A stitch in time

There exists little possibility for political players to come together in consensus on critical issues


Shahzad Chaudhry July 29, 2022
The writer is a political, security and defence analyst. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at shhzdchdhry@yahoo.com

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When Imran Khan first came to power, he repeatedly lamented the insufficient political space to pursue his promised agenda. PTI was new to governance and struggled to find direction. This found comparisons with other governance models mostly bordering on unchecked power and singular control. The closest we come to it in a democracy is the presidential form but it sits against the ethos of a parliamentary governance model — more popularly accepted given our peculiar political environment. Legislation and parliamentary support for substantial reform stood unattended and PTI’s agenda remained undelivered. That was the moment to return to the electorate for a new mandate through a snap, mid-term or early election. He dithered and stalled till the chips fell. And then it was too late.

Today the nation and the state is at a cross-road and most paths lead out to further disaster than seen in the last six months. It may be politics to those engaged in it but it spells life and death for a nation. There hasn’t been a more precarious moment in our national history. Politics, so used to arbitration, isn’t finding one at the moment — so controversial have the traditional points of mediation turned. The army and its leadership was maligned at will for the most part of the last six years. Any insinuation of the army’s leadership amounts to deliberate subversion, sedition and disruption in the military order. It is now a daily fodder. That the military politicised itself so much as to be a fair game is something for it to ponder over and deal with; but in a country where institutions have had to lend a hand in governance, their need to arbitrate when politicians feud will never go away. With such malicious and vicious attacks on it, the military has been literally neutralised.

Making courts controversial is the next ploy. The focus is on subverting the judiciary in public non-cooperation to contrive decisions of a side’s liking. A political system’s inability to resolve its own predicaments means that courts are asked to arbitrate. They are then framed for activism and judicial coups in public narrative when decisions don’t go their way. This is patent blackmail. In an environment where the economy is on the verge of crashing, if not already crashed, the threat of a default looms, 120 million people of Punjab have been without a functioning government for the last four months at the hands of political shenanigan-ism, the military is fighting a rear-guard action against terrorism in its midst, and the international environment is tenuous, fragile and laden against us politically and economically, governance is a non-functioning entity while politics is at best fratricidal and predatory. Those responsible for each of these, fiddle instead in crass opportunistic entanglement. There isn’t an institution left that has not been tarnished. So complete is the insinuation and slander. The crisis meanwhile only deepens and engorges us from all sides.

There are four possible ways-out from the current predicament:

1) There can be a reset of the entire thing as has been the traditional resort when the army intervened and installed a transitional government after it had stalled into inaction. It has always left serious negative consequences to politics and governance in the country and skewed the balance of power unfairly. In the army itself the effects are substantively adverse and distasteful to its own professional culture. It is best avoided.

2) The courts may declare a state of mis-governance in the country and an absence of a government that strictly conforms to the legal, constitutional and moral mandate to claim power. It may then emplace a national government composed of both political and non-political technocrats to fill-in for a period of 6 months to a year to reform and reset what has become broken in the normal course of things resulting in political stagnation. Historically, political classes have manipulated constitutional and legal statutes in their favour. Politics has also tended to corrupt the judicial system through inducement or fear of retribution or manipulation through parliamentary power to proverbially cut the wings of what is perceived a largely independent judiciary — a sine qua non in a democratic state. This option may seem appealing given our state of disorder and institutional break-down, though political parties for the most part will play spoilers to this arrangement by disassociating and disowning the reform process. Arbitrating structures must find a way to engage with political structures to make them a willing part of the process. A constitutional protection will be needed to safeguard any statutory recourse for making governance more sustainable and consistent.

3) The third option is the Sri Lankan way. When the control of the government and its capacity to govern melted away, the only remaining power was that of the people on the streets. Law enforcement agencies could only do so much in the initial stages of the uprising but as soon as it got bigger and voluminous, law enforcement drew back to avoid bloodshed against its own citizens. The option engenders anarchy and chaos, and fragments a nation’s and a society’s core ethos as well as its physical and structural pillars. A nation may then dissolve and a state may cease to exist. In a nuclear-capable nation, it remains unthinkable and will invite intervention, even external. Although Imran Khan has waved this bogey often in a hope to elicit institutional support in favour of his political objectives, it remains a red-flag event needing constant monitoring. Khan has been very poorly and insidiously advised to use this option as a ploy. We have enough political and moral acumen in the country to save us from such a disastrous consequence.

4) Our polity, so used to external arbitration, perhaps needs it the most in current times. It stands dysfunctional and polarised to the point of rupture. Seemingly there exists little possibility for political players to come together in consensus on critical issues. Such is the intensity and depth of the divide. Yet it remains the only saviour out of our debilitating predicament. The President, the army, and the judiciary will need to come together at this precarious moment beyond their respective constitutional domains to avoid a multi-sectoral meltdown of the state and the nation. The agreed mechanism in the 1973 constitution continues to be either subverted or manipulated for political favour, forcing resort to the judiciary for adjudication. Necessary tweaking of laws and statutes may be needed in a consensus to enable sustainable, resilient, transparent and effective governance both at the center and in the provinces. Early elections and a new mandate are essential for a credible government to carry an effective voice with multilateral and bilateral partners.

A half derelict non-concern for a free-falling economy by the government seems more a ploy to keep the powers-that-be interested in rushing the props to keep the government in place. Such purposed neglect is insidious and needs immediate redressal. We cannot sit idly by as negative politics unravels the order. A stitch in time will save us some more.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2022.

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