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The transition odyssey

Afrasiab Khattak

Afrasiab Khattak

Democratic transition in Pakistan after every martial law gets prolonged and complicated as duality in the power center exists even after the formal end of the military dictatorship. The deep state brazenly continues its shenanigans as weak civilian dispensation tries to find its feet. The aforementioned phenomenon has been visible after the general elections in February 2008, that have supposedly commenced a transition towards the establishment of a full fledged federal parliamentary democratic system enshrined in the Constitution. The approval of 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 for purging the Constitution of the distortions and deformations imposed on it by military dictators was a remarkable achievement. But the diarchy in the state system did not come to an end. Even after getting rid of General Pervez Musharraf, the Asif Ali Zardari led elected government had to work under a long shadow of the security establishment.

A similar situation persisted even after the general elections in 2013 when elected assemblies completed their constitutional term for the first time in the political history of the country and when power was smoothly transferred from one elected government to another one without intervention by non-political forces. But the euphoria generated by the success of democratic transition was short lived as fierce political agitation by myopic and adventurist outfits was used to expand the military’s control over not just forming key state policies and resource allocation but also over day to day governance. By using vast propaganda resources of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and manipulation by military’s powerful intelligence agencies the security establishment was able to considerably weaken the authority of the elected government. The so-called lock down of Islamabad, the public show of strength by the extremist elements working under the cover of Defense of Pakistan Council and the so called Dawn Leaks were important elements of the final showdown between the elected government and the outgoing leadership of the Army. These moves were also aimed at influencing the decision of the Prime Minister about the appointment of the new head of the GHQ.

The Prime Minister deserves credit for playing his cards well (and he kept his cards close to his chest up till the very end). He was able to foil the designs of elements hell bent on “continuity” in the conduct of the top brass. But Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has certain advantages over all other political leaders of the country. One, he has a solid political base in the Punjab that is the core area of the present Pakistani state as opposed to the periphery that is politically and economically marginalised. Punjabi civil-military bureaucracy and big business enjoys a decisive domination over Pakistani state and economy. Two, he heads the Muslim League, a political party that traces its political origin to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Being an authentic Punjabi leader and having claim to Jinnah’s legacy makes it very difficult for his detractors to label him a traitor, a title that is very generously bestowed upon political leaders from oppressed nationalities such as Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhi and those belonging to Gilgit Baltistan. Three, Nawaz Sharif has rich and long experience in dealing with Army both as its political friend and foe. By appointing General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the COAS he is the only political leader in Pakistan who has to his credit the appointment of six heads of Pakistan Army. All this enabled Nawaz Sharif to withstand the pressure and choose his moves.

The dominos seem to have fallen in Nawaz Sharif’s favor. Imran Khan had to retreat and return to parliament after vanishing off the “script”. The exuberance of “defense analysts” and TV anchors wired to the deep state in doomsday prognosis has mysteriously evaporated. Moving forward towards the general elections in 2018 seems only natural. Despite all this it is difficult to agree with Mariam Nawaz Sharif’s analysis about the “end of the storm”.  It is at best a lull in the storm. Nawaz Sharif has a breathing space of about six to eight months. It is because the role of individuals in the clash of the institutions is quite limited. The civil-military institutional imbalance in the state system is very much there and it is bound to resurface in future stand offs between civil and military leaderships.

The ultimate solution to this problem lies in a continuous and consistent process of reforms. But as I have repeatedly said in this space, the reform process can be effective only if the political parties start it from themselves. Introducing genuine democracy within political parties, stopping parliamentarians from using development funds, bringing the culture of patronage to an end and implementing meritocracy can be some meaningful steps in this direction. Standing on high moral ground, the political leaders will have the strength to not only implement the Constitution in letter and spirit but also for bring to book the violators of Constitutional norms.

But it is disappointing to see the ruling PML-N not moving in this direction at all. There is no sign of any reform agenda whatsoever. On the contrary, intoxicated by its recent successes, the ruling party seems to be moving in the opposite direction. For example, for checking the rampant corruption in state and society there is need for bringing in more monitoring, oversight, transparency and the system of checks and balances. But the government has significantly undermined it by bringing regulatory bodies under the control of their concerned ministries. In this way they have ceased to be regulatory bodies. And this has been done without the approval of CCI, which is a constitutional requirement. This is really shocking. One wonders how can people in their right mind do such a stupid thing? I am sure resistance by opposition political parties and judicial intervention will thwart this move but the government is squandering its political capital by defending this stupidity. Similarly, by dithering on the census and a new NFC award the government is undermining its own credibility. For bringing the democratic transition to a logical end it is incumbent upon both the ruling and opposition political parties to focus on reforms.

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 


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