It’s often that one comes across people these days who are either concerned about the long march or if there will eventually be a coup in the country. There are those who get genuinely uncomfortable at the idea of a coup. Then there are others who want the information regarding which way the winds will blow to re-position themselves in time. This kind of a status quo, in which predicting day to day, become difficult and is extremely unnerving. People may actually surrender because clarity of a position brings relief of some kind.
In any case, this is being fought as a one-sided war. Notwithstanding the general public’s discomfort with the present state of governance, the volume of naya Pakistan seems to have been kept deliberately high so that other voices drown out completely. The additional problem with the din of the new narrative is that it has almost linked Pakistan’s survival with the power of a single man — Imran Khan. He alone has the right to get elected and all those who don’t vote for him have probably blasphemed. Interestingly, the bulk of the media is covering the political show without commercial breaks which raises questions about their source of money.
The stalemate has brought about a soft coup. The government may be physically surviving but its credibility has taken a hit. Even if the marchers would go home tomorrow, it would probably take the rest of the remaining term for the government to convince the world that it is still in control. The fact is that the prime minister seems to have been confined to the administration of a small area rather than a medium-sized nuclear weapon state. Domestically, it will have to operate with zero margin of error as far as governance is concerned. Perhaps, the threat will dissipate after some ‘other’ people retire and go home.
But it is equally possible that some of the men on horseback may not be entirely satisfied with the idea of going the whole hog. Thus, the possibility of a hard coup remains equally high. What keeps it away is possibly that there is still a lot of thought being put into what will replace the present set-up. According to the grapevine, there is a lack of consensus within the armed forces regarding fate of the government. Notwithstanding claims that the army would keep away from direct involvement because of its involvement in North Waziristan and now the eastern border, there are those who seem sceptical about the idea of trusting a civilian leadership that could threaten them at their own base. It’s the melting away of power which may unnerve some of those who have lots of it. The civilian regime may make a lot of unnecessary concessions to keep the boys either happy or divided but it is ultimately the longevity and probability of challenging some of the core institutional interests that make some amongst the deep state resentful.
The situation may change when some of the old brass goes home in a couple of months. The newer officers may not share the same instinct. But the question is that even another 15 days or a month in these conditions would make things even more painful. The virtual collapse of the government (spiritually if not physically) is imminent.
Someone watching Pakistan from afar would really wonder if the state has not begun to resemble some of the countries in Africa. There is a deep power struggle amongst the ruling elite that totally ignores the fact that the country and its people cannot afford this kind of life style. Anarchy, in fact, has become Pakistan’s trademark. The battle for and obsession with power is to a degree that while challenging opponents leaders do not consider longer interest of the state and its people. Asking people not to pay taxes or sending money through official channels is not just about starving the government. It is about establishing a very bad habit that the country can ill-afford. What if Imran Khan makes the government tomorrow which does not meet an ideal standard that he seems to have set for his followers? This is not protest but a criminalisation of politics which is as bad as some of what he seems to object to.
We hear little about the negative impact of the current state of politics. People are actually losing opportunities and the economy is bleeding money faster than usual. The small and medium entrepreneurs that I talked to recently in various cities of Punjab complained about how business has almost dried up since the marches were announced. The reason people are not crying out loud and surviving is probably due to a parallel economy. The pro-government rallies are not likely to help improve conditions but increase the threat of a real conflict. Many believe that the clash between mobs is what might open doors for a hard coup.
Perhaps, the powers that be should take a plunge. It will be interesting to see what they then feel about a world they created themselves. The establishment and its many intellectual clients often refer to the Bangladesh model. What they often forget is that Dhaka’s political system or people’s choices did not change even with intervention. The challenges are far bigger than what some of the foreign qualified Chicago trained economists, commercial bankers or development gurus could manage to even understand. The US has some of the best universities but it has also produced experts that have often messed up with developing states rather than put things right. The question is can Pakistan afford such experimentation?
This is a not a moment for personal egos but for compromises which aim at benefiting the country and not just the individual. Instead of aiming at resignation of the prime minister it would help if Imran and Qadri could extract commitment for transparent institutional changes which will take this country a long way. If not then we have terribly lost our way into an endless abyss.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2014.
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