Pakistan’s political dynamics



Asif Haroon Raja

Birth of Pakistan was seen as a miracle of 20th century. Its survival under extreme odds was indeed a bigger miracle. History depicts that Radcliffe award was critical in sowing the seeds of animosity among numerous communities and hence led to a bloody and violent partition. Kashmir was the unfinished agenda of the partition left behind by the British which has kept India and Pakistan perpetually locked in antagonism and has led to three major wars and several conflicts and standoffs.

The country is considered to be an epitome of unpredictability, political instability, coups and internal division. Although this country is engulfed by a few hydra-headed problems, its resilience has been a prominent feature of these seven decades of survival. Like tidal waves, we have witnessed our highs and lows. There have been certain instances where we achieved something substantial and on the other hand, there have been instances where we touched the nadir but still, we survived.

Pakistan has been continuously labeled as a failed state, in fact, some have been calling it a rogue state. Therefore its survival amidst all the speculations is by far its biggest success. We are actually seventy one years old now, but democracy is still in its embryonic stages. Intolerance and extreme polarization on the basis of religion, province, race, and ethnicity is a norm in our country.

Apart from military no institution has been developed and political instability led to division of the country in the name of religion, sect, and ethnicity.

From 1947 until this year (2018), there have been a total of 10 governments and 15 prime ministers in Pakistan. None of the prime ministers could complete their constitutional tenure of five years in office. So far 10 general elections have taken place starting 1970 and the losers complained of rigging after each election. After the 1956 and 1962 Constitutions, the 1973 Constitution which has survived, needs a second look because of its severe mutilation. Likewise the Westminster democracy and Anglo Saxon laws need a reappraisal to bring them in conformity with the aspirations of the people.

Out of a total period of Pakistan’s existence for 71 years, there were four democratic eras (1947-1958; 1972-1977; 1988-1999; 2008-till to-date). The share of army rule was for 33 years (four regimes); Field Marshall Ayub Khan from October 1958 to 1969, Gen Yahya Khan from March 1969 to Dec 1971, Gen Ziaul Haq from Sept 1978 to August 1988 and Gen Pervez Musharraf from October 1999 till August 2008.

Frequent military interventions impacted the evolution of genuine and strong democratic polity and also heightened civil-military tensions, but Pakistan’s economy performed significantly better under military rules than in the decades under political governments. The worst decade for Pakistan’s economy was 1990s, also known as the ‘lost decade’, when the GDP grew just 4% as Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (NS) took turns to mismanage it. While Ayub Khan’s period was the best, five-year rule of PPP under Asif Ali Zardari from 2008 to 2013 was the blackest tenure.

India which has not reconciled with the existence of Pakistan has all along exploited regionalism in our smaller provinces by fomenting ethnicity and sprinkling salt on their real and imaginary grievances. Punjab has been portrayed as a villain prospering at the cost of other federating units. Fissiparous tendencies that had to a large extent been suppressed have once again raised their ugly head and are threatening the federation of Pakistan. 18th Amendment made in the constitution in 2010, which has devolved powers to the federating units has made the situation more complex, particularly when seen in context with backwardness of Baluchistan and Sindh, widening gap between rich and poor, ongoing terrorism, extreme political polarization, political instability, tumbling economy, looming water crisis and threatening posture of enemies of Pakistan.

Centre-right PML-N that had remained the darling of the establishment till 1992, started to nurture ill-feelings after Gen Waheed Kakar forced NS to abdicate power in 1993. Thereon, he developed differences with all the army chiefs. His resentment morphed into hatred after his ouster from power on October 12, 1999 by Gen Musharraf and his team of generals, his mistreatment during detention, trial and award of life sentence on charges of hijacking of a plane and terrorism. Although he was sent into exile, but he never forgave Musharraf, particularly when he and his brother Shahbaz were denied entry into Pakistan in September 2007, and both not been made part of NRO deal in October 2007. He owes his gratitude to King Saud for release from jail and his return in November 2007.

