In my last published piece in the South Asia Magazine titled, “Good Cop, Bad Cop”, I had undertaken a brief overview of Pakistan’s Political history with focus on analyzing the reasons for perpetual failure of successive governments in the country. It gives satisfaction to note that the said opinion paper has stirred useful discussions on the subject. One interesting thought received states, “Though it sounds theoretically wrong but practically right, the role of the Armed Forces in Pakistani politics has always led to exciting outcomes since the men in khaki, when in power, have fared better than their civilian counterparts, especially when it comes to economic revival and development. Is it because of the competence of the Armed Forces or the incompetence of the democratically-elected leadership that keeps failing Pakistan on the economic front again and again?” I consider it a stimulating but debatable avowal that can either be proved right or wrong depending on which side of the aisle one prefers to stand. Nonetheless, a dispassionate scrutiny may help to filter out the true perspective.
Let’s begin with the postmortem of the above thematic proclamation. A paragraph from my above referred article is considered enough to challenge the given notion: “In Pakistan, if the country's three main political parties, namely the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI, have each failed to govern well (especially with reference to economic revival), we need to ask, why? Is there a problem with the stated three political parties or with the three main organs of the state i.e. Legislature, Judiciary and the Executives; who are mostly found attempting to function out of the respective constitutional orbits? Or is it because of the application of the colonial mindset, strategy and tactics by the three pillars of the state on the hapless public, who is to be served well and not to be misruled? Or is there a problem with our stars or with us? Or is there a problem with the system of governance or with the unfair and self-serving men in the system? Or is it due to the lack of competence or due to frail character of licentious power grabbers? Or is it a case of “like people, like rulers” or “jaisaa raja waisi prajaa”? Or is it a backlash of failure to learn from the past experience of others and even from our own major national strategic blunders e.g. October 1958, December 1970/71, July 1977, April 1979, October 1999, September 2001, April 2022 and May 2023? A democracy is a society in which the citizens are sovereign and control the government; did it ever happen in Pakistan? We need to remember that had the political magnanimity been our national culture, there would neither have been four unconstitutional military takeovers, nor frequent dismissal of civilian governments. The current political acrimony and mayhem in Pakistan smacks of 1970/71 and 1977/79 distressing environments and must be avoided. Since PTI had got a chance to rule for only 3.5 years as against decades of repeated misrule by PPP and PMLN, therefore their performance comparison cannot be realistic. Nevertheless, I have addressed the above queries in a series of articles published earlier and for any honest, aware and keen reader, finding answers to above questions won’t be a challenge”.
The global political history testifies that, “Power doesn't corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” Our personal friendships and narcissistic biases notwithstanding, how can an unconstitutional military rule even under the most compelling environment and with hundred justifying reasons be accredited with “exciting outcome”? Doesn’t our history of military takeovers and its disastrous outcome cull this misperceived notion? In its checkered history of 76 years, Pakistan has had 32 prime ministers (from Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan to Mr. Imran Khan, Mr. Shahbaz Sharif and the incumbent caretaker PM). There have been thirteen Presidents of Pakistan since the introduction of the post in 1956. Six presidents have been members of a political party and four of them were active party members of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). The first president was a retired military officer; four others were incumbent military officers of which, three gained power through successful military coups in Pakistan's history – FM Ayub Khan (27 October 1958 to 31 March 1969: left ZA Bhutto, PPP, and Gen Agha Yahya as a legacy…accumulated aftermath was loss of former East Pakistan), General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (16 September 1978 to 17 August 1988: left Nawaz Sharif and PML(N), and millions of disillusioned Jihadi elements as his unrelentingly haunting legacy) and General Pervez Musharraf (20 June 2001 to 18 August 2008: left behind PML(Q), MQM, vicious NROs and consequent boosted turncoats culture; besides, inexorable backlash of embroiling in so called War against Terrorism playing as a second fiddle to USA). It is said, “When plunder becomes a way of life, men create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code that glorifies it.” Obviously, the illusory as well as transient economic stability and development during these stated military rules is attributable more to the flow of American dollars paid for playing the self-destructive Cat’s Paw roles assigned to Pakistan; highly profitable only for the ruling elite and their fraternity of multiple hue and colours.
