Pakistan In Turmoil: The Institutional Big Picture


Unfortunately, this nation is in the grips of a terminal illness: it is dysfunctional and is degenerating at a fast pace. The economy is in shambles; law and order has broken down; institutions are deadlocked and divided against themselves; leaders have lost respect. Of the three theoretic organs of state, parliament is partially filled and, hence, not representative of the country; the executive is an amalgamation of so many political parties of varied hues and flavours that it is not delivering governance; the judiciary is a house divided with an embarrassingly revealing cleavage, and hence unable to deliver justice. With no intention or ability for protecting political victims, they play the same game while feigning innocence. The only powerful, premier and eminent institution that had traditionally held hope for stability in the country, has been vilified, in turn, by all the political parties in the last three years, and is no more trusted by anyone for its impartiality. Its reservoir of respect, that always stood intact since independence, has depleted very rapidly.

There is, therefore, no institution left that can lift the nation out of its malaise.

Confrontation between institutions and state institutions can wreck the foundations of the society, promising, at best, only Pyrrhic victories. Pakistan was conceived in good faith to allow Muslims of the Subcontinent, living in Hindu-majority provinces and the then princely states, who chose to and could migrate to East or West Pakistan, to live their lives in freedom and dignity, and without having to endure religious and social discrimination. By every standard, this aim should have been realised on day 1 of independence or within a short reasonable time. Has this purpose been achieved? The answer is obvious and very evidently in the negative. Do the people of Pakistan live, or have ever lived, in freedom? Certainly not. Have they ever been afforded a transparent opportunity to elect their own representative governments? Again, the answer is a tragic negative. In fact, for the most part, the exercise of elections stops at federal and provincial levels. Local bodies, at the grassroots of democracy, have either not existed or been under the chokehold of provincial governments through bureaucracy. Tragically, it is the military governments who have formed elected local bodies, with the malicious intention of avoiding national and provincial elections. The elected political governments, under whatever elective process they were formed, have failed to let the roots of democracy spread in the national fabric by either restricting the powers of lower elected bodies, or simply done away with them.

In short, people have never had unimpeded right to vote in non-manipulated elections. Do people have any dignity? In the absence of freedom to express one’s views – and there has been no freedom of speech for more most of this nation’s history – there can be no human dignity. The freedom to express oneself is not restricted to political views, or to criticism of state institutions but also about social behaviour, religious practices, intrusion of military into civil political and economic fields, judicial malpractices, etc. In none of these areas, people are allowed to express their written or verbal views without looking over the shoulder. There have been times when a ‘harmless’ history-oriented writer like this author has been advised by close relatives and friends to rephrase or omit what can be misconstrued or twisted by the zealous brigades. This is not a dignified living. This is not freedom. This is not what this nation was created for.

Our society has meted out legal or social punishment to likes of Abid Hasan Manto, Quratulain Haider, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Ustad Daman, Ahmad Faraz and many more. Bhutto was hanged, Hasan Nasir was tortured to death in Lahore Fort, Saleem Shahzad was killed in custody, Arshad Shareef was murdered in Kenya, Zil-e-Shah’s broken body was found about a day after his arrest. This list of infamy is long. We disowned both our noble laureates, Dr. Salam and Malala, and liberal Islamic scholars like Pervez Ahmad, Javed Ghamdi and Fazlur Rahman Malik. Our checkered history is replete with shameful unholy spots, and doesn’t hold much promise for future.

The political and judicial story of the last five years reads like a comedy of errors and a charge-sheet against our body politic. The resultant impasse confounds settlement. Political disagreements are a normal facet of any healthy society, but in a healthy social environment, extremist spaces on the left and right are narrow whereas the majority lies somewhere in the middle ground. In Pakistan, this vital middle ground has diminished. It is “either us or them” scenarios with leaders openly admitting that now there is one grave and two bodies. Such sentiments do not augur well for the well-being of our large, unfortunate, poverty stricken and uneducated masses whose survival space has shrunk. They have lost the means and ability to bring two square meals to their family table; education and a roof are distant dreams.

Corruption itself is a dead horse but continues to be flogged for ulterior motives. As such, corruption is an integral part of any democracy. In all well-entrenched democracies, charges of corruption are levelled against opponents; some with justification. The issue of corruption is more relevant in context of judicial system and electorates. In Europe, the electorates would immediately reject corruption-tainted politicians. In the United States, the justice system roots out such politicians. In India, and to some extant in France and Israel, most politicians live under the cloud without being charged, tried or punished. That’s the nature of democracy, where money and elections go hand in gloves. In Pakistan, the establishment has used the charges of corruption to malign non-conforming politicians. Charges of corruption have been used by Ayub Khan, Zia, Musharraf and all other Army Chiefs who held the reigns from behind the curtains.

Fascism implies an autocratic, brutal one-man rule. Yet it implies a kind of rule. Sadly, the nation has descended below fascism. We are not on the verge of anarchy but irreversibly in the initial stages of anarchy – and the situation can only get worse without any hope of retrieval. To borrow a term from space sciences, we have been trapped in the gravitational pull of a black hole. Though we are not over the event horizon, beyond where even the light cannot escape, but there is no cosmic force that can liberate us from the jaws of the fatal bottomless pit which, ultimately, tears apart its victim and shreds it to its smallest particles. We face a tortuous end game where there is no law, no humanity and no mercy.

Before this country embarks on a new journey, its people are destined for hunger, violence and anarchy. This is a journey that is mirrored in the recent histories of Cambodia, Myanmar, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. There are sound reasons to argue that Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Sri Lanka, the other nations who have been through turmoil, may have fared better.

The promise for creation of this country, for which millions, including my forefathers, suffered untold hardships, has been lost. It looks like the country that Maulana Azad predicted it to be. One sure sign of failure is that our talented and educated youth is voting in the future of this nation by their feet. They are leaving. The prime hope of good education has become an opportunity to settle abroad either in the Middle East or the West. No one wants to stay here. The scions of military officers, bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians, as indeed of the less fortunate; all want to leave. Every now and then, there are incidents of Pakistani youth losing their lives being suffocated being smuggled in overcrowded cargo containers, freezing to death on the high mountains between Iran and Turkey or drowning in the Mediterranean attempting to cross over from Turkey to northern shores of the Aegean Sea. They would die in the prime of their youth than make this land of their birth their home. Those who are responsible for healing the economic and social environment, themselves have themselves settled their children abroad. These leaders publicly promise that the nation has a bright future but show distrust in this promise by exporting their own children. This is a clear sign that the nation has no future.

Now, in the end, lets revert to the opening sentence. The country is dysfunctional and can cause regional chaos. This fact would be scary to our neighbours, the UN and the Western nations. Sane voices in the country are warning of an impending civil war. There is high probability that this nation of 245 million souls is descending into a chaos where utilities are disrupted, the irrigation system is terminated, communication is restricted, the flow of food grain is curtailed and there are multiple minor insurgencies. Instead of feeling humbled by the dire situation, our leaders display hubris, a cardinal sin. Whosoever feels that he wields a bit of power, becomes arrogant. In the name of personnel vendetta, the entire nation is suffering.

It is time that those who have safe parking slots abroad start thinking of this large swath of humanity that will be left here to suffer the heat of the inferno that the establishment, political parties and judicial system are collectively creating. No one shall be safe from the terrible fallout. This hell that we are all collectively creating, shall consume our own children and grandchildren.__The Friday Times