It’s the politics, stupid

Published: July 11, 2015
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The writer is a political and security analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

The writer is a political and security analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

The analysis on Pakistan’s ongoing political strife, whether that be of the Sindh inaction or Punjab overdose, is sadly bound in intellectual straitjacketing. Treating a political malady with the civil-military balm is but a proverbial band-aid in the old tradition — antiquated and irrelevant. The military has proven with its conduct of the last seven years that there is no recourse to military rule whatsoever. To many in the military, even Pervez Musharraf’s coup was an aberration. The military also stands better informed now of the futility of the course, other than its long-term adverse implications on its internal health. Ayaz Amir is right when he suggests that in the current times, the military has virtual control over what it must do, and does not need to take over. It is equally true that Pakistan, as it stands, cannot be run by one entity alone; hence the cry for all institutions to work in unison towards a common national objective, which currently is to secure Pakistan. Yet, while the military does what it must, it is on the political front that serious voids exist.

Most importantly, the way politics is practiced has not changed even though the environment in which it operates has. Forces of conventional politics that have perpetually dominated the scene are in serious contention against those that demand change. The opposing forces to conventional politics, for the moment, are the military and an unstated sentiment among the people that finds expression through their vocal support of what the military is doing in the circumstances. The paradox consists of the politicians who are meant to be the voice of the people but are the last ones to give meaning to it since the status quo is where their personal and institutional interests merge. It remains a classic case of systemic hypocrisy. Somewhere in there, both the state and the nation are inordinately screwed for good measure.

Here is the quandary. The provinces are being run by parties other than the one at the centre; except of course Punjab. If Punjab, too, were to simply disregard what the elder brother ordains, there is precious little that the centre can do. Which really means that the centre is practically impotent in the matter of the provinces and how they run their affairs. The 18th Amendment ensured that. The federation cannot even deploy a force or apply governor’s rule unless a province, via its legislature that via its chief minister, so requests. Sindh, thus, is safe from a challenger for the moment. For Sindh, Rangers are only an irritant, just making the province and the two powerbrokers look bad. Interestingly, Sindh must also concur if the centre was to fall and order an early election. None of these is likely to happen to close the loop and therefore each sits safe at their location. Such is the craftiness in the formulation of the 18th Amendment.

Consider: the centre, the people and institutions — all kinds: the judiciary, law enforcement, legislatures, the military, the accountability bureaus, the FIA, anti-corruption units — detect humungous corruption making the rounds in a province, read Sindh, and can do practically zilch about it. That is why, when the corps commander and the DG Rangers, given their empowerment to deal with crime and terror through a province-centre consensus, begin to step on some political toes, the toes exclaim foul. Perhaps so. Yet when provincial patronage shields political patronage of crime and corruption, the cesspool ends up nourishing agents of terror, who can also double for crime. In their search for the terror-crime-money nexus, the Rangers chanced upon their sponsors in politics; those who rule the province — cities and villages both, who will instead rather halt the process of inquisition. Damn the terror. Work that out within the realm of democracy under the shadow of the 18th Amendment.

Surely, were these democrats to revert to the electorate for a fresh mandate despite their muddied credentials, they will be returned as per convention, validating that long-held proclamation that people know the best. The manipulation of the political system is so completely crafted that these corrupt politicians are the only names on the ballot. In the name of democracy, we keep returning crooks to parliament, and that completes the circle of sustenance of a system which continues to cream off the nation’s riches without check. In the days past, this was the trigger for revolutions; now we seek stability for economic gains, purportedly. People are only unwitting accomplices to the process. The system is bad; democracy is not. Removing democracy is not the answer, changing the political system is. Let us bring our constructive intellect to the point of discussing what, how and who should wring the changes so that the political system opens up a bit and tweaked away from the mafias who retain their singular stranglehold over the system.

One option is to restructure what we have, making it incumbent upon political parties to resort to some foundational principles; holding leaderships and governing bodies accountable for implementation, and making representation on the boards wide based and proportionate. A system of implementable political audit where fidelity in party membership, its funding and the absence of conflict of interest is assured; where political offices are split so that whoever is in government may not hold political office too. Or, a change in the structure of parliament where non-political agents, such as the judiciary, bureaucracy and the military can recommend members to parliament from within the civil society on an enhanced technocrat quota, with specialised qualifications in the fields of governance that can assist the government in policymaking; these should be over and above those who make it through the traditional process. Only such structural incumbencies will force these political parties to think differently.

