We need to pause and reflect

Pakistan has been confronted with innumerable and some extraordinary circumstances ever since its birth

Talat Masood November 16, 2022
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

Politics as we all know demands competing for power and there are limits, legal and some traditional, that guide politicians in their conduct. Abiding by these strengthens democracy raises the image of the politicians in the eyes of their people and creates an environment conducive to growth and development. In developing and even in developed countries this ideal state of affairs seldom exists. But those that come near to that goal like the Scandinavian countries have prospered setting standards for the quality of lives of their people. Obviously, every country, or group of countries, has their own circumstances — internal and external — that greatly influence development and the quality of governance.

Pakistan has been confronted with innumerable and some extraordinary circumstances ever since its birth that required leadership to rise to the challenge. Apart from the brief period when Jinnah was alive the country has been faltering. After seventy-five years of existence our politics remains highly confrontational, and the economy is heavily dependent on foreign assistance and face serious strategic dilemmas.

In these circumstances we need politics that heals the wounds of the past and present; and brings calm and sanity so that issues of poverty, unemployment, education, health, law and order and other priorities are addressed. In this the government and opposition have a major role and so has the private sector and institutions that influence the thinking of the people and provide direction.

Instead, what we are experiencing is that the fight for power has descended on the streets, and the media is mostly preoccupied in its coverage to address other national issues. Political leaders are labelled as thieves and dacoits, not realising that it is for the courts to decide the cases of corruption. And if it is felt that the justice system is dysfunctional, or is not being able to lay hands on mega corruption due to legal loop holes, then it is for the leaders to address the problem in parliament. Constant attack on senior political leadership seriously undermines the country’s image, discourages foreign and local investments and shatters people’s faith in democracy.

Intellectuals and concerned citizens voicing their anxieties in small groups or occasionally speaking or writing is hardly having any effect. The political narrative and direction have to change that seeks solutions not aggravates matters because the worst sufferer of this impasse are the poor.

For the last several years we have been locked into the narratives of the three major parties. Imran Khan’s narrative of corruption of the opposition leaders and his premature ouster; Nawaz Sharif’s anguish for being sentenced unfairly; and PPP’s remorse for Sindh not getting its due share and living in the past. In disorder and chaos, corruption and other vices thrive and this aspect cannot be ignored by politicians. These are issues that need to be addressed but there are other challenging national matters affecting the country and specially the broad masses. These have to be accorded higher priority than self-centred obsessions even if there is substance in the allegations.

The political role of the armed forces has now become a subject of open discussion. There are several pointers in that direction.

It is unbecoming and extremely detrimental in the interest of the country to discuss the choice of the COAS in public the way we are doing it. The supposed political leanings of senior most generals and not as much their professional competence, past appointments and character traits are being discussed in public domain while the selection of the next COAS is in progress. One would have wished that the armed forces were not dragged into politics and Pakistan was not a feeble democracy. But with army involved in politics right from its inception and playing a crucial role and the politicians looking up to it to draw their strength rather than focusing more on the well-being of the people have distorted politics. The irony and sad part from what we are witnessing is that political leaders interest and top priority in the choice of the chief is not as much their order of seniority, who is the best professionally, had valuable experience of command and staff appointments, but how well they are supposedly disposed toward them. Although past history repeatedly reminds us that choosing a chief of one’s choice has never worked. It proved fatal with Bhutto and Sharif, as the men they appointed had no qualms in trampling the constitution and ousting an elected PM and putting them in custody when interests clashed.

We also cannot overlook the reality that majority of the people are impatient for change which is a positive trend but are now disillusioned. They do not feel the next elections will deliver any better government. Unless political leadership accepts pluralism and tolerance of the other view and allows this to take root. The unfair treatment of certain media persons and individuals critical of government is a reflection of the insecurity of the people in power and deep divisions that divide our society. Either we keep sliding into disorder or take a more positive approach by according high priority to lower partisan rancor, accept diversity in political and economic approaches and set democratic benchmarks while seeking workable solutions that move the country forward.

What hope then there is that Pakistani politics would operate within constitutional and legal boundaries.

As long as politics is on the current wayward track there is scant hope of the economy being placed on sound lines. The fragile coalition government that is facing strong public pressure, has a hostile and unrelenting opposition and expected to cater to a substantial defence budget and bound by IMF conditionalities has hardly had any scope for maneuver. Relying on Chinese assistance or the largesse of the Arab kingdoms has limits and should stir our national conscience. For how long will we continue on this path of dependence on others? These are the issues that the leaders should be addressing and the media should be focusing on.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2022.

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