Step up to the plate —Talat Masood

The political parties and the people, by and large, are seeking cooperative relations with India and it is being reciprocated by the other side as well. In their view, peaceful borders are a pre-requisite for the economic and social development of the two countries; but the establishments on both sides have their own agenda
It is astonishing how the current PPP-led government thinks it can take rational decisions and face the enormous external and domestic challenges confronting the country with a sub-optimal power configuration and a deformed state structure. The coalition government is working without the participation of its main ally, the PMLN. The PPP itself is factionalised and is only drawing upon its partial institutional strength. Moreover, several key members of the cabinet are unelected. The PPP’s top leader, Asif Ali Zardari is out of parliament and mostly out of country whereas he is believed to be managing government affairs even at the micro-level, creating a major distortion in the system.

Drawing a parallel with India’s Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh model of managing the affairs of the state would be erroneous and misleading in many ways. India’s democracy is on a sound footing, Congress is institutionally robust and Sonia Gandhi is a respected politician. Manmohan Singh, though not a run of the mill politician, is a highly experienced and astute technocrat with impeccable integrity. In any case, while India has its problems, these are nowhere as threatening to its integrity and survival as the problems Pakistan faces today.

Having mutilated the Constitution, President Pervez Musharraf continues to enjoy disproportionate power despite a categorical electoral verdict against him. The current powers of the President undermine the parliamentary character of government and no sincere effort is being made by the political leadership to correct this fundamental anomaly. And indications are that the PPP’s constitutional package is unlikely to pass in its present form.

When countries are rocked by political turmoil and instability, the bureaucracy provides continuity and stability to the government machinery. Italy and France in the not too distant past had frequent changes of government but despite the political upheavals, the economy kept growing and social indicators maintained an upward trend. The basic reason for the progress was a professionally sound and competent bureaucracy.

In our case, the general pattern has been that as soon as a new government takes over, it shakes up the bureaucracy, not on the basis of merit but of patronage. In a country which is already seeping with corruption and inefficiency, it only makes matters worse. Bureaucratic instability combined with cronyism and political instability has a negative multiplier effect.

Surely, to energise the government’s functioning, it is the political government’s prerogative to bring in new faces that it trusts, but not at the expense of efficiency and merit. Government organisations are meant to serve the interests of the people and are not a vehicle for distributing largesse in return for individual favours. The same principal applies to public sector enterprises like the Pakistan Steel Mills, PIA, OGDCL, etc.

Pakistan faces another serious anomaly that undermines government functioning. The establishment elite and the political elite are mostly working at cross purposes and there is no harmonisation between the two. The genesis of the problem lies in the fundamental contradiction that exists in our power structure wherein the civilian government has repeatedly failed to establish its supremacy over the military. It is clear that the present coalition government will also depend on the military for formulating and implementing security issues.

Nonetheless, the consequence of this is that the military and intelligence agencies remain outside the orbit of accountability and pursue policies inadvertently or deliberately that are not in harmony with the government’s goals and objectives. What is worse it provides a ready excuse for foreign governments to blame Pakistan or its intelligence agencies for acts of violence in India and Afghanistan and launch a damaging media campaign against us.

Blaming the ISI for involvement in the terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the Indian National Security Adviser, Mr Narayanan, made a highly vicious statement: “ISI needs to be destroyed”. These words coming from such a high official of the security establishment of India cannot be taken lightly, especially now that India is a big regional player, has a strong strategic relationship with the US, and enjoys highly cordial relations with Afghanistan. The same lacunae in the system provided an opportunity to our detractors to malign Pakistan’s establishment with charges of nuclear proliferation as well.

The divergence in strategic thought between the political elite and the establishment has other negative consequences. The political parties and the people, by and large, are seeking cooperative relations with India and it is being reciprocated by the other side as well. In their view, peaceful borders are a pre-requisite for the economic and social development of the two countries; but the establishments on both sides have their own agenda.

While the government is burdened with systemic and leadership weaknesses, two major threats face Pakistan squarely. The first is the growing wave of militancy and Talibanisation and the second is economic downturn that is accompanied by rising inflation and food insecurity. Both these threats are supplementing each other and we have on our hands a highly volatile mix. In addition, the US and NATO countries are pressuring us to “do more” on the Western front and India and Afghanistan in collusion are pointing fingers at our intelligence agencies, which only make matters worse.

To add to our anxieties, one wonders what prevents Pakistani leaders from doing the right thing, with respect to the issue of judges or addressing the problems of the masses. Is the current crisis not sufficient to trigger alarm bells? Are they unable to grasp the evolving security and economic situation that is engulfing the nation?

Has pragmatism and character of politics in Pakistan degenerated, due to prolonged military and equally authoritarian civilian rule, to such a low point that self interest and strong egos override national interest? There seems to be a total absence of a value system that one could ascribe to our leaders.

Clearly, the current crisis provides a valuable opportunity to our political leadership to bring about a major, more people-centric change in both domestic and foreign policies. In that way, they could galvanise public and parliamentary support to face these multiple challenges.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at talat@comsats.net.pk

daily Times, 24/7/2008

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