In a recent article contributed to a foreign newspaper, I argued that Pakistan’s core crisis is not the scarcity of material resources but a deficit of capable leadership. Accordingly, the country could be turned around in a relatively short period of time if the next elections, demanded by several political parties ahead of the scheduled date of 2013, throw up a leadership that restores the indispensable values of public service to its polity. In my assessment, an early election was an imperative because of the gridlock that the existing coalition had produced — intentionally or unintentionally with the armed forces — wrongly perceived to be engaged in a creeping coup d’état and with the Supreme Court practising judicial activism to restrain the executive’s longing for unfettered and arbitrary power. A classic military putsch of the type that General Musharraf carried out being virtually out of the reckoning, the best strategy to break the current impasse lies in recourse to the people.
The case for an early election, despite the known difficulties in staging it, has strengthened by the developments since I wrote the above mentioned opinion piece. Ever since the Peloponnesian wars, political scientists have discussed the role of misperception and misrepresentation in the genesis of conflicts. This is as true of interstate crises as of tensions amongst internal forces engaged in legitimate competition for power within a nation state. Future historians would wonder why the current political dispensation in Pakistan, that began with immense goodwill and popular support, engaged compulsively in policies and postures that dissipated that great asset.
There will be many explanations. Amongst them would be a deep-seated insecurity rooted in the sacking of elected governments and in the memory of persecution, punishment and exile. Based on a long conversation with late Benazir Bhutto in Dubai, I bear witness to the fact that she had reflected deeply on the recurrent cycles of authoritarian rule alternating with periods of democratic polity and arrived at far- reaching conclusions. The kind of government that she would have built around her leadership after winning another election would have drawn fully on her experience, introspection and conclusions. Unfortunately, Pakistan lost her and what it got instead was a leadership that exploited her martyrdom as a fungible commodity, an inexhaustible source of undeserved legitimacy and rationalisation of inexcusable indifference to good, honest governance.
In due course, the national decline set into motion by this indifference assumed proportions that earned Pakistan widespread description as a failing state, at home and abroad. For quite some time, the government has been without the will and means of reversing the trends that its own insouciance created. A haunting sense of its own inadequacy has now become a dynamic of insecurity that makes it see non-existing threats of military take over or even a judicial coup. That this fevered state of mind has not led to a total collapse owes more to restraint shown by a military leadership that has a mature understanding of internal and external factors that necessitate the continuation of Pakistan’s latest experiment in democratisation and to judicial restraint by a Supreme Court that is aware, as the best of Supreme and Constitutional Courts are all over the world, of the larger implications of a purely legal determination of issues tossed up to it.
An early election would be a second chance for Pakistan, provided it is not flawed by gerrymandering, ballot stuffing and computer frauds. Parties locked in the present tussle would see in the regeneration of hope that even the most raucous of elections bring a reason to turn away from gratuitous confrontations. The political class, especially the PPP, can jettison the peculiar baggage that accompanied the last restoration of democracy. In particular, it would enable the PPP to rehabilitate the true meaning of an electoral mandate. Electorates vote for their representatives to create effective governments working diligently to take the nation forward within the parameters of the rule of law, social justice and accountability. Their mandate is not to indulge in rapacious plunder, corruption and nepotism for an inviolable period.
A fresh election should be seized by all the political parties, especially the PPP, as an opportunity to rid themselves of venal politicians, corrupt civil servants masquerading as politicians and ‘martyrs’ of earlier regime changes and the unscrupulous carpetbaggers that sneaked into the planes bringing back the political exiles. Another failure to do so would have put to rest all arguments for Pakistan’s democracy. A self-confident political government drawing strength from probity, integrity and justice, would have no fears of generals or judges pulling real or imagined strings.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.