Pakistan is confronted with two dangers in 2012: the possible end of democracy, not with a bang but with a whimper and a serious confrontation with the United States in the garb of Isaf or Nato.
The first danger looms upon the horizon every time there is a civilian government which lasts more than 20 months and this government has lasted longer than that. But now the army, the intelligence agencies, the courts and the media (or at least the more vociferous of the media persons) are against the PPP government. The media and the army are angry because someone purportedly wrote a memo to an American military officer to put down the army, which seemed to be on a weak footing after Bin Laden was found in Abbottabad and killed. The media has made far less fuss about the army for having thought of dismissing the civilian government because civilian democracy has not taken root in our collective psyche. We still hanker for a strong government which every few years, translates into a military takeover.
It is the easiest of all tasks to whip up frenzy against this government because it is perceived as inefficient and corrupt. Media persons openly preach revolution and talk about bad governance. The intellectuals, as well as political opponents of the PPP talk of the government’s intransigence against the Supreme Court, especially in the NRO case in which a letter was supposed to be written to the Swiss authorities to pursue Zardari’s cases there but this has yet to be done. This implies that in order to save Zardari, the rest of the party may sacrifice democracy itself. One does not know whether to give up in despair, or hope for reason.
In short, the first danger to the country is that the PPP government may not survive the next year. Can we as citizens survive this event? We may think we can as some other government will take its place. But it is only because such events have always dogged democracy in Pakistan and so we have never believed in civilian supremacy; that we accept military rule so readily; that we are always keen for revolution and not a slow democratic evolution; that we may be ripe for an authoritarian set-up, the contours of which are not clear at the moment, but will certainly be right of-the-centre.
The second danger is that our decision-makers may provoke the Americans so much that we will have a war at our hands. If the decision-makers of the US had been rational or peace-oriented, one would not have feared an overreaction from them. But they are not. They are trigger-happy and may be as deluded as our own decision-makers into thinking they will win the war in Afghanistan. As Pakistan, posing to be an ally, is now morphing into an antagonist, there is no knowing that the Americans might think of one last fling to win the Afghan war — an attack on the hideouts of the Taliban in Fata. So, if the Americans do attack, we will have not only loss of life but also a ruined economy, an end to American aid, the return of our students and others in America as well as further negative consequences. In short, while we may not be bombed back into the Stone Age, we may become something like war-ravaged Afghanistan. Our economy may be so bad as to bring people out on the streets and power will then pass to local goons and possibly radical Islamist pressure groups or, of course, the army. And, if the Americans do not attack, we will have the Taliban controlling Fata and frightening Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and possibly other big cities as well. To conclude, we are at the end of our tether as far as foreign policy is concerned.
Thus, we are confronted with these two dangers: of losing hope in democracy and going back to a belief in authoritarian rule; or of facing an overt conflict with America which will lead to our economy being ruined, again, and this inturn will lead to authoritarian or gang rule. And, alternatively, we will have increased influence of the Taliban in 2012 or even their actual rule in Fata. These are pessimistic predictions and I hope I am wrong — but I fear I might be right.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2011.