The march itself is not only a struggle for restoration of the real judiciary of Pakistan. It represents this nation’s aspiration for democracy and the rule of law. The ugly containers blocking the parliament and other citadels of power in Islamabad are also symbols. They represent forces of darkness that are determined to thwart democracy’s march forward.
The sad part is that these retrogressive power centres have successfully managed to pitch elements within the democratic body politic against each other. Those standing up for rule of law by agitating on the street and those trying to stop them, are part of the same political stream. They should be allies and not adversaries and notionally they are.
Yet, the reality is that they confront each other in an ugly standoff while their adversaries watch smugly from the sidelines. The forces of evil, even in retreat, have left enough minefields to trip our nascent democracy and they are succeeding. It is important for all the players, in politics and in civil society, to understand this. There is no sight more satisfying for ‘militarists’ than to see the ‘political classes’ go after each other. It reinforces their belief that we are unfit for democracy and encourages them to start talking again about unified leadership, strong government, stability etc.
The democratic forces still have space to get their act together but it is not unlimited. The military has taken a step back because after eight years of rule it had completely lost public support. It is also possible that its new leadership genuinely believes that democracy is the best way forward for the nation. But, if the political class continues to mess up, these beliefs can change.
Let us not forget, that the military inherently sees itself as guardian of the nation. We may quibble with this and say that guarding the frontiers should not be confused with notions of custodianship. But, our reservations cannot change an ingrained mindset. If things start to go bad, as some are already beginning to claim, the re-emergence of custodial feelings cannot be ruled out. These will became particularly acute if there is an economic meltdown or the situation on our western border becomes more serious than it already is. Both are real possibilities.
On the economic front, we may argue repeatedly that the Musharraf regime was lucky as the post-9/11 scenario created the circumstances of a boom in the country. We may also blame it for leaving behind such serious problems that the new government faces an economic catastrophe. While much of this is true, it will not wash with the ‘militarists’ who will claim that every military ruler has brought economic progress and stability to the country. They will also point out that at the moment nobody seems to be in charge. This allegation would not be without foundation.
On the security front, the situation on the western border has reached a turning point. The bombing of a Pakistani paramilitary check post in which eleven Pakistani soldiers were killed is not an ordinary happening. It is one thing for the Americans to bomb militants on our territory, reprehensible as it is, and completely another to attack known military positions of a partner in the war against terror. This reaffirms stories that relations between Pakistani military and the Pentagon are at their lowest ebb. It also confirms reports of a strategic shift in US policy whereby it no longer cares if destabilises Pakistan while pursuing its military goals.
This creates an enormous challenge for the Pakistani military but a far more serious one for the civil government. If we want the military to step back from running the state, the civil government must be ready to shoulder its responsibility of conducting foreign affairs effectively. It is not enough to give angry statements on the floor of the house, as the prime minister did. More important are practical steps to sort out this mess. Are there any?
We keep hearing of enormous American influence on the leadership of the PPP. There also seems to be a great deal of interaction between American diplomats and officials and various members of the government. Yet this does not seem to be translating into strategic coordination on real issues, such as the economy or the conflict on our western border.
The military has purposely left the security decision making to the government. It gave a briefing to the civil leadership explaining the pros and cons of various options but the choice of what route to take has been left to the government. This is in line with what we have been asking for; that the military should leave strategic decision making to the civilians. But, is the government responding?
There are two aspects where failure is evident. One, there seems to be little clarity regarding what our policy really is in the tribal areas. Different actors are speaking with different voices without any real coordination. By this time a firm policy guideline regarding our approach to militancy should have gone out to all stakeholders, including the military and the provincial governments. Rehman Malik’s declaration on the Swat deal is a startling indication that it has not happened.
Secondly, if we are such close allies of the Americans, we should have not only taken them into confidence about our policy but also worked out the ground rules of what is permissible and what is not. The tragic attack on our border post is an indication that this too has not happened. Clearly, the American and Pakistani governments are not on the same wavelength. This is a failure of diplomacy.
Shah Mahmood, instead of attending conferences in Paris, should have been in Washington interacting with the Americans and bringing them in the line with our strategic approach to the problem in the tribal areas. One can easily take an emotional position and suggest taking on the Americans. But, that would be stupid and suicidal. What is required is clarity of policy and ongoing interaction with the Americans so that incidents like the one in the Mohmand area should never occur again.
All that these mishaps and inaction points out to is lack of leadership. The dithering on the judiciary issue by the PPP is failure of leadership on a critical domestic issue. It threatens to derail the ruling coalition and puts the entire democratic set up in jeopardy. The lack of coordination and poor diplomacy on the problem of militancy in the tribal areas is again a symptom of poor leadership.
These useless comings and goings and inane daily schedules of the prime minister and ministers in Islamabad are not getting us very far. Someone has to stand up, seize the leadership and come to grip with real issues. If Gilani can’t do it because he is a figurehead, Zardari should step in. This drift cannot go on. The challenges we face require decisive leadership and someone has to deliver or this experiments in democracy will come to an end.
Source: The News, 13/6/2008