity prevails and the unbridled quest to retain/regain the power or to doctor the political outcome is effectively neutralized by rational, perceptive and sane judgement. What is required is the will and moral courage of those who have the capacity, the weight and the muscle to rectify the wrong and steward us to amicable and negotiated resolution. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2022.

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