It was essentially his obsession to try Gen Musharraf under Article 6 which strained his relations with Gen Raheel. Dawn leaks in November 2016 further spoiled his relations with the military. After his trial in Panama case and disqualification on July 28, 2017, he has become rebellious. He and other party leaders openly accuse that the judiciary backed by the establishment had removed him from power under a predisposed script. They feel that ends of justice have not been met since no corruption was proved. Contention of the trial court is that the accused failed to provide money trail for the purchase of Avenfield apartments in London.

NS and his daughter Maryam were arrested in Lahore on July 13 on their arrival from London after an accountability court found them guilty over his family’s ownership of four luxury flats in London. NS and his daughter Maryam were sentenced by the accountability Court to 11 years and 8 years jail terms respectively. Son-in-law Safdar has been given one year sentence. They are already lodged in Rawalpindi Adiala jail. Their appeal to set aside the accountability court verdict has been overturned. Proceedings on pending two corruption references (Azizya and Flagship cases) in which NS is the lone accused, which were to be held inside the jail will now take place in open from July 30. It implies that the three will not be able to take part in election campaign. The PML-N fans feel that it will give fillip to sympathy votes.

Elections are due on July 25 but the whole atmosphere is charged up and emotions have overtaken rationalism. An impression has been built that PTI led by Imran Khan is being supported by the establishment, judiciary, Election Commission and the NAB and is well poised to win. PML-N is playing the victim card and is complaining that it has been systematically incapacitated through selective accountability to prevent its victory in the polls. The PPP which till recent was hostile to PML-N and was figured to be on the side of the establishment, has now started to change its colors. It is suspecting that IJI-2 (Grand Democratic Alliance GDA) has been sponsored in Sindh. Infighting within PPP ranks over distribution of tickets has added to the anxieties of Zardari and Bilawal.

Both PML-N and PPP are contemplating to join hands to boycott the poll results if things go against their interests. Far Right has become assertive and are undercutting the democratic parties, while leftist parties have grouped together and are raising their voice against election engineering. Hydra-headed monster of provincialism exacerbated by foreign powers is threatening the integrity of the nation. Recent three terror attacks in quick succession have cast a pall over the election campaign. Daesh based in Afghanistan is getting stronger and deadlier. Leaders of almost all political parties are on the hit list of terrorists.

Less than a week is left for the 11th general elections, but no one is sure what will be its outcome and which party will win the race. Despite the organized enfeeblement of PML-N by the judiciary and NAB, it is still in the race and Shahbaz Sharif is hopeful that party’s performance coupled with sympathy votes will turn the tide in its favor. Many spoilers have emerged from the Far Right such as MMA, TLP and MML that are aligning with mainstream parties. Dozens of Lotas (turncoats), now given a decent name of ‘electable’, mostly from South Punjab have defected from PML-N and have either joined PTI, or are contesting elections as independents. Latter are most likely to join PTI. These ‘electable’ weathercocks numbering 150 to 200 are dirty rich and have been instrumental in undermining democracy. They spend their ill-gotten wealth during election campaign lavishly to buy votes and influence the outcome.

GDA, Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA) and Pakistan Sarzamin Party (PSP) are likely to team up with PTI to grapple with PPP in Sindh. Ch Nisar, carrying the symbol of ‘jeep’ is expected to harness sizeable number of independents to make a dent in the fortunes of PML-N in Punjab. In Baluchistan, Baluchistan Awami Party (BAP) led by Qadus Bezinjo in league with PPP and PTI will be pitched against PML-N, Hasil Bezinjo led National Party and Achakzai led PkMAP.

The dice is heavily loaded in favor of the PTI and it has good chances of forming coalition govts in the centre, KP and Baluchistan with the help of independents and smaller parties, but it will at best secure a simple majority, resulting in a hung parliament. Its toughest battle will be in Punjab where PML-N has been ruling the roost for a decade. However, if PTI loses, it will once again chant the slogan of rigging and opt for agitation.

