Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 30, 2007

Pakistan’s Fragile Political Setup Could be the Mother of all Evils

Events that have unfolded in Pakistan following the tragic death of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007 have proven beyond doubt that the Pakistani political culture and the system itself is nothing but a rickety structure lacking a strong edifice that can endure trials and tribulations of time.

The unruly behavior of the protestors and their inclination to rip apart public property and state owned symbols is a true reflection of a society in turmoil. It appears that mobs have literally taken over and overpowered whatever little civil order that existed beforehand.

It is indeed true that Ms. Bhutto’s loss is a monstrous shock and the fact that the government of the day is indulging in some sort of a devious PR exercise vis-à-vis the real cause of her death, is in itself a frustrating experience. However, it does not provide anyone with an excuse to burn down and destroy anything and everything that comes in their way.

Lack of institutional cohesion and harmony is one huge issue with respect to the Pakistan state system. This is a 60 year-old country. It is indeed shameful that up until now no effort has ever been made to educate and train the public at large to stay steady in times of stress and tragedy.

Enlightened citizenship, they say, is a hallmark of democracy. Democracy teaches it’s subjects about the principles of peaceful co-existence and statehood, to synchronize and digest upheavals and deal with events that are ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ such as the one that took place last Thursday.

Democracy breeds a society rooted in civilized norms and conventions, it creates institutions that are rock solid and keep the people away from nefarious tendencies. It encourages public involvement in the affairs of the state and government, thereby creating awareness amongst the masses to manage situations that are abrupt and overwhelming. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the remarkable steadfastness of the American people, and the smooth transition of power that followed speak volumes of the stability of the US political system.

Unfortunately in Pakistan’s case, democracy has been a fit and starts affair. For more than half of the 60 years of the country’s existence, it has been ruled by military dictatorships. Even the times when democracy has been ‘allowed’, institutions have never had the time to prosper and grow. The strength of the character of a nation is tested in times of crisis. Pakistan, not surprisingly, has been found at fault on more than one occasion.

As things stand today, prima facie, the structures and the building blocks that make up a democratic system do exist. The country does have a constitution, federal and provincial legislatures, an independent judicial system, and all the bells and whistles that come with democracy. On paper, it seems picture perfect! However, deep down, the system is a farce. There are too many ‘distractions’ and ‘additional’ power structures that hamper the progress of the march of millions toward a free and democratic setup.

The military, of course, has been and remains the biggest skeptic of democracy. In the name of national interest, the army has intervened on several occasions. Although still somewhat disciplined and respected, the Pakistan army coupled with the military intelligence system could be one of most corrupt in the world.

Since the political system has never been provided an opportunity to thrive, the politicians are a happy-go-lucky lot. As and when they get an opportunity, they loot and plunder, make millions of dollars, stay in power for short stints until booted out, go into hibernation for a little while, or meet dreadful ends. Yes, Pakistan has produced some towering political personalities, such as Ms. Bhutto, yet no one has ever been provided with a long enough opportunity or circumstances that would tilt the balance of power in favor of civilian rule.

The feudal system is another roadblock in the way of democracy. Feudal lords own acres and acres of land, resist change, modernization, education for their people, and practice slavery. Much of the horror of terrorism has its roots eastern and central areas of Punjab and NWFP, thanks to the patronization by the feudals. A large number of politicians are feudal lords who represent no one but themselves.

The tribal belts of the provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan add chaos to the dynamics of a confused power setup. These areas have their own laws, jirgas (village judiciaries) and have no respect for human rights. The people in tribal areas live in abject poverty, believe in primitive traditions of religious practices and the ‘sardars’ (tribal heads) who rule over the tribals are stagnent and refuse to progress. The talibanization of Pakistan started in the mountains of NWFP and remains a major ‘production ground’ of terrorists till-date.

Given the frailty and the fragility of the political culture, the system has ended up being a bundle of contradictions. Politics is mostly personality driven. And this is one of predominant reasons why so much of anarchy has ensued due to the passing away of Ms. Bhutto. When personalities are worshipped, principles and the debate as far as the ideals for which political parties stand for take the back seat. The educational value of the political system is thrown out of the door.

Who benefits from this stampede? Under the given set of circumstances, one can safely say that the armed forces benefit the most. The more the unrest on the streets, the stronger are the prospects of those in uniform to stay in power and command the destiny of the nation. A promising prospect of civilian rule starts ringing alarm bells in the corridors of the military power structure and hence such a ‘threat’ has to be eliminated.

Terrorists, be it al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or anyone else reap rich harvest. Obviously, historically, the armed forces and the fundamentalists have been the best of buddies. Indicators or personalities that talk about moderation are a hazard for these fanatics. One wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ms. Bhutto was brought down by the military-fundamentalist paradigm. Her recent statements were directly aimed at them. She was not the one who they wanted in the power structure. Centers of Wahibism, the crazies in the army and those in the hills of the Pakistani northern areas may have been left wondering and scratching their respective heads as to how to deal with the woman. Obviously, what the world saw was the consensus that those butchers of humanity must have reached.

Solutions? None whatsoever, I’m afraid. Unless, of course, some ‘external’ power and influence is exerted. Democracy was introduced in East Europe not too long ago. We saw the Berlin Wall come down, Romanian dictator Nicolai Chauchesku driven out by a popular uprising, the Hungarians, the Poles, all forcing the will of the people and creating institutions that are now mature enough to withstand the pressures whenever any untoward activity takes place in those countries. Philippines, Indonesia, Chile, Bangladesh are other examples where democracy once introduced has kept the armed forces away for good.

In Pakistan’s case it seems to get harder and harder to introduce the germs of a permanent democratic mechanism. It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons but it could be that the people are not educated or aware enough to effect that much needed change.

External power? In a unipolar world, only the US, the greatest military and economic power on God’s Earth is capable to deal with disparate and complex factors that prevail in Pakistan.

The US has done a lot by pushing and prodding Musharraf to introduce democratic reforms but perhaps it needs to do more. This menace of terrorism is hurting the cause of peace and reconciliation. Humanity as a whole has a lot many other issues to deal with. Poverty, hunger, disease, human rights problems need to be addressed.

But before all that is done, we need to make the world a secure place to live in. Resistance or no resistance from Islamabad, the US must send in its forces in the fundamentalist hideouts and cleanse the areas. Understood that Iraq for now is at top of the priority list but it is equally essential to ensure not just superficial but real democratic reforms take place in Pakistan and that the scourge of terrorism is uprooted for generations to come.

The US has the muscle and the strength to cure this bleeding ulcer. It has the right tools and the brainpower to deal with the treachery and the trickery of terrorism that has overshadowed our recent history, bringing misery and suffering to thousands of innocent souls. We need to take charge before it’s too late.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan


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