Will parliament, composed of conventional politicians seeped in self-interest, ever agree to bring in the legal statutes that shape a different kind of politics? Surely not. Shall then the non-political offices in the government, along with representatives of the civil society, prepare proposals, and using this quasi-democratic moment in our political existence, ask the government to reform and restructure the political system to bring about greater fidelity, credibility and efficiency in political functioning? Let those who comment take on the what, who and how of what really chokes our socio-political wellbeing. Civil-military tensions are a beaten horse that can hardly be the cover for systemic failures. At least we should do better and unshackle our wisdom to help chart a better future.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • AliG
    Jul 11, 2015 - 2:29AM

    I think that the ‘enhanced techno-crat quota system’ you suggested is not a viable solution to the problems of Sindh governance. However, in my opinion, if the Army/Rangers can rid these current political mafias of their Gun-power and terror aspects, and let their corruption expose on media, it will create room for more parties to emerge. Competition is always good for consumers.

    To comment on the people becoming part of problem you mentioned, the people of Sindh are suffering from “Stockholm syndrome” and cannot think beyond their past loyalties. Therefore it is the responsibility of the journalists (proper ones) to inform the people about the true nature of the politicians so that they don’t make mistake again. Recommend

  • Ali S
    Jul 11, 2015 - 2:51AM

    The centre needs to stop playing ‘my turf, your turf’ with Punjab and the other provinces – PML-N’s standard policy is to outsource everything not related to Punjab and let the military pick up the windfall. Sindh is virtually a write-off if the Rangers aren’t able to strong arm the government into Governor’s rule – as a Karachiite I really hope that they do so, PPP and MQM aren’t even trying to hide their nefarious intentions (to loot and plunder while they can) anymore.Recommend

  • Allah Ditta
    Jul 11, 2015 - 5:03AM

    Yes! the political leadership of the country is corrupt, indecisive, incoherent, weak, fragmented or ill-prepared to carry the task, but let us pause for a few minutes and take a holistic look at political developments in the country. Also, our political structures were inherently week viz-a-viz civil-military bureaucracy but who pushed the politicians to brink sometimes using aggressive strategies (PRODA 1959 as an example) and sometimes down-playing the importance of the institutions? Can the military’s top-brass honestly say that they never did anything that may weaken the institutions and push the country to the brink. We all responsible Air Marshal Sahib. We just like blaming others for our misdeeds. Shame on us and on all of us without singling out anyone. Recommend

  • liaqat ali
    Jul 12, 2015 - 1:54PM

    Even if Musharraf was good for the country , how army would ensure that the next one is Musharraf or Ayub and not Yahya Khan or Zia ul Haque. ?
    All this animated talk agaist political parties is shallow given that the most powerful of our nation never aqllowed them to be developed. If we agree on one crdinal principle thqat never ever army will interfere then at least poiliticains will have chancet to try their best with out having the luxury of blaming others when and if they fail. But what happens here ?When NS thought he can govern with strong hand becsue of his mandate and started doing something meanning full in 2014 , here comes a tusnami made stronger by the quarters and NS goes back to its comfort zone without attaemping any thing good again . Surely he is coward but who made hiom so and contiue to ensure that he reamins weak and coward?. I am using NS just as an example , one can exrtrapolate. Recommend

  • ishrat salim
    Jul 12, 2015 - 3:16PM

    Let us STOP blaming the past military ventures, please. That is why you are there for the past 7 years to roll back those policies which you think was not pro-people friendly. But have that changed on the ground ? the last govt of PPP ruled for 5 years & what did they give for the poor people. They conceded that it was due to their own follies that they have not been re-elected in 2013. So, what you guys want ? It has been proved beyond doubt now, that all these politicians want is to fill their own pocket. They move a resolution in the Parliament to raise their salaries & perks while the general public continue to suffer, is this what they have been elected for ? for how long you guys continue to fool the general public ? Unless, the system is reformed, electoral system is reformed, people are educationally enlightened, we will continue to get ” garbage in, garbage out “. Is the military putting blocks to reform the tax system, broaden the tax base & increase tax to GDP ratio ? this is one of the most important factor hampering growth, employment & economic stability, all these are the bastion of civilian political parties. Is the military holding these politicians from their constituencies with whom these politicians remain dis-connected after being elected. Has the military STOPPED them not to follow the constitutional clauses with regard to local election, right to education & the list is long. So, let us find the problems within these political elites instead of blaming the powers of the past, that is why we elected a civilian govt. If these politicians acts only when their seat are threatened they take cover under the word ” democracy “, constitution or Parliament. So, calling upon the literate class, these politicians are elected by the majority & the majority are the general public from the rural areas, empower them first before we talk about ” glass half full “.Recommend

  • liaqat ali
    Jul 12, 2015 - 4:13PM

    @ishrat salim:
    WRONG . Collective opnion is much better than our elitist class who has not given the country anything but misery . Why the eletitis with help of their darlings didnt put the country on the right track when half of the history they awere in power. Why should we forget history and make the same mistakes again . Musharraf garbbed power on slogan that he will get rid of the corrupt. Within 9 years , why didnt he ? Answer this question and you get to the bottom of it . If he couldnt when he was not answerable to any body , how can flimsy govts who are constantly threantened? Recommend

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