The contradictions between the formal constitutional structure and the actual practice of power in Pakistan have reached an inflection point. The ongoing contention for space within the power structure by key organs of the state, the military, judiciary, executive and parliament could undermine constitutional rule.
Three features of Pakistan’s governance underlie the current institutional instability: First the civil-military rivalry in the process of governance. The prime minister made a defiant statement in parliament on December 22, 2011, that the military’s continuing role in politics was unacceptable. This was followed by his public accusation on January 9 that the military had acted “unconstitutionally” in the memogate case. Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani responded, via ISPR, with a grim warning that Mr Gilani’s statement could have “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country”. Of course within the formal structure of the Constitution the military is supposed to be subordinate to elected civilian authority. However, underlying the formal, is a real power structure where the military has historically dominated governance during most periods of civilian rule. Furthermore, elected governments have been removed from power by the military either through a coup d’etat or indirectly through the manipulation of politicians and the media. It is the contention for governance space between the military and the elected government within this power structure that has reached a climax. The way this contradiction is resolved will shape the future of democracy in Pakistan.
The second feature of governance at the present conjuncture is the standoff between the government and the judiciary in the process of defining, respectively, the constitutional limits of judicial authority and executive power. Here, the PPP-led government, if it is to help establish institutional stability in Pakistan, ought to implement in letter and spirit the judgments of the Supreme Court.
The third element in the dynamics of power is the imperative for opposition political parties to stand united with the government on the issue of precluding military intervention and establishing in practice the formal institutional balance that is defined in the Constitution.
The ostensible justification given for military intervention in removing a civilian government in the past has been corruption and poor economic performance. So it is in the current case. Yet the question is, should not the will of the people expressed through free and fair elections, be a means of changing the government? Furthermore there is no evidence to suggest that the direct or indirect involvement of the military in governance has made any progress in addressing the structural constraints to sustainable economic growth, overcoming mass poverty and aid dependence. Indeed, military-determined foreign and security policies have been instrumental in generating three trends that lie at the heart of the present crisis of economy, society and state: (1) the rise of militant extremism; (2) the failure to achieve economic integration with SAARC which could have catapulted Pakistan onto a high economic growth path. It would also have helped build a pluralistic and tolerant society through experiencing the other; (3) the focus on building a national security state instead of a democratic state, with the consequent failure to invest adequate resources to build social and economic infrastructure. This investment was necessary for building an enlightened society with economic opportunities for the youth, a large majority of the population.
The aspiration for freedom, human dignity, fraternity and equality is deeply rooted in the people who inhabit Pakistan today. In fact the idea of democracy here can be traced to the sixth century BCE when the first democratic republics were formed in the northern regions of what is Pakistan today, by people who rebelled against the authoritarianism of the emerging agrarian monarchies of the Gangetic plain.
Pakistan’s future lies in providing to its people the entitlements of health, education, justice and freedom through which they can actualise their God-given capabilities. This is what builds a nation and gives strength to the state.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2012.