Dangerous impasse

AFRASYAB KHATTAKIn response to a question about the possibility of talks with Pakistan recently Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posed an interesting question; he said to whom in Pakistan should he talk to? Mr Modi might have said that for scoring a political point but he was not too wide off the mark in what he was saying. Military’s control over the commanding heights of the Pakistani state system has reached a stage where it is difficult to call it a complete civilian system. Democratic transition that had started with the general election in February 2008 and had proceeded forward in the following years has come to a grinding halt. The space in governance captured by elected civilian leadership in in the post Musharraf era has not only been recaptured by the military but the later has assumed such vast powers in policy making and day today running of the administration that can be conceivable only under martial law. Expressing deep concern over growing isolation of the country in international relations many Senators in their discussion on foreign policy on Wednesday pointed out in unequivocal terms that the General Head Quarter (GHQ) has taken over formulation of the foreign policy of the country. The federal democratic parliamentary system envisioned by the 1973 Constitution is not any more functional. It is replaced by a controlled democracy which has been the favourite system of the military rulers of the country. The quantum of vertical and horizontal democracy is decided by the generals. The widening gap between de facto and de jure is tearing the system apart. While some of the so called political parties have lent their shoulder to military for putting pressure on civilian government, the sitting government has also contributed in the process by putting its back on the Parliament and by weakening democratic institutions.

The situation shaped by the erosion of constitutional rule and emergence of quasi-military rule is fraught with dangers. The nation-building project in the federation of Pakistan is still in an embryonic stage. Army’s strategy for shooting its way through obstacles instead of leaving it to a democratic consensus was the single most important factor in dismemberment of the country in 1971. The situation is more precarious today as Punjab has not only a bigger population than the rest of the three provinces put together but Punjabi ruling elites also effectively control all the levers of state power. The present political tussle in the country is basically a struggle for power between the elected political Punjabi elite and the Punjabi dominated military bureaucratic elite. Sindhi, Pashtun and Baloch elites have only a side role. The federal structure of the state is in shambles. Rangers are hounding Muhajirs and Sindhis in Sindh, trampling under their feet the provincial autonomy provided by the 18th Constitutional Amendment. Baloch are embroiled in a bloody nationalist insurgency being crushed by the full might of state. Demolition squad of Taliban has been let loose on Pashtuns to kill them and deconstruct them as a national identity apart from implementing the policy of “ strategic depth” devised by the Punjabi elites. The social contract seems to be withering away. Growing social and political disempowerment of the people of smaller ethnic groups is creating political alienation which is quite visible and has the potential for creating ethnic earthquakes. As we know ethnic earthquakes have the capacity to travel across international borders without visas or passports.

Pakistan is far more isolated internationally than ever before. Pakistan is at daggers drawn with three out of its four immediate neighbours. Scores of Pakistanis were recently arrested in Saudi Arabia under the charges of terrorism. Relations with US are too bad to be glossed over by diplomatic rhetoric. The country’s international image is in tatters as important world powers publicly express their concern about the presence of dangerous terror networks in a country armed with nuclear weapons. After prolonged existence of Al qaida, IS is also eying Pakistan, the high sounding denials of the government notwithstanding. The presence of extremist and terrorist networks in the country equipped with Wahabi, Salfi and Takfiri ideologies makes the environment very conducive for the rise of IS. It is just a matter of time for the existing networks to rebrand themselves as IS. Pakistan can delay the implementation of National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism only on its peril.

The purpose of the aforementioned analysis is not to exonerate political parties of the country from the responsibility of the present crises. Unfortunately political parties are in a survival mode being unable to challenge the onslaught of the security establishment. I have pointed out more than once that political parties will have to start with reforming themselves if they intend to start a process of reformation. Political leadership can’t move forward without cutting out the culture of patronage and practicing democracy with in political parties. The treatment meted out to elected local governments by provincial governments in all the four provinces exposes the retarded character of our democratic culture. But as we have experienced many times in the past military rule provides no solution. It rather further aggravates the problems. So people of the country have no other option to than looking towards the Constitution and elected political leadership. The country can’t be perpetually run on ad hoc basis. Conducting national census, formulating the new NFC Award and implementing NAP can’t be delayed anymore.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as elected leader of the country needs to provide leadership. He should lose no time in going to the Parliament for discussing the present crises honestly and frankly. Elected representatives of the people, representing the collective wisdom, can find solutions to the multiple problems faced by the country. There is no point in calling All Parties Conferences for bypassing the Parliament. Both Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have to learn to going through the rigours of noisy parliamentary debates. Parliament through its committees can connect with wider civil society by holding public hearings. The aforementioned path for finding solutions is less grandiose and less high sounding but is practical, legitimate and sustainable.

Writer: Afrasiab Khattak

The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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