The frequent regime changes in Pakistan have less to do with incompetence and more to do with execution of the ‘Economic Hit man’ policies managed through embedded slaves i.e. Trojan Horses like Lawrence of Arabia. No amount of distortion of history and whitewash can hide as to how and who always created conducive environment and choreographed events, which were made to be seen, heard and believed by the wretched public and even academia, media, chosen political pygmies and the well rewarded elements among all the pillars of the state. Sadly, these elements still continue even with greater vigour to project the undying menace as a messianic reward; as late Henry Kissinger said, “Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad.” Nevertheless, it has been experienced umpteen times that as soon as the meticulously managed elected or selected civil or military rulers appeared to have served hidden agenda, or they were found to be getting, out of the crease in a fit of nationalism or something else, their immediate political or physical elimination was ensured by the not very invisible masters, not only in Pakistan but in many other parts of the world e.g. Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Nigeria, Tunis, Turkey, and so on and so forth. However, authoritarian rule always looks more organised, better managed and in the short-term relatively more focused on developments with corruption somewhat under check. Ironically, the downfall of dictatorial rule starts as soon as the same old corrupt political elite manages to join hands to serve and rule indirectly; with flak directed at the overjoyed and even flabbergasted military rulers and the military institution, and most of the appreciation managed for the evergreen ruling clans. Lately, it has been termed as a Hybrid government… unholy, unconstitutional and counterproductive by all standards of governance nevertheless. The mortals keep wondering, “If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God?”
Let’s now focus on the other side of the ruling coin. We all understand that there is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed. In its 76 years of capricious history, Pakistan has seen democratic governments with tinge of socialism, communism and hue of dynastic monarchy and conversely, autocracy under military rule with shades of democracy with only a few changes of faces necessitated due to natural fade away. However, in all experiments, the corrupt ruling elite with new generations onboard remained a constant; besides the domestic and foreign movers and shakers. In my assessment, the pivotal reasons for the continuous ‘so called democratic regimes’ failure in Pakistan may include all or some of the following: a corrupted electoral system that thrives on abundance of filthy money, ability to buy votes and electable/ turncoats, meddling by the invisible power brokers, isms/ schisms executed by ‘rent a crowd companies’ in the name of sectarian, tribal, clans, religious and social biases, immoral and illegal practices to suppress the political opponents, lawlessness, no induction as well as further grooming criterion for the politicians/ legislature as in the case of Judiciary and the Executives, politicized Election Commission and the compromised whole of the electoral machinery. Consequently, such a lopsided election system results in the unending bad governance by the poorest human resource continually getting in the helms of affairs. Thus, the overawed public unavoidably continue to suffer from rampant corruption, political victimization, worst human conduct and shameless pomposity, reckless extravagance by the couldn't careless ruling elite, lack of accountability, weak writ of the law, desperately slow judicial system, suffocating unbridled inflation, addiction to foreign loans at the cost of compromises on national sovereignty and decision making, adjusting to foreign influence or even interference, and unstoppable slide down of economy.
It is a matter of concern and demands reappraisal that the sincere efforts by the military institutions like the National Defence University to contribute in grooming all segments of the society including other law enforcement agencies, politicians, civil bureaucracy, rich class businessmen, selected bright youth, media personnel, think tanks etc. by organizing National Security Workshops and other courses, have helped them to mimic only the cosmetic side of the military life and national security realm. Moreover, as an unintended consequence, the genuine exercise has helped in further strengthening the unholy alliances and bondage among the participants rather than contributing positively towards nation building. Ironically, with all the governance experiments so far, the vicious circle of the inept and avaricious ruling elite has never ceased to plunder the national wealth, stash and escape abroad, then come back triumphantly, overnight get clean chits by the courts and the institutions and rule again with “Khatay hain tou lagatay bhi hain” having become the most conformist slogan by the benefactors. The prevalent culture of political victimisation, suppression of freedom of speech and highly offending oppression of political opponents through kidnapping, torture, registration of fake cases by misuse of the state machinery with judiciary conniving or watching helplessly has far reaching consequences. The moment may pass on a victory note for the perpetrators, but the state losses in the long run as has been proven repeatedly by Pakistan’s own political past. It is said that, “Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” The star-crossed public wonders with complete incredulity, “When honor and the Law no longer stand on the same side of the line, how do we choose?”
