Consequences of sins past —Rafia Zakaria

The inability of the government to deliver, and the consequent self-reliance of a hopeless population has created a scenario where the idea of a orderly state espoused by the Tehreek-e Taliban, however medieval or draconian, sounds increasingly appealing to a population disconnected from politics in Islamabad
There are two grim realities unfolding in Pakistani politics.

On the one hand the recent decision to bar the candidacy of PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif has left the ruling coalition even more precariously perched on the brink of collapse.

On the other, the ever expanding gains by the Tehreek-e Taliban demonstrates daily the weakness of the new government in holding its own against an enemy that does not play by the rules of democratic politics.

As all are aware, the fault lines on the Pakistani political landscape have been mapped on the rift between a powerful military and weak civilian governments. However, with the passage of six decades divided into perpetual cycles of military and civilian rule, little attention had been paid to the long-term effects of protracted periods of undemocratic governance or its effects on the values, aspirations and hopes of the Pakistani populace or the vulnerabilities created by the absence of functioning representative government.

Instead, the operative assumption has been that democracy will be automatically valued, revered and accepted every time it makes its appearance, however momentary, on the face of Pakistani politics.

This assumption has become particularly lethal with the arrival and increasing prominence of the Tehreek-e Taliban and its affiliated groups. The entry of this third player into an otherwise bipolar political arena, punctuated by the tussle between the army and civilian cadres, has thrown Pakistani politics into disarray.

But things are different this time around: with the demise of this most recent saga of military rule the euphoria that usually follows parliamentary elections and the formation of a civilian government has been particularly short-lived and not simply because the jubilant crowds have seen the game played several times before.

This time around, the parliamentary government installed at the centre not only has to prove its relevance to a military always sceptical of civilian rulers, but also use the ill-suited tools of compromise and negotiation to tame an enemy that is equally sceptical of electoral democracy.

The enormity of this challenge has been demonstrated repeatedly in recent months with the incessant collapse of peace deals and most recently the killings of the members of the peace jirga formed to broker a compromise.

To understand this new set of challenges confronting Islamabad two realities must be acknowledged. First, the deadlock at the centre over the issue of reinstating the deposed judges and tedious wrangling between the PPP and PMLN is a matter of course for parliamentary politics. The divided verdict rendered by parliamentary elections and the imposed necessity of co-operation and compromise hence created is electoral democratic politics at its best, designed for the inclusion of a wide representation of political preferences.

What makes this otherwise matter of course wrangling lethal for Pakistan’s stability is that the parliamentary democracy installed in Islamabad must handle these structural challenges of democratic governance and at the same time fight off incursions by not one but two foes unconstrained by the rules of democratic governance.

Second, the arrival of the Tehreek-e Taliban also represents the long-term impact of the Pakistani state’s failure to deliver well functioning democratic institutions and strengthen state penetration into underserved areas like North and South Waziristan.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the failure of the state to deliver basic services such as water, sanitation, education and dispute resolution forcing populations around the country to resort to self-help as the only alternative to complete anarchy.

The inability of the government to deliver, and the consequent self-reliance of a hopeless population has created a scenario where the idea of an orderly state espoused by the Tehreek-e Taliban, however medieval or draconian it may be, sounds increasingly appealing to a population disconnected from politics in Islamabad.

Governments gain allegiance and retain legitimacy when they break down traditional forms of reliance on tribal and family networks. The inability of the Pakistani state to do this has left it with a scant basis to claim loyalty from its citizens; an already deprived public used to little or no resource provision cannot after all be threatened by the fear of further deprivation.

This reality, combined with the weakness of the central coalition has thus created a situated where the consequences of sins past have unleashed the full terror of their consequences on the Pakistani population.

Much has been said and will continue to be said regarding the necessity of the use of force in the tribal areas. Central to these debates is a reification of the military as the ubiquitous tool in combating an enemy that seems to confound the civilian government at the centre.

It is crucial therefore to emphasise the irony that the situation that makes the military so integral to suppressing the Taliban insurgency has been spawned by its own machinations over the course of Pakistan’s existence.

While few would argue with the precept that force is now necessary to quell the insurgency in the tribal areas, all should pause to reflect on the reality that the creation of a robust set of institutions and the strengthening of service provision by a civilian government that could have taken place had the military not been so meddlesome in years past may well have prevented Pakistan from arriving at such a juncture.

It is easy to scoff at the attempts of a civilian government to broker peace with the Taliban; indeed they seem amateurish and naïve in their belief that concessions liberally granted will allow law and order to prevail.

It is also easy to reify the use of force and the ultimate necessity of the Pakistan Army in assisting the civilian government at arriving at such a solution.

However, the ease of these conclusions should not detract us from the reality that the rise of the Taliban and the support they garner is at least in part the product of past sins of the military.

It is perhaps just as well that those most invested in having created the menace that is wreaking so much havoc, be invested with the task of fighting it.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at

Source: Daily Times, 28/6/2008

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