As I pen this article, the situation in Pakistan remains so fluid and anarchic that unless all state institutions work in complete unison, the country’s viability could be undermined. The army’s stance that the protagonists should scrupulously avoid the use of force and find a political solution is clearly sound advice, but it has emboldened the PTI and the PAT and given them an immunity to paralyse the government. In a normal democratic country, the army would be taking instructions from the government and not sermonising it or its detractors on how to resolve the crisis. Unfortunately, our democracy is still in its infancy and some of our politicians like Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahirul Qadri, in their unbridled ambition, have raised the ante instead of finding a peaceful solution. Their party workers were so emboldened that they stormed the PTV and forced the staff to take two of its main channels off air causing panic and a serious blow to Pakistan’s sagging international image. They continue to threaten the Parliament and other state buildings as part of a well-planned strategy to topple the government through street power.
The government due to weak governance, extremely poor handling of the Model Town tragedy and belated, half-hearted response to serious allegations of electoral fraud is on the defensive. Nawaz Sharif also has to accept the serious shortcomings in his style and substance of governance. And Imran Khan and Qadri deserve credit for having jolted them from their slumber and energising the civil society. But weaknesses in governance and policy have to be corrected by staying within the system.
In response to the threat posed to the democratic process, it is encouraging that all the major political parties have stood behind the government to save it. The unanimous resolution of both Houses of the Parliament will be a huge boost for democracy and will strengthen the government. A point usually ignored is the correlation of good governance and balanced civil-military relations. Friction and distrust leads to insecurity and adversely affects performance. In his style of governance, it is evident that Nawaz Sharif is uneasy in dealing with military leadership. This has a lot to do with the bitter experience he had in dealing with top military leadership in the past despite having appointed a chief of army staff of his own choice. Whenever a crisis occurs, there is an overreaction on the part of the PML-N government. It is mishandled and the crisis, instead of diffusing, morphs into a bigger crisis. This lack of confidence and distrust can be largely overcome if Nawaz Sharif adopts and adheres to institutional decision-making instead of relying on few family members and close confidants. Institutional decision-making is democratic, inclusive and encompasses collective wisdom that is better equipped to avert a crisis.
Javed Hashmi’s revelations that Imran Khan has been conveying to his party members that the establishment supports his demand for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation has given a new twist to the current situation. Such a serious allegation of a secret alliance being forged with the involvement of some senior army personnel made by a highly respected politician of his own party clearly undermines Imran’s credibility as a leader and shatters faith among his followers. It betrays a strong streak of his delusional tendencies.
In the garb of peaceful demonstrations, the PTI and PAT leadership, working in close synergy and displaying confidence of not only enjoying the support of street protestors but elements within the establishment, were trying to paralyse the government. The ISPR denial that there is no truth in the army’s support to Imran Khan or Qadri has re-confirmed institutional neutrality and cleared doubts that were being deliberately sown. Nonetheless, it would be in the institutional interest that the allegation of Javed Hashmi be thoroughly investigated to remove any doubts and protect the reputation and morale of our armed forces. It is also necessary that if any serving or retired military personnel in conjunction with disgruntled politicians, in their individual capacity, are hatching conspiracies to derail democracy be dealt in accordance with the dictates of law.
Moreover, Imran by closely associating with opportunist politicians has further hurt his interests. Imran Khan has repeatedly claimed that his main object is to unite the nation, but by associating with undemocratic forces he is doing exactly the opposite. Moreover, by associating with these tried out politicians, his dream of a ‘New Pakistan’ appears ludicrous. It is true that despite these shortcomings and current revelations he will continue to enjoy support from his hard core followers and youth that idolises him for his successes in cricket and charity endeavours. But he has inherently become weak and it would be difficult for him to keep his party intact and his movement energised unless he shows political acumen and flexibility. This is not to ask him to compromise on principles but to achieve his personal and party goals and objectives through democratic means. For most Pakistanis, party leaders are a reflection of their parties. So much depends on how they conduct themselves. If Imran gives a call not to pay taxes, storm sacred institutions and participate in civil disobedience he is setting a wrong precedent. Political parties exist to compete in national and provincial elections. It was a breath of fresh air when Imran created a party that promised change and challenged status quo and dynastic politics. But by surrounding himself with worn out politicians, banking on the establishment’s support as alleged by Hashmi, and being highly intransigent in his unreasonable demand of asking the prime minister to resign, he is risking losing the gains that he and his party made so far.
It would be a criminal neglect on the part of both the government and the opposition parties to continue to ignore the plight of millions of displaced persons in their unbridled lust for power. Equally shameful is to distract the military leadership from combating insurgency that is threatening the very viability of the state. Remember, intransigence is not a good strategy — at best it is a short-term tactic.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2014.
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