Centre-left PPP which will again be number three in Punjab, will in all probability join hands with PML-N to boycott the poll results if it is not given a share in power by PTI. It is already complaining of denial of level playing field. Reports of convergence of PML-N and PPP are in circulation. If PTI under duress agrees to take PPP on board, it will dash Imran Khan’s dream of Naya Pakistan. PTI is otherwise filled with electables from PPP, PML-Q and PML-N which has become a cause of concern for the old stalwarts of the party that have been denied tickets.

With no single party having a clear edge over others, post-election period is likely to be rowdy since the loser will not accept the result. Whatever hotchpotch coalition formed to run the govt (almost all parties minus PML-N and PPP), will be up against heavy odds. Electables within the winning party will fight for portfolios, while the opposition (PML-N, PPP, JUI-F) will make things difficult for the ruling regime. The traditional anti-Pakistan elements driven by foreign agenda will sooner than later turn their guns toward the new govt since the real powers who hold the strings will never like Pakistan to become economically strong and a self-reliant nation. Game of snakes and ladders will continue as heretofore.

God forbid, if this experiment to put things in order fails, then what next other than the military option? After all, many among the educated lot have been strongly advocating military rule. Gen Raheel Sharif was glorified to tempt him to seize power. And when he didn’t oblige, he was censured. The other popular option under discussion is the presidential form of govt run by the technocrats duly monitored by the army. This form has been prescribed as a panacea for all our problems.

Military rule rejected by political forces will become an easy prey for the adversaries of Pakistan to deal with. Musharraf had tamely accepted all the seven demands since according to him he had no other choice. We know what price Pakistan had to pay to play the US game. Can we afford a replay of the same game which has been spurned by Gen Qamar Bajwa? Our military is undoubtedly very strong and resilient. But it ranks 15th and India ranks 4th among the top 25 most powerful militaries of the world and enjoys sound industrial and economic bases as well as diplomatic ascendency.

Strength of military is not only measured by its capacity on land, air and sea vis-a-vis its adversaries, but also by its war stamina, diplomatic clout, sound economy, political stability, internal unity and harmony, smooth interior and exterior lines of communications, safe sea lanes, and above all support of the public. Notwithstanding its current popularity, does the Army has the capability to unite and galvanize the divided nation?

We must not forget that FM Ayub Khan, Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf ruled the country for 10, 11 and 9 years respectively. None could doctor the afflictions of Pakistan. While Gen Zia was killed in a plane crash, others including Gen Yahya had to exit in disgrace. How are we so sure that this time the military will succeed? As regard the technocrat option, given the morally contaminated environment, from where will we bring clean, honest, competent, and upright technocrats?

Although these elections will be most complicated because of grumbling by two mainstream parties and sense of terror hanging over the candidates and voters, they say “every dark cloud has a silver lining”. So one should never lose hope. Pakistan has defied repeated dire forecasts of doom and gloom since its independence. The report released in June, 2018 shows that Pakistan’s GDP has grown from $3.7 billion in 1960 to $305 billion in 2017, or 82.4 times. CPEC which is a game changer is operational and resolve of the armed forces to thwart enemy designs is resolute and unwavering. If we could turn the tide of terrorism which was described as impossible, we will go through the process of elections smoothly irrespective of the threats.

It is expected that the caretakers in conjunction with the army will be able to hold timely, transparent, fair and free elections. It is also expected from the party leaders to demonstrate maturity and accept the results gracefully so as to ensure smooth transition. Political stability is going to play a pivotal role in the development of our country, while effective implementation of 20-Point National Action Plan together with across the board accountability by the next govt will not only help in eliminating terrorism, but also in strengthening institutions and establishing rule of law. There is a dire need to ensure a viable balance between economy and security in order to achieve prosperity. Education, clean drinking water, poverty alleviation, jobs, provision of social services, tackling of water crisis, debt retirement and moral refurbishment should be our priorities. All this will be possible if education, electoral, judicial, police and bureaucracy reforms are carried out and we formulate independent foreign policy.

The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, and author of five books.         



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