May 132008

Today, while we write, speak and attentively watch the media expecting positive developments, national political issues are being resolved in a secret and personalised fashion with frequent intervention of foreign individuals
Political fragmentation is one of the troubling legacies of military rule. Our own history provides the best example of this. All our military rulers left Pakistan in greater political stress than it was in when they decided to depose the respective elected governments.

Our Constitution is disfigured, political parties are weaker, state institutions are decaying and the judiciary has been disbanded.

Instinctively, all dictators undermine and damage any institution, person and group that they think would stand in their way. In all such cases, the morality of realpolitik takes precedence over the morality of public conscience. In our history at least, military dictators have considered themselves above constitutional norms and institutions.

Never have the people been a priority. Principles have only been scoffed at.

And whatever justifications we were given have proved false.

That is not to say that that all political parties, civil society groups and state institutions have to be in agreement on political issues. Difference of political opinion is healthy as it celebrates the freedom of thought and expression. The fragmentation we are discussing here is primarily about serious differences on structural political issues, like the Constitution; federalism; provincial autonomy; division of power among state institutions; and the role of the army in the country’s affairs.

While we have to focus on the economic downturn — owing to flawed economic policies of the Musharraf regime — and rising energy prices worldwide, and think creatively of alternatives, we cannot really move forward in economic or social spheres until we settle these structural political issues.

While there is a good debate in the media and political circles outlining the issues that fragment and weaken us, there is not much discussion on how best we can settle them or make genuine progress toward their resolution.

The only way we can approach national issues, including the re-instatement of an independent judiciary, the Constitution and the sovereignty of Parliament is through democratic process and open politics.

Contrary to these universally accepted norms of good politics, our leaders, both military as well as civilian, have often relied on secret politics, inter-personal deals for mutual benefit, and autocratic attitudes to political issues that concern all of us.

Pakistani society has changed in many respects. One of the ways it has changed is the increasing capacity of the urban middle classes and their civic engagement with national issues. And we should not miss that all modern social revolutions have been brought about by urban middle classes, for they can be easily organised and mobilised.

Although settling the national issues mentioned above is the primary responsibility of political leaders, we the citizens of the new, transitional Pakistan cannot remain on the sidelines as silent unattached spectators. We, and our future generations, will live in Pakistan and suffer the consequences of such politics.

There is a national consensus on the kind of Pakistan we wish to build and the kind of society we want to be, and reconstruct at the popular level a democratic, federal country with the supremacy of law and the Constitution. This is our founding dream that has found new meaning with the misdeeds of the Musharraf regime and its political partners.

As we try making a transition to this new politics, we may raise questions about the political conduct of the former regime. We cannot remain focused on the past and let the newly elected leaders escape responsibility for their post-election behaviour. Does the way they have negotiated among themselves — some of them with some foreign powers and Musharraf — meet the twin criterion of open and democratic politics?

Not really. There is a long history of secretive, undemocratic politics in this country that has always resulted in public disappointment and frustration. This form of secret politics allows incompetent and corrupt individuals to create a space for themselves in the polity.

It is not for the first time that such individuals have started flocking back to our lands where political and financial fortunes can be made by anyone connected with power. It has happened under all kind of rulers. Our past is replete with such instances. Many of the tragic political events that have troubled us for such a long time could have been averted if our politics were open and democratic.

Another factor in our politics is the role of foreign powers, and how our rulers have involved them in brokering political deals in the backroom, evading the public eye and the media.

Much of what is happening today, and why the whole country is hostage to the interests and politics of three individuals — Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari — is the net result of this kind of politics. Today, while we write, speak and attentively watch the media expecting positive developments, national political issues are being resolved in a secret and personalised fashion with the frequent intervention of foreign individuals who have assumed the role of guarantors in secret deals among our rulers.

The many issues that we face are extremely serious and fundamental; in fact, our national unity depends on them. And although our leaders seem to have very weak political memories and an even weaker sense of history, we cannot do without them. Ultimately, they are the ones who must govern the country, if they have popular support and political legitimacy.

We, the citizens, have the constitutional right and civic obligation to question their politics, and the way they conduct themselves in public life. They have not come clean on the secret deals, which are unfolding in small, sketchy fragments as they try to honour their respective parts of the deals. More of the same is not acceptable for it will not really help resolve our structural national issues. The only way out is through open, democratic politics under a free media, sovereign parliament and active civil society.

Dr Rasul Baksh Rais is author of Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books 2008) and a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at

Courtesy: Daily Times, 13/5/2008

 Posted by at 7:41 am

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