Therefore, the meaningless comparison between the military and the so called democratically elected rulers is more like contrast of oranges with mangoes that has already yielded a new hybrid fruit that I name as ‘Orangoe’; which, only proves the point that irrespective of the type of government in Pakistan, the public at large has mostly remained deprived, ignored and barely surviving under a humiliating environment. Needless to say that “no nation can survive politically free, but economically enslaved”. The democratic process in Pakistan has been repeating the same experiments again and again expecting different results in vain. It has remained one step forward and two steps backward or the same old wine in new bottles. The PDM government and allies (especially the PMLN and PPP) have parted ways as was predicted and are once again resorting to the traditional unsparing competition as long overdue general elections have finally been announced to be held on 8th February 2024, with PTI officially mauled and decimated and probably out of the game and the already convicted and even under trial politicians getting reprieve by due amendments in the national laws to return to national politics; a destructive beaten track of course. The sale and purchase of turncoats has already begun and smaller parties of virtually defunct PDM are running between PPP and PMLN for better bargains and bigger share in the pie as always. The fate of the newly created PTI runaway Tareen as well as Aslam Khattak groups hang in imbalance with visibly some assured role in the national dirty politics. The land of pure keeps teetering on the brink of economic collapse and sustained by foggy privatisation and dirt cheap sale of most precious national assets by the un-elected interim government, besides insulting IMF’s conditions, prone to further accentuate serious national security crises from within and from outside. A powerful and stable Pakistan under a bold and dynamic leadership seems a distant dream seeing the fate of Liaqat Ali Khan, Fatima Jinnah, Z.A. Bhutto, General Zia-ul-Haq, and Benazir Bhutto; and now ill-advisedly, former Prime Minister Imran Khan is subjected to somewhat similar treatment, thanks to external desires, internal conspiracies and connivance…an incessant suicidal path nevertheless. Since people of Pakistan have repeatedly seen the change of governments overnight with murder, rape, arson, kidnapping, dirty audio-videos, drugs usages, narcotics smuggling and proven NAB cases written off in hours; and villain becoming heroes and vice versa in the wink of an eye; therefore, Pakistan badly needs a Magna Carta of its own, which guarantees rule of the law and dispensation of timely justice to all and sundry.
Let me conclude by praying that the Armed Forces should remain cognizant of the greater designs of the foes and perils of once again getting embroiled in the same rut as was the case for the last six decades…that is what the enemy wants us to do. The real success will be to turn the table on the enemies of Pakistan both on internal and external fronts by exercising the right strategic choices instead of reacting and firefighting on tactical battlefields that too on unfamiliar grounds. The leaning on the Army by all institutions of the state on any drop of a hat, has made the civil bureaucracy, political elite as well as the general public addicted to the use of Army as an indispensable antibiotic for the quick fix and for the cure of minor and major national syndromes. Pakistan’s brief history confirms that this injudicious practice has always proved fatal in the long run for the state as well as for the military institutions; just like use of antibiotics proves fatal for treatment of dengue fever.
The path forward requires bold actions. The Military in cooperation with judiciary will be well advised to play role of an honest umpire (desirably one last time); and enable much preferred holding of free and fair general elections in the country to take place under absolutely apolitical judiciary and Election Commission with all parties and leadership including PTI given equal and fair playing field. Any elections short of that will be seen as farcical with cataclysmic repercussions. Let the hatred, prejudices, grievances and dark past be buried and take a fresh and positive start where a genuine political process inevitably ensures a gradual cleansing procedure.
Ensuring ‘Protection of People and the Constitution’ is the laconic message for the Armed Forces of Pakistan being the most dependable national saviors. That is considered the finest remedy for restoration of the image of all state institutions as well as for highly desired political and economic stability in Pakistan. The military and national intelligence agencies have their plates full with internal and external security challenges; pre-empting, preventing and defeating those threats ought to be the prime and only focus of the military, leaving the rest to the civil side of the governance. The political elite, judiciary and the civilian component of the executives and other stakeholders are bound to perform well, maybe with a few more stumbles, when given free hands. The world and even regional experience shows that the more democracy based on honest foundations, the more are the chances of political, economic and security stability. The wisdom lies in learning from history; and the truth is that you always know the right thing to do. The tough part